Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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When a young mountaineer is mutilated by a terrible accident in the Swiss Alps, his boyfriend finds him changed upon his return to the Netherlands, and something appears hidden behind the mask of bandages that covers his face…

The first pages of Echo were thrilling. ‘There are people here,’ Olde Heuvelt writes simply. Shadows coming closer and closer and closer… I was immediately gripped. But after this prologue ended, Olde Heuvel tested my patience to its limits.

Just like Peter, I think Echo was my first dive into long-form horror. I have listened to some multi-season horror audio drama’s, but they mostly relied on short stories woven together by a longer thread – or they were just not that scary. But Echo started out very promising. Olde Heuvelt takes you on a ride of mysterious terrestrial power. I loved the parts about Nick’s climb of the Maudit, the ‘damned mountain’. It was obvious Olde Heuvelt is a climber himself and he knows what challenges climbers face, how it feels to get higher and higher and what drives climbers to always look for the next top.

Unfortunately, the storyline about Nick’s boyfriend Sam could not capture me in the same way. I think that was partly because Sam was a person very unlike myself, but also because he was not the one possessed by a mountain. Sure, he had his own trauma that came full circle in the end, but I never really believed his conflict as I did Nick’s. It felt a little forced somehow. Time after time he told me of his trauma, but I did not really feel it or see it in his actions. Moreover, I did not see how it had anything to do with the Maudit. How did Sam experience paranormal activity on the other side of the Atlantic, while I as reader had no reason to believe there were more paranormal forces active in this world than the Maudit?

Sam’s story was amusing, but not gripping, and that made me impatient for the next ‘good bit’. Therefore, I would say that the first 250 pages of the book could lose 100. The second half was more entertaining. I was no longer waiting for them to spell out what I had (more or less) figured out and they tried to do something about it! The story did not stall anymore from there.

In the end, I am glad I pushed through and I enjoyed the ride. Nick, I know you did not mean it and I love you. Sam, you’re all right.

Echo made me realise something about my experience in horror so far: Almost all of the horror media I’ve gotten into was short, like a short story or a movie, or a novella at its longest. That makes sense, because horror is all about the suspense, about stretching the mystery of the unknown for as long as possible before a final reveal. The longer the stretch, the more brittle the suspense, and the bigger the payoff has to be at the end to make it all worth it.

Echo is not poorly written, but it is full-length (I listened to it, it would have been nearly 20 hours at 1x speed). That means that it alternates between short sections of true horror and a more thriller-like plot progression in which the main character try to figure out what is going on and what it means for their relationship. I felt the horror sections were well written, but in its full length, the book overstays its welcome. It may be in part due to the fact the I am not particularly susceptible to occult mystery, but I took the narrative as more of a challenge to figure out what was happening. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as if there was any logic to the occult forces at work and the reveals at the end weren’t as satisfying as I had hoped they would be.

I suspect there is probably a good 200-page novella hidden somewhere in this 500-page book, or even better, a movie script (which I feel Olde Heuvelt is already applying for a bit with his style). In a shorter form with a focus on the suspenseful moments, the plot could be quicker and more tense, there could be less repetition, and especially if it were adapted for the screen, the lack of logic underlying the horror could be smoothed over with some visual magic.

Overall, well written but probably too long. Not for me, but if you like horror, you might find you like it better than I did. If you haven’t read Olde Heuvelt’s HEX yet, I would recommend giving that a shot first — I read it too long ago for a proper review on the website, but it is about half as long as Echo, more cohesive, and filled to the brim with delightful Dutchness. That one is a definite recommendation.

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