Review: “The Bridge,” John Skipp and Craig Spector

Rating: 4 out of 5

John Skipp and Craig Spector’s The Bridge is what we call “eco-horror”–a story in which nature and the environment become mankind’s enemy. In this case, our long history of dumping our refuse wherever we can is coming back to haunt us. Boonie and his father and cousin are illegally dumping all sorts of hazardous waste into a river beneath the Black Bridge. When that hazardous spill comes to life and creates the Overmind, it decides to spread its filth as far as it can, taking over everything from machines to people and making them a part of itself.

Engaging the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief is a tricky thing. If the first half of your book is hard SF and then suddenly you interject what we like to call “science fantasy,” readers will hit a wall, because you’ve changed the rules and feel of the universe. In The Bridge, we’re immediately plunged into the idea of a hazardous waste spill developing sentience. It’s established quickly, so we accept that as a part of disbelief that we’re suspending. But when we’re most of the way through the book and suddenly tainted lawn ornaments come to life? That seems to cross an invisible line from where we’ve been up until now, and it kind of took me out of the story a bit. In contrast, the fact that one character practices witchcraft and has a spirit guide is mentioned in passing early on, so when it turns out that she really can do magic, I can grudgingly let it pass (even though it really doesn’t seem to belong in the same genre).

There are a couple of things the authors do that remind me of Stephen King. One is that characters tend to be larger-than-life, exaggerated just shy of cartoonish (mostly). Another is that they interleave and overlap characters, continuously introducing a stream of new people. Some become fodder, some become antagonists, and a very few live long enough to become heroes of a sort. The authors’ “voice” however, is quite different from King’s.

There are some great characters in here. Gary is maybe putting too much extra time in at the local television station, especially considering his very pregnant wife Gwen will give birth any day now. Austin Deitz leads the local largely-volunteer HazMat crew, so he and his people end up on the front lines, even though he’d really prefer to be spending time with his girlfriend of one month, Jennie. Harold Leonard is in charge of the facility that’s supposed to be safely storing all of these hazardous wastes, and he knows perfectly well that Boonie and company have been dumping. So does Werner Blake, the man who seems to have his fingers in all of the local pies, and to whom Leonard unofficially reports. Virtually no one is wholly good; everyone seems to have at least one way in which they’ve fallen short in their lives.

This tale shows its age with Beta tapes and a lack of cell phones, and it works great. This story is a lot of good, plain horrific fun!

Content note: A lot of people in here are not good people, and in a very few instances, that’s evidence by the use of slurs (one racial, one homophobic). They didn’t come across to me as being a stand-in for the authors’ views, but rather intentional characterization. However, I’m not an authority on such things, so if you think they would bother you, you can skip this book. In addition there’s a little bit of sex, a lot of death (including children), a not-insignificant amount of body horror, and a sort of second-hand description of a piece of art that depicts a really gross scene of a baby being killed.

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