10.13.2013

Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute, by Jonathan L. Howard

I've been waiting for this book for ages.

Johannes Cabal:
The Fear Institute
What originally drew me to the first book in Jonathan Howard's Johannes Cabal series was the cover. It was unusual and artistic. Then the writing in the first paragraphs tickled my funny bone. I plowed through the first book, waited impatiently for the second book before steaming through it, too. Since then, I've been recommending it left and right to any reader with a slightly warped sense of humor I could find. I had to wait even longer for The Fear Institute due to, I think, publication problems. When I saw that it was finally released on this side of the Atlantic, I immediately headed for the bookstore to get my own copy. (I buy print copies of authors I particularly like.)

The Fear Institute was worth the wait, I'm pleased (and relieved) to report. We rejoin Cabal in his home as he is about to be visited by three men representing the Fear Institute, a group that have determined that the best chance humanity has of progressing is to eliminate fear. Though the gentlemen believe in "rational caution," they want to get rid of irrational fear and terror. Because this is a Johannes Cabal adventure, the plan to kill of fear has gone off the rails of actual science and into the improbable and possibly into the impossible. The Fear Institute believes that the spirit of fear, the Phobic Animus, lives in the Dreamlands. Cabal has been collecting information on the Dreamlands for years for his own research, but he doesn't agree to the expedition until the men agree to give up the Silver Key that allows anyone to travel to the Dreamlands.

As if things weren't weird enough, they get even weirder when Cabal leads the men to the Dreamlands via Arkham, Massachusetts. If you're familiar with H.P. Lovecraft, however, the weirdness will be familiar. (I haven't read any of his work, so I'm sure I missed a lot of references and jokes.) In the Dreamlands, Cabal and his three companions try to track down the Phobic Animus. Cabal is told by some of the denizens of the Dreamlands that he is also on a collision course with his destiny, in spite of the fact that Cabal doesn't believe in destiny. The group has many bizarre adventures in the Dreamlands, but not everyone makes it to the end. The hints start to bear fruit and before long you'll know that the fear expedition was just a cover for something else entirely. But to tell you what it is will spoil everything, so I'll stop summarizing here.

Cabal is a terrific character. He's an antihero of the first stripe. He doesn't care about what others think of him. He's snarky and sarcastic. But he does good deeds in spite of himself, keeping Cabal from being a total bastard. I also love Howard's hilariously academic writing style. I had to restrain myself from peppering my twitter and facebook feeds with quotations that make me giggle, snort, and chuckle as I read The Fear Institute. No one can quite pull of this style except for the British. I don't know how they do it, or even how to adequately describe it--but I love it.

There are hints at the end of the book that Cabal's adventures are not over, for which I am deeply glad. I just hope that there aren't any more publication issues that will delay the arrival of the next book in the series.

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