by John Shirley
“Funny how here, the men posses demons and not vice versa.”
Demons is the story of indestructible, supernatural creatures ravaging the planet as unstoppable killing machines but not in large enough numbers to destroy the population. With the demon invaders numbering only a few thousand, though some can be in more than one place at the same time, the world keeps turning while it’s slaughtered. A small group of magic users/psychics search out an esoteric weapon that may save Earth.
Undercurrent takes place 9 years after the end of Demons where the world has moved on, and in a mixture of pointed damage control, self-preservation, and the fact that all physical evidence has disappeared, most people believe the previous carnage was caused by a combination of terrorism and mass hypnosis. A small, powerful group seeks to reopen the world to demon kind permanently and on a much bigger scale.
The books work together well, but are much different in the substance of the tales. Demons deals with demons, the destruction they’re causing and what might be done to stop them, while Undercurrent deals mainly with humans attempting to resurrect them in a fairly complicated plot where you can’t really tell who’s who until near the end. Demons is mostly black and white, Undercurrent is mainly grey as the story unfolds as to who is responsible for what.
Exhibiting extensive knowledge of the occult, Shirley doesn’t beat us over the head with it. In a fascinating way he almost assumes we already know. And as avid horror readers there’s a good chance we do. Plenty of writers tackle the arcane, and most of them have done their research and enjoy showing us some of the fruits of that learning. Shirley just lets the occult happen naturally within the story, and if the reader gets it, great!
If treated as one novel, the first part, Demons, is a little more pulpy with more action and the demonic maneuverings we may be expecting, and can be standalone. The second, Undercurrents, is much more human focused and relies on having read the first. They are quite different, but both are highly enjoyable.
Note: The Ballantine Books version of Demons contains the sequel, Undercurrents. Demons is the original novella and Undercurrents clocks in roughly twice as long. The CD limited version does not contain the sequel.
Demons: 4 stars
Undercurrent: 4- stars