14, authored by Peter Clines, was the book that hit home for me how publishing is changing, that big multinational publishing companies may not be with us for much longer, and that the print version of books might soon be museum pieces. I didn’t choose this book by looking on the bestsellers shelf at my local bookshop (which sadly might go out of business soon because of e-publishing), nor did I check reviews in local newspapers. Instead I browsed Amazon and Goodreads. On Amazon, 14 has two hundred and twenty seven reviews and a four and a half star rating. On Goodreads, it has a 3.87 average rating (out of five) from 2,480 ratings. This information, combined with the book’s blurb, made me want to read it.Okay, so I didn’t buy it as a paperback either. I’m now exclusively reading e-books on my i-phone. Reading this way is easier than lugging a physical book everywhere, and presents more opportunities to read than my otherwise busy life would allow for. For example, waiting at the coffee shop across from work, I have a couple of minutes to complete another page or two while my café latte is being prepared.Did this brave-new-world of e-publishing and e-reading diminish my enjoyment of 14? Not in the slightest. In fact I devoured the novel quickly, and probably would have never read it in paperback because it is just not available in that format in Australia, and too expensive to ship in. $7.99 isn’t that much to spend on an e-book that I might end up not enjoying (compared to $40-$50 for a physical copy shipped in). I did enjoy 14, very much.
14 is a blend-genre novel, combining end-of-the-world themes, Lost-style mysteries and narrative structure and Lovecraftian horrors, and comes together in a tight and compelling format. The main character Nate, who we see most of the action through, is a typical American every-man, kind of like a character from the sitcom New Girl, who has reached his early thirties and really achieved nothing in life, but is a likeable guy anyway. The story commences with Nate moving into new apartment building in Los Angeles, only to find the building is a little bit weird and the other tenants—while friendly and interesting—are weird in their own ways too. Suddenly Nate has purpose in his life: uncovering the building’s mysteries.
The story moves along at a rapid pace because Clines knows precisely how much detail needs to be in every scene, and nothing ever lags or gets bogged down in endless narrative. He probably gets this from a day job in the film industry, where scenes really have to be short and concise. Similarly I found myself really caring about all the characters and what happens to them, and mostly this was achieved through their dialogue, again a trait I suspect he has picked up from films.
The real skill in this story however is in how Clines builds the mystery, with lots of weird goings on in the way the apartment building is set up, such as doors that lead nowhere, rooms that won’t change temperature no matter how much heat is put into them, mismatched architecture, strange formulas painted under the walls, steampunk-style computer rooms and insects with peculiar anatomies. The mystery is likened to Lost, in that bizarre observations don’t add up to anything until much later, so there are many ‘a-ha’ moments when the reader gets to figure out another piece of the puzzle.
14 also impresses with the creeping sense of impending doom, as you just know something horrible is going to happen almost all the time. My favourite scene is when Nate and a few of his friends descend deep into the earth, down a tunnel that has been enclosed in a vault like door. I kept expecting horrors to leap out and devour someone. Did it or didn’t it? Read 14 to find out.
My only criticism of the book is the last scene, when the supernatural Lovecraftian horrors finally reveal themselves. They are scary, but weren’t scary enough and didn’t quiet deliver that sense of apocalyptic doom that had been set up so well, and the weirdness that had been so well crafted until this point lost its steam. Plus some of the characters, predominately the religious villains, didn’t quiet add up in their motives and weirdness. I really got the impression that Cline rushed the end of the novel because he knew his 100,000 word limit was coming up. More time here and another 20,0000 words would have really produced a splendid book.
Minor quibbles aside, Peter Clines’s work is fantastic and he is one of the best authors writing in the apocalyptic and Lovecraftian genres. What struck me most about 14 was not so much that this is an excellent and captivating novel, but the feeling I got afterwards that the next novel Clines’ writes will build upon what he learned writing this one, and be so much better and so much more powerful because of it.