Three Reasons the Strain Series Sucks

I was so excited to read the three books of The Strain series, which was a collaborative effort by director extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, author of the very entertaining The Town. All of the books came equipped with the full endorsement of the friends of mine who’d read them, and hell, the series was presented as a science-based horror yarn about a biological strain of vampires taking over the world! Take I Am Legend and combine it with a modern retelling of The Andromeda Strain and voila!—perfection!

Or so I thought.

The first book, The Strain, moved along quickly and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Sure, there were parts I rolled my eyes at, but the story was so entertaining that I could easily forgive them. Then came The Fall, which started out well enough. But then halfway through that book, something happened. The storyline became laughable. It all went to hell. And by the time I finished The Night Eternal, my opinion was set in stone.

The Strain series sucks.

And here are my top three reasons why, completely filled with spoilers for those who haven’t read the books.

#3: Bad Science

There are really only two glaring instances of this throughout the entire series, but trust me, these instances are HUGE.

First of all there’s the more minor affront. One of the man characters is Abraham Setrakian, who’s a Romanian Jew and who’s well over eighty years old. The text makes constant reference to his severely crippled hands and his bad heart, and yet he is constantly able to not only duke it out with the vampires, but all it takes is a single swing of his silver sword to sever head from neck. Seriously? I mean…seriously? Even guillotines, with their 45- to 50-pound blades, did not always succeed in hacking through the tissue and spinal column. And yet this ancient professor was able to do so every time with relative ease. Completely unbelievable, and we won’t even get into the fact he screams, “My sword sings of silver,” every time he executes a vamp, because that’s just plain dumb.


“Get off my lawn, dammit!”

The second and most egregious affront to science just so happens to be the conclusion of the second book, which completely sets the stage for the third book and forwards the vampire master’s plan. This plan includes exploding a series of nuclear power plants built by another rather unbelievable character in order to block out the sun with ash. Once this is finished, there will be a world that has only three hours of muted sunlight a day, which is of course vampire paradise.

The problem? Nuclear power plants don’t explode. They melt down.


“Wait, does anyone know how these things work?”


“Eh, never mind, no one cares.”

A nuclear explosion requires a catalyst and weaponized atomic fuel, which are quite lacking in reactors built to supply the public with electricity, because to have a reactor that could incinerate miles of prime real estate if anything went wrong would be just plain stupid. No, reactors melt down. When the core overheats, the fuel and fission products seep out and radiate the environment—which is of course really bad. Now, while it is true that hydrogen explosions from superheated steam can most certainly occur, those detonations wouldn’t be in any way large enough to create an ash cloud big enough to blot out Chris Christie, never mind an area of the sky. Even if it could, and the place did go up in a giant mushroom cloud, there’s no way that the main characters of the story, who weren’t even a mile away from one of the explosions when it occurred, would remain fine and dandy and drive off into the no-sunset.

Now, I know what you’re saying. These reactors were all built by one of the baddies from the books. He probably added explosive materials into his reactors to allow these nuclear blasts to occur, right? Well, I guess that’s possible…however, during the laughable back story (more on that later), it’s said that when Chernobyl melted down, one of the Ancient Ones (more on them later too) turned to dust. But wait…Chernobyl melted down, it didn’t explode! In other words, the authors are setting up the finale by rewriting a scientifically historical fact and hoping no one notices. Which of course no one does, because to most folks nuclear power is like Merlin, David Copperfield, and Ric Ocasek’s love life—it’s magic.

That being said, this sin is nowhere near as bad as…

#2: Good (Fake) Science Ruined By Bad Mythology

The vampires in The Strain are brilliant. They truly are. They’re created by parasitic (capillary) worms that burrow into and then change the biology of the host. Human traits are nullified, the skin becomes opaque, the digestive systems are simplified and fused to allow for quick absorption, and a stinger is formed where the voice box would be, which is the tool the creatures use to feed. Brilliant. Also, the effectiveness of silver is explained in a scientific way, given the metal’s antiviral/bacterial qualities, as is the sensitivity to UV light. In a less impressive addition they all share a hive mind, which might not be truly scientific, but then again all one has to do is look at the legions of Beliebers in order to say, “Okay, wow, this is actually a frightening possibility.”


Talk about getting your red wings.

And then the authors go and ruin all this groundwork by instituting one of the dumbest origin stories I’ve ever read.

According to the series, when God sent his angels to Sodom and Gomorrah, there were three, not two. One of the archangels, Ozryel, apparently developed a taste for killing and drinking blood. Why an all-knowing God didn’t step down and stop this, I have no clue. Instead, Ozryel is hacked into seven pieces and deposited around the globe, and it’s when the blood from those seven pieces seeps into the ground that the worms are formed, the Ancient Ones come into being, and vampirism begins. Goodbye, science!

What was once a thought-out and researched plot then goes on to be explained in the worst way possible. Vampires can’t cross moving water because they’re bound to their origins, but they can if they’re invited, which allows the Master, the renegade Ancient One, to cross the ocean and enter New York. Not a very well-thought-out fail-safe by an omniscient deity. It’s about on par with Darth Maul taunting Obi-Wan while the Jedi’s lightsaber, and certain death, is within easy Force-grabbing reach. The method, and the mythology, is just downright silly, not to mention lazy. And worst of all, it leads directly to…

1: An Insulting Ending

After all this plotting, after characters are left rummaging through a darkened world that shouldn’t in reality be changed in the slightest, our racially stereotypical heroes (no, I won’t get into that here, it’s just piling on) end up on some islands in Lake Ontario with a nuclear bomb in tow. (There’s that magic nuclear power again!)

It seems that all our heroes have to do is gather the ashes of the six Ancient Ones who had died because of those impossible nuclear explosions, lure the Master there, and then detonate the bomb. Then the whole shebang would end and the world would go back to normal. Yippee!

So they all arrive, the Master’s there (though he should have known their plan all along and stayed far, far away), and finally, after some eye-roll-inducing action, the bomb goes off. Let’s take out the fact that the main character and his young son go up in flames, which would be an emotional sticking point in the plot if not for the fact they were so damn annoying, and the added element that another couple of major characters are stationed on an island quite close to the one that blows up and they walk away completely unscathed after that magical nuclear blast. Instead, let’s focus on the direct aftermath of the explosion.

The sky opens up. A beam of light shines down on the detonated island. Two angels appear from heaven, and a third flies up from the ashes. The three angels then soar around together like fairies and then all three shoot upward and disappear into the clouds.

Um, huh? Did I just read that?

That’s right. The angel Ozryel, who was the reason the globe was thrown into chaos and that millions upon millions of people died, was just escorted back up to heaven after his body was reassembled. Talk about a massive crock of shit. It seemed his only penance was to kill shit-tons of innocent people and then get all blowed up without ever showing an ounce of contrition. It is without a doubt the most imbecilic and indolent ending to a serious work of fiction I have ever read. I literally slammed the book shut and mumbled curses to myself for a good five minutes after reading it. Sure, his entire strain was obliterated and humanity was saved from vampiric rule, but still…why the fuck was the angel let back into heaven? It makes absolutely no sense. It’s insulting. I can’t believe talented folks like del Toro and Hogan created it.


Just like eviscerated remains, heaven is pretty!

And just think…The Strain was optioned to be a series on FX! Ha! Will I watch it? Of course! And will I enjoy it? Probably. Why?

Because I’m an idiot.


“I give Rob a boner that big.”

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50 Responses to Three Reasons the Strain Series Sucks

  1. Tim W. Burke says:

    This was great. Thank you for expecting more from what you read despite the hooplah of promotion.
    Maybe FX will program The Strain against CBS’s Under The Dome and they’ll cancel each other out.

  2. Paulo Vicente says:

    What you said made alot of sense. I, too, felt “betrayed” on the ending of the second book and revolted with the relious origins, after all that trouble they had on making the vampires scientifically believable.
    Despite everything, let’s give some credits. Satrakian was cool and will be played by John Noble. The Master was a terrific villain and the vampires, well, I was so “hungry” for violent and monstruous vampires (after the Twilight/Vampire Diaries hangover) that I must say these are the best vampires in ages.
    And yes, I, too, will watch the show and probably love it because of the same level of idiocity that you claim :P

  3. Marzioli says:

    Yeah, I had a feeling it was heading in that direction. Not to imply I could have ever predicted the minutia, but the first book left such a sour taste in my mouth I gave up on the series. After this and Pacific Rim, I’m beginning to question my love for del Toro’s writing. Although, as you said, he gets a bye for Pan’s Labyrinth and the Devil’s Backbone.

  4. I think I too will miss this series. I love fantasy/horror/sci-fi, but it;’s got to make sense or it insults the reader.

  5. JC Hemphill says:

    I couldn’t even stand the first book. It was full of recycled material. Those vampires *were* great …. in Blade II. Which Del Toro directed. And a few scenes were (as I had just read it) rip-offs from ‘Salem’s Lot.
    I do agree with the whole laughable part. I was rolling my eyes half way into the first book before I set it down. Popular, Hollywood-ized works likes this kill the genre.

  6. My sentiments exactly. I thought the series started out extraordinarily well. Then, to satisfy the need to appeal to the movie going judeo-Christian readership (who are preloaded to believe anything), the creative writing goes sideways. What starts out as a brilliant take on the vampire Mythos descends into mediocrity. The Strain is a fusion of Salem’s Lot and several of the concepts of Ultraviolet (the BBC series). The series could have been much much better if it hadn’t been written as screenplay larva!

  7. Ray says:

    Pfft…Like any of you people could have done any better.

  8. Fox says:

    Aw. I’ve only read the first book. Looks like I should keep it that way.

  9. Huge problems with your review, pure stupidity. Stoneheart built the reactors in a way that allowed them to function as bombs – not hard at all with unlimited resources. Also with the ending the master did NOT need to be there to destroy him – if he was across the globe he’d of still perished. The angel was let back into heaven because of the born. Lastly you laugh at the god angle, and talk about science – fact is science does nothing to disprove god or creation, or angels for that matter. If you know something I don’t know, please let me know! All in all I give your reading comprehension a grade of D-

  10. K. Allen Wood says:

    Oh dear.

  11. Thank you, Alexander, for your reply. We always like a good repartee here at Shock Totem.

    I do have to say, however, that if one is to criticize another’s reading comprehension, they should look in the mirror first. Nearly every point in this criticism of my criticism is borne from reading through specifically-colored glasses.

    1) In this very article, I reference the fact that Stoneheart *could* have built the reactors in such a way as you describe. I also describe how Chernobyl is used as their inspiration for this strategy, a very real historical event where the reactor melts down. Therefore, it throws the entire premise into doubt, and shows either lack of understanding or laziness on the part of the author.

    2) Yes, the series is very clear on the fact that if the Ancients’ place of origin is destroyed, so then is the Ancient. You know what else is made very clear? That the Occido Lumen states that the final solution cannot be reached if the ashes of all seven Ancients weren’t present at the time of purification. Therefore, it stands to reason that he should have sent his henchvamps to stop the revolutionaries from fulfilling their mission and stayed far, far away. The human heroes knew next to nothing about what was about to happen,. If the Master never showed, it’s entirely possible that they might never have detonated the bomb, therefore saving his hide.

    3) I don’t mind religious books, nor mysticism. But I loathe when both aspects are applied in an unintelligent way. It wouldn’t have bothered me if the series had gone out of its way to create a scientific explanation for these vampires, and then did a complete one-eighty in the last book, if that reversal was done well, or even thoughtfully. But here, it’s not. There’s a total lack of logic. I don’t care if Mr. Quinlan was the deus ex machina reason for Ozryel getting back into heaven. Just because an author states something, “because reasons,” doesn’t make it acceptable or good. For this book, a simple fact remains–an evil entity was given reprieve for no good reason. Simple as that.

    Your turn.

  12. Jonas says:

    Yes, because one should only enjoy horror genre books or movies with solid science. Talk about eye rolling, try reading this awful review.

  13. aeeex says:

    The review was written by a moron pretending to know science. Bwhahaha.

  14. kambaign says:

    And what makes you? For reading a moronswork and posting into a moronic conversation? By the way a fact, science does not need to disprove god/gods, as it only accepts things that may be tested out, it is the theists job to produce the evidence that science will use to experiment up on and conclude if god/gods are real. Unteal that time comes god is just a ferrie tale and an imaginary friend of adults.. .

  15. John gustofson says:

    It’s entertainment nerd. No show is ever exactly like the original storyline. Keep reading books in your moms basement and complaining with pages upon pages nobody cares about. Get a life. Signed
    The masked crusader of go fuck yourself town. I like the show

  16. The strain sucks dick says:

    I’m currently watching the show and i have to say its absolutely terrible, my goodness what generic garbage. Gimicky long tongue vampires are not scary in the least bit and unlikeable annoying characters. 0/10 would not fossilize.

  17. J. M. says:

    It’s a lot better than Twilight. Okay, that’s not saying much.

  18. KD De says:

    Ohh please! Not like you can do much better! I liked the series! All books don’t have to be “scientific”. If everything was scientific then all books would’ve been boring pieces if garbage! I really liked how Del a Toro added his own little twist in there, and your crappy review isn’t going to change that! The plot line was fantastic in my opinion. Also, just as long as the Master was dead, there was no need for the collection of the ashes, but it would’ve ended to be done, but not immediately! Next time, try to appreciate an author’s efforts, because you probably can’t do much better!

  19. Tim Alexander says:

    Yeah, this guy probably wouldn’t like LORD OF THE RINGS either.
    Not scientifically correct.

  20. Edward Drake says:

    Maybe the series will deviate from the books to avoid the corny, non-scientific stuff. Here’s to hoping.

  21. Fox says:

    (insert angry nerd rant here)

  22. Charles Johnson says:

    Frankly I thought it was all stupid, and more importantly extremely boring.

  23. Question says:

    Thanks for writing this review! Kinda saved me some time since I was thinking of keeping on with the second and third book.

    Spoilerific question though, if you don’t mind: what happens to Gus and Quinlan in the end? (I just know of Quinlan from what I’ve seen of the show.) I heard Quinlan dies, but I need spoilers. This show is going to take ages, I can already tell.

  24. claudia says:

    Thanks for putting it in perspective. I am from Romania, and when I realized there were Strigoi involved, I couldn’t be happier. But then this f*ing ozryel story comes in and ruins everything. I am insulted on behalf of Romanian Strigoi for being reduced to some stupid religious angel bs story…

  25. Johnathan says:

    I’d like to point out first that I haven’t read much of the novels, only part of the first one, but I did enjoy the TV series, and look forward to its second season.

    The second thing I’d like to point out is that I think you’re taking the religious explanation of vampiric origins more literally than it should be taken. I know that having not read those sections of the books in context, what I’m saying may not hold much water. That being said, the angelic explanation of the Ancient Ones and the worm coming into being is more likely just like the bible: Something that isn’t provable, that should probably be taken as allegory and legend, because we don’t know what happened, but we want something to have happened. It’s the vampire equivalent to the Earth being created by God in six days. Maybe it isn’t supposed to be literal.

    The ending with the angels flying into heaven? I can’t really say. I’d suggest that that also isn’t supposed to be literal, but I can’t be sure, having not read the ending in context. I know that, as someone who has run tabletop role playing games and written some unpublished fiction, that fantastical ending plays a lot better than the characters waking up in silence and looking at each and wondering if it’s over, and fearing that they can never really know that it’s over.

    That’s just my two cents. Take from it what you will.

  26. When a book relies on science to further its plot, it SHOULD be scientifically accurate.

  27. Christophe says:

    Wow. What a series. I saw the 5th episode of the first series by accident and quickly watched 13 episodes in 2 days. The most fascinating stuff on tv in a long time. Highly recommended.

  28. Your a fool. Ummm. Its a work of Fiction dumbass.

  29. K. Allen Wood says:

    Ah, yes, because “fiction” means everything can be made up, no need for anything to be based in truth or fact.

  30. bruno says:

    Nuclear power plants don’t explode.. Tell that to those guys in Chernobyl… ‘-‘

  31. The end actually goes with the God of the Bible so actually it fist. The God of the Bible is not really merciful or intelligent actually its a mad, childish, narcissistic thing that has no problem killing children or whole planets. So actually if you have ever read the Bible it would follow some logic that there is really no logic to this God or its Angels.

    I think people tend to take so little of the actual writing inside the Bible as true and leave all the really terrible things that would not pass in the modern world as Ethical. Try looking at it thru the right glasses.

  32. traci009 says:

    Horrible show. I only watched a few episodes and I couldn’t take it anymore. The horrendous acting and idiotic storyline were the first things that killed it for me.
    I love fiction but this show is just garbage.

  33. The Governor says:

    I may be rather late in this discussion but I do want to continue and clarify the nuclear plants and the ancients “birth sites”. As someone mentioned, the Master did not need to be at his birth site (where the piece of the angels formed into worms). He was only there to try to stop them from detonating the bomb to destroy his birth site since he knew they had the Lumen book that told them where and how to destroy the Master (destroy his birth site).

    Now… the issue is; you’re assuming the Chernobyl meltdown and the Stoneheart plants were the same, which they are not. The Stoneheart plant had 2 responsibilities, 1. to destroy the birth site of an ancient and 2. explode to create a nuclear winter to block out the sun. This is why these plants “exploded” this way because they were manufactured to do this.

    The Chernobyl site was not meant to explode and create nuclear “dust” to block the sun. This plant was merely located on a birth site/black site and the meltdown caused the birth site to destroy an ancient. This is why the Chernobyl site only melted down because it wasn’t built to explode by Stoneheart.

    I do agree with the ending though. Why God allowed the angel of death to be reborn and brought up back into heaven is just a total knock at “God is forgiving”. So I guess it’s ok to destroy all of humanity, create a nuclear winter, and harvest remaining humans for blood or slaves, because you’ll still be sent to heaven.

    With regards to the biological portion and religious aspect, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt the writer’s wanted to portray a religious aspect on how vampires were originially created, and then describe how it functions in a biological set of rules.

    Anyways, I’m rambling on. I love the series (and I did enjoy the books minus the ending), but I just wanted to clarify the nuclear plant ordeals.

  34. Zack Arm says:

    Just a thought on this, but what if the angels came to retrieve the newly revived angel of death to bring him to judgement in front of “God” and he wasn’t forgiven?

    I do agree though that there’s so many things that just drive me crazy about the series. Honestly though, I’m enjoying the show regardless of the fact that the timeline seems to be extended in the initial invasion and I’m left questioning things like why some are hiding in storage units because it’s pure anarchy and chaos in the streets while others apparently seem oblivious to everything and are carrying on like life is normal *cough* real estate girl, blind kids at school, people walking around during the day, mayor and the line of credit

    I enjoy it but it is so hard to actually get into it with these things…

  35. SohaiLan says:

    Holy Shit , I watched season 1 and that was just garbage. What the hell was going on those vampire walking on streets killing people and yet the newspaper didn’t report it? And news on TV didn’t report it? FBI was taking no actions? Totally bullshit and stupid. The author has an IQ lower than 30.

  36. denni says:

    I have just got to my mid point in the second books and am very glad i read this review. The first book had the ridiculous idea that no one would notice because the richest guy in the world was stopping them,. That sorta nonsense always makes me think of the scene in house of cards when spacey is talking to the billionaire and reminds him while he’s the richest guy blah blah his fortune is a fraction of the US’s GDP and for the next few years he will be in charge of how it is spent. But i agree the vamps were awesome so was the reasoning crafting them. Followed by the kicker a constant rebuttal of logical statements for emotional ones which seemed in contest with the throughout references to the need for blunted affect when dealing with the vampires. I know the author of the article avoided the subject but racial stereotypes in this book were ridiculous, several characters actually internally monologuing cartoonish images of themselves. This is not science fiction it is modern fantasy and i suppose okay except that no one noticed i cant get over that.

  37. notmoose says:

    Lol. Thank you for this. It’s the most fun I’ve had reading a review in a while.

  38. Blaze2210 says:

    If these books (and the TV series) were solely based in science and facts, it wouldn’t be about vampires. Plain and simple. Unless you’ve forgotten, vamps don’t actually exist….

  39. CJ says:

    Lucifer watched Ozryel get Raptured back to HQ and was like, “Really?”

  40. Topaz says:

    I remembered reading and enjoying the first book, and I have to say I find Fet appealing (and Eph appalling), but if an author wants to offer a scientific explanation for his horrors, then the science should remain consistent. As far as hauling in “religious” explanations – puh-lease. I watched the “flashback” to the so-called “nunnery”, and despite a brief mention of a Mother Superior, I didn’t see a single nun, nun-vampire, or even female/erstwhile female figure. It was a nunnery populated exclusively by men – as represented by a small boy in a monk’s habit, a young man in a monk’s habit, a vamped male in civilian dress, and a whole bunch of vamped adult males in monks’ habits. This would make it a monastery, not a nunnery, and as far as I’m concerned, invalidates the authors’ standing as producers of any kind of believable religious background or solution to the story.

  41. Rider40 says:

    The Master DOESN’T KNOW what’s in the Occido Lumen, so how is he supposed to know to stay away from the site to keep his “ashes” from joininn the other Ancients’?

    Besides, the joining of the ashes is just to resurrect the angel, not to destroy his bloodline, which can be accomplished by merely destroying his birth site, which is stated clearly numerous times. So even if the Master somehow knew, he’d still get wiped out even if he ducked and covered like we were all taught to do in elementary school.

    It’s a great series. What a whiner.

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  43. nerdsrule says:

    What bugged me was the auction scene in “The Fall”. I think I understand that Del Toro wanted some reason for the Master to kill Palmer, so it was written to have to go through an auction, but I think it would have been completely in character for the Master to just kill him without him “messing stuff up”. If I were the Master and had tons of drones waiting across the street, I wouldn’t bother waiting for the blood bags to bid on the stupid book. Just take it and wear gloves. Duh.

  44. Alan says:

    Your review is a joke. This is a fictional story and by that in itself is fake. The authors have the creative license to write without boundaries. The Strain trilogy is an excellent series of books. Is it a standard retelling of Dracula, no it is not. It’s complete transformation of the standard vampire lore. Now you are entitled to an opinion however please realize that there is a difference between fiction and reality. Science-based fiction is still fiction.

  45. jon sidell says:

    I liked both this review and the show. to the author of this review, and to critics at large,
    I question that you are willing to suspend disbelief that vampires exist, but find the believe in god ludicrous. It seems reasonable that in a work of fiction both can exist. Neither needs more or less suspension of believe.

    the atheist sci -fi nerds who recoil at god, my guess is you would have zero problems that
    instead of ” an angel” it was an alien that fell to earth, and the merging of ashes sent a message to the mother ship to reclaim the lost creature., rather than “god ” calling an angel home.

    I will let all of you in on a little secret, Alien life is just an atheist palatable rendition of god..
    Alien or god are equal as far as scientific validity. which is basically zero circa 2016.

    So relax, enjoy the fable, and leave the god bashing, and unscientific rhetoric out of the debate

  46. PRobert says:

    Dude Sedrakian is an Armenian Jew, secondly he drinks the white so your first point is completely useless.

  47. Dan says:

    Just FYI: Opaque means you can’t see through it.

  48. Dan says:

    (You’re right though. Ozyrel being let back into heaven basically = The Master got away with it. I was also pissed about that when I finished the books.)

  49. Francesco says:

    Well it seems they changed something in the series and the Nuclear Plants has become a Nuclear Bomb.

  50. Graham says:

    I think the worst think about this series, other than the writing, is the incredibly dumb, incredibly weak excuse for a “vampire”… I like the design and theory of vamps here, but they are as stupid and easy to kill as zombies.. Since when do vamps move at a max speed of 3mph? Its soooo lame.

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