Paradise Lost

RadioRunWe all know what’s coming. And it’s not going to be pretty. At some point in the future, earthquakes will rock our world. The planet’s axis will shift and the magnetism of the North and South Poles will spin out of control. Oceans will flow in new directions and land mass will change dramatically. Don’t be surprised to wake up one morning and discover entire continents under water.

But that’s not all, folks. Expect a natural disaster of this magnitude to trigger a nuclear winter. Global positioning systems will malfunction and send atomic warheads skyward—mostly toward friendly soil. The ensuing fallout will poison the atmosphere and take hundreds of years to dissipate.

That’s the situation in Radio Run, a post-apocalyptic novel with giant monsters and a Hunger Games-like twist. The year is approximately 2109, nearly forty years after earthquakes and nukes change the world forever. South America is now underwater and Arizona is an uninhabitable polar ice cap. Canada is “balmy,” and the People’s Republic of Alaska is a paradise wistfully known as New Eden.

Getting to Alaska is a problem, however. The terrain between Niagara Falls and Anchorage is a wasteland filled with giant birds, mutant insects and roving tribes of fifty-feet tall sasquatch. And don’t even think about jumping on a boat. The water is teeming with predatory fish and whales that would make Jonah flinch. Even beyond the scary cryptids, the path to New Eden winds through a fog that is thick with face-melting radiation.

Over the years, the mad scramble to get to Alaska has morphed into a top-rated game show. Each season, a handful of people are selected to participate in the hopeless adventure. Drones follow them as they stumble through the wasteland while smarmy celebrity hosts keep viewers (and gamblers) entertained in the studio. Part Battle Royale and part Naked and Afraid, Radio Run was the biggest and best game show on TV.

The parade of monsters is what you’d expect in a world awash in nuclear radiation: three-foot tall ants, eight-inch long houseflies, eagles with a wingspan of 20-feet, whales the size of islands, etc. The animals survived because something in their genes used the poison like steroids to create monster magic. They all embodied the genetic rewriting of life.

Without a doubt the most dangerous creature roaming the wasteland was the sasquatch. Fifty feet tall, its fur was coarse and thick like a bear’s quill-like pelt, but its shape and rippled muscles resembled something more like a gorilla. Most disturbing of all, says the author, its face had a recognizable human-like quality. Think about that for a moment or two.

The contestants get picked off one by one. The first guy dies when a bird opens his skull like a can opener, a parasitic plant gets the next unlucky slob and the third guy gets thrown overboard as chum. The carnage continues until two survivors eventually reach Alaska. That’s a first. Nobody has ever crossed the finish line in the history of the Radio Run TV show.

But alas, there’s bad news in Anchorage. Like Thelma and Louise, the two finalists embrace the futility of their existence in the most dramatic way possible. “This isn’t worth it,” says one of the dispirited winners. “The government poisons the planet and we have to pay? Those a-a-abominations, they chase us. Them and the birds and the wasps and we just run and run and run. That isn’t living.”

[Radio Run / By Eddie Generous / First Printing: September 2018 / ISBN: 9781925840230]

Blackshadow

LongNightGraveMummies are creepy and dusty and probably smell like rotten flesh, but they aren’t very scary. Think about it, whom would you rather meet in a dark alley? Nosferatu or Imhotep?

But more than any other monster, mummies provide grist for authors to explore universal themes of life and death. Thousands of years old, mummies roam the earth, a perverse embodiment of immortal lust.

And so it is with the mummy in The Long Night of the Grave. As a priest of Ra during the Egyptian reign of Mentuhotep, Sakhtu lived outside of the law. He was persecuted during his lifetime but he knew the way to power and wealth was through life itself. “The longer you live, the more you have of both,” explains the priest’s modern day disciple. “The most powerful man is the man who outlives his enemies.”

The big question, of course, is who will do the living and who will do the dying? The ancient Egyptians found a way to extend life beyond death. If you knew the secrets, possessed the artifacts and paid attention to ceremony, you could live forever. Who cared if you were wrapped in gauze and slept in a sarcophagus?

Sakhtu is brought to the U.S. by a dilettante named Jeffrey Isle. Nobody in his family had lived beyond the age of 50 and it was his desire to use ancient dark magic to break the “curse of the Isles.” Things go sideways pretty quickly. The mummy, unchained and footloose, goes on a murderous rampage, and Isle is undone by his unchecked ambition. Spoiler alert: the kerfuffle at the end results in a Land of the Pharaohs-like climax.

There’s more to this novel than mummy mayhem, however. The author is trying to make a point about the folly of immortality. The Long Night of the Grave takes place during the late 19th century, a time when emerging technology (like electricity, automobiles and telephones) is on the horizon. Mankind is racing toward the future, and there’s no place in the world for a dusty old mummy from 2100 BC.

The mummy is a seven-foot-tall brute—“dark and black and torn from the mist by a madman’s hand.” He’s an impressive Blackshadow all right, but he’s nothing but an anachronistic curiosity. Poor ol’ Sakhtu. He used Egyptian thaumaturgy to live forever. But he couldn’t find a way to stop the hands of time from moving forward. He discovered too late that the gift of immortality was actually a curse.

[The Long Night of the Grave / By Charles L. Grant / First Printing: January 1988 / ISBN: 9780425106273]

 

Where Creatures Roam

BewareGlopBen Lee and his sister Cindy believed in monsters. They’d never seen one of course, but that didn’t matter. If there were talking raccoons and seven-foot-tall ambulatory trees in outer space, then why couldn’t there be monsters on Earth?

So it didn’t surprise them too much when a blobby monster showed up in their hometown one night. Glop was vaguely human-like in shape, but it was mostly amorphous like Silly Puddy. When it moved, it walked and oozed at the same time. It left a trail of goopy footprints wherever it went.

At first, Ben and his sister were thrilled to see Glop. “We have a real live monster in town!” Cindy whooped with glee. And Ben took pictures of it with his smartphone. “It’s amazing, unbelievable, astonishing!” he concurred.

But Glop was a monster with a ferocious agenda. The first words out of its mouth were (and I quote): “Hhhhhhhuuuuumannnsssss, yyyoouuu aaarrrrrrrrre doooooooomed!” Its voice was like a creaky door being opened slowly, mixed with the bubbling sounds of a pot of boiling water. Clearly the town of Highland Park was in grave danger.

For help, the kids send a desperate text to Kid Kaiju, the world’s #1 monster expert. Thankfully, Kaiju responds with a flurry of timely messages. He knew the origin of Glop and he knew how to stop it. Doing so, however, was going to be a huge challenge for Ben and Cindy.

Pursued by the icky monster, the brother and sister team dashed through the woods, traipsed across a graveyard and sought shelter in a haunted house. Ultimately they found themselves on the campus of Jacob Kurtzberg Middle School. Named after Jack “King of Monsters” Kirby, the school held the secret to defeating Glop.

In the end, the kids don’t totally vanquish Glop (the author wisely makes sure to keep the door open for a sequel). But with the help of Kid Kaiju, a fire-breathing dragon named Slizzik and the school’s weirdo art teacher, they found a way to temporarily halt the monster’s creeping horror.

Of the bunch, the biggest hero of the book was undoubtedly little Cindy. Her brother had a giant monster rep, but he was an ineffectual hero who shrieked in terror at the sight of a single rat. More than a few times, Cindy tricked the monster and saved her brother’s life. She even selflessly protected him from the neighborhood bully. She was more than a tagalong sidekick. She was a pint-sized Buffy Summers.

Glop was stopped but questions remained. “What was that thing?” asked Ben in the penultimate chapter. Was it the Blob? Hedorah? Slimer? Or what? Did it come from Transylvania or outer space? What the Glop?! “There are some things you’re just better off not knowing about,” said his art teacher cryptically. “And this is one of them.”

[Marvel Monsters Unleashed: Beware the Glop! / By Steve Behling / First Printing: July 2017 / ISBN: 9781368002479]

Apex Carnifex

Apex2When it comes to horror comics, nobody does it better than Junji Ito. His efforts—including Uzumaki, Tomie and Frankenstein—are famous for being absurd, obscene and grotesque. If you’re new to the creator’s oeuvre, I recommend starting with Uzumaki. I guarantee you won’t be able to resist its insanely hypnotic spiral iconography.

Back in the early aughts, the mangaka published Gyo, a 400-page comic about a Japanese coastal town overrun by mutants. The story itself was half-baked, but the imagery remains intensely memorable—especially the drawings of various sea creatures walking on land. The shark, in particular, was super creepy. For the art alone, Gyo is worth checking out.

There’s a chilling scene in Chris McInally’s latest book that harkens back to the walking mutant sharks of Gyo. Having already established itself as the apex predator of the Florida Everglades, the Machaerodontis Carnifex (“Sword-Toothed Butcher”) shambles onto shore in a fit of manifest destiny. The creature—sort of a piranha-anaconda-dinosaur-like thing—perches itself atop a knoll like a lion surveying its domain, its bulky body held aloft by petrified, clam-shaped pectoral fins.

I don’t know about you, but the image of a fish walking on land is highly unsettling. “Half-sliding and half thundering along the beach, the carnifex made a fearsome sight,” writes McInally. “Grunting, hissing and shrieking like a banshee, the ruby-eyed creature barreled after its fleeing quarry with a vengeance.”

McInally’s first book in the series (Apex) was about a killer shark that made its home in a placid lake. The shark was fierce, but definitely water bound. As long as you stayed away from the lake, you had nothing to worry about. Not so with this new creature. Evolution had given it legs, lungs and an appetite for surface dwellers.

To the rescue comes Dr. Hailey Benson, the infamous shark slayer from McInally’s previous book. Initially the battle-scarred marine biologist is wary of the situation. “I’m not interested in hunting monsters,” she gripes. “I’ve been there and done that.”

But soon enough, her curiosity gets the best of her. Once in Florida, Dr. Benson assesses the situation and drafts a plan of attack. In one fell swoop, she’s going to kill the carnifex, save the Everglades and restore her tarnished scientific reputation.

Her plan works (I guess) but it unfolds in the craziest way. The novel’s improbable endgame features a Goldilocks moment (!!) that’s either a stroke of genius by the author or a wrongheaded blunder. Honestly, I can’t decide which.

Before the final showdown with the carnifex, however, Dr. Benson must defeat her deranged archnemesis—Demi, the radical animal rights advocate. The fight between the two alpha women is a doozy and is (arguably) the best thing in the book. Hopefully the author is working on Apex 3 right now. I’m really looking forward to the continuing adventures of Dr. Hailey Benson—monster hunter, superhero, shark slayer, carnifex butcher and friend to bears.

[Apex 2 / By Chris McInally / First Printing: June 2018 / ISBN: 9781925840018]

Anita the Teenage Witch

ANITAWho’s the most popular witch in the wayward sisterhood? Is it Morgan le Fay? Circe? Baba Yaga? How about Hermione Granger, Willow Rosenberg, Wanda Maximoff or Sabrina Spellman? Laugh if you want, but my favorite witch will always be Wendy, the good little sprite.

Although she’ll never be as beloved as Maleficent or Raven (or Wendy!), Anita Thompson certainly has her bewitching charms. She’s a million-and-three-year-old sex kitten who favors peek-a-boo outfits and heavy petting. Says author Keith Roberts: “Anita makes the boys cry and then helps them unclasp her dress.”

To quote an old song from the 60s, Anita is a child of nature and a friend to man. According to her mentor, ol’ Granny Thompson: “She’s got power uvver the beasts o’ the field an’ the win’s o’ the air. She kin call the lightnin’ down inter the cup o’ her ‘and … and she’s got senses piled atop o’ the senses o’ mortals.” (Granny’s got a weird way of talking btw.)

“I’m not human,” adds Anita, “because I know what bats think and how the foxes talk … and I know how it feels when dragonflies mate. I can fly and I can change into a hare or a badger or a fish. I know everything because I can hear everything talking, owls and bats and insects, even the little creatures on the back of the moon.”

Anita’s an amazing young lady all right, but she’s got a lot to learn. For example, she’s never explored the world beyond the English countryside of Foxhanger. More importantly, she’s never cast a malicious spell in her life. If she doesn’t do something evil soon she’s worried that she’ll never get to Hell. She’s afraid that she’ll end up in “that other place.”

And that’s where this mosaic novel begins. It’s an interlocking, sequential short story collection and a coming of age novel in one tart volume. It’s sort of like The Seduction of Misty Mundae with a magick twist. Or maybe it’s like a comic book by Neil Gaiman and Frank Thorne. Take your pick.

Author Keith Roberts doesn’t disappoint readers who are looking for a little titillation. Anita’s freewheelin’ sexuality is a big part of all 15 stories. But Roberts isn’t lascivious at all. He’s a smart writer with a droll sense of humor that solicits the male gaze in a courteous manner.

For example, in a story called “The Simple for Life,” Anita stands magnificently before a full-length mirror in only her panties and a hair-ribbon. “She was uncertain about the hair-ribbon,” writes Roberts with a randy wink. In “The Charm,” Anita encourages a man to admire her naked body: “Don’t forget to look at the dimples on my bottom,” she says, “they’re one of my best features.” And later, when Anita creates a simulacrum of herself, she takes a step back to admire her handiwork. Both she and the reader can’t help noticing how sexy the effigy is.

Beyond the carnal content (and the provocative book cover by George Ziel), Anita represents a young girl’s journey from libidinous wood nymph to protector of the green. Anita travels through time (“The Charm”), plays matchmaker to a couple of ghosts (“The Middle Earth”), appears on a TV game show (“Idiot’s Lantern”), gives life to a scarecrow (“Timothy”), and saves the world from a mermaid invasion (“The Mayday”). There’s no limit to her powers. “Yer a witch,” confirms Granny Thompson. “Yer can do anythink.”

[Anita / By Keith Roberts / First Printing: 1970]

The God of New Zealand

IntoTheMistIn Maori legend, there are stories of monsters living in rivers and swamps throughout New Zealand. Every child knows about the taniwha—vengeful creatures that slaughter warriors, kidnap maidens and eat babies in one gulp.

Nobody actually believes there are monsters dwelling in the vast forests of New Zealand, of course. That’s silly. The taniwha may inspire sleepless nights, but they’re simply creatures from Maori mythology.

But the forests of New Zealand are dense, shrouded in mist and largely unexplored. Even satellite surveillance is limited. In truth, no one truly knows what’s going on in the Aotearoa bush. For all we know, there could be millions of horny hobbits, smurfs and ewoks running around butt naked. There could even be giant gruesome monsters.

That’s exactly what a NZ Defense Force unit discovers while on a secret mission to the Urewera National Park. Sergeant Taine McKenna and his men are helping a team of scientists trying to determine the economic potential of the area. Specifically, they want to know if there are any natural resources to plunder.

The last thing anyone expects to see is a giant prehistoric predator nipping at their heels. But there it is. Three meters high, 15 meters long, it resembles a crumpled mud-colored tarpaulin thrown over a small caravan. It was a scaly fucking tank of a dinosaur. “That ain’t no taniwha,” says one of the locals. “That’s fucking real. There’s nothing mythological about it.”

And thus begins a one-week battle between nature and man. The taniwha, affectionately dubbed Sampson, chases its prey across the unforgiving landscape, and the ragtag group of explorers does it’s best not to be eaten. No surprise, the odds are stacked in the taniwha’s favor. “We’re like Wile E. Coyote with his latest ACME invention,” says one dispirited soldier. “We might as well be facing Goliath with a fucking slingshot.”

There are many things to recommend about Into the Mist. There’s plenty of suspense and gore. And the author uses the word “fucking” a lot. Plus, how many novels about giant monsters are set in New Zealand? If you’re tired of dinosaurs rampaging across Tokyo or New York or San Francisco, you should definitely pick up this book. The author (who lives in Tauranga) peppers her text with a generous amount of local color. At the very least you’ll pick up some Maori slang along the way. I’m confident that it’ll make you a better dinner conversationalist.

My favorite part of the book, however, is when the local thaumaturgist (matakite) engages the taniwha in conversation. Imagine a similar situation in which Ann Darrow sits down for a chat with King Kong. Or what if Pinocchio could somehow talk to Monstro? That would be cool.

“Why are you doing this?” asks the matakite. “What do you want?”

“I’m here to remind you that this is my forest,” says the unrepentant beast. After 200 million years, the creature had grown arrogant. It was no longer content to live in the jungle and keep to itself. It was time for Sampson to become god of the forest. “Tell mankind that I am here,” says the taniwha, “and that I am hungry.”

[Into the Mist / By Lee Murray / First Printing: April 2018 / ISBN: 9781925711769]

Slimy AF

SlimeBeastWhen Professor John Lowson stumbles upon an alien creature sleeping in the swamp, he immediately begins thinking about his lofty reputation. He is, after all, the self-proclaimed “greatest archaeologist in Britain.” Never mind the danger, he says. He wants to bring the beast back to civilization and reap his reward. “Do you think I’m going to let the most profound scientific discovery of all time slip through my fingers?” he asks his colleagues.

Liz Beck and Gavin Royle didn’t exactly share their mentor’s enthusiasm. They’d prefer to stick a fork in the slimy beast and be done with it. Better safe than sorry, they reason. The lovey couple just wants to get back to London and start making babies. “The monstrosity,” writes the author, “cast a cloud over their supreme happiness.”

The professor, on the other hand, is totally blinded by his mad ambition. He would do anything to subdue the creature and bring it back to civilization. If Liz and Gavin didn’t fall in line and help him, there were ways and means to silence them for good—concrete shoes, cyanide, TNT, high voltage, that sort of thing. Lawson might be a well-respected member of England’s scientific community, but he was also a selfish scheming bastard.

The Slime Beast eventually awakens from its watery lair and immediately goes on a killing and eating spree. It eviscerates its victims and eats their gooey parts. For dessert, it rips the heads from their bodies and sucks the brains out of their skulls (as you do). Weirdly, the beast develops a taste for ladies with big boobs. “The Slime Beast turns its head and sees the woman standing at the top of the stairs. Her bulbous breasts are clearly visible through the semi-transparent nightdress. It thirsts for their flavor—the slurping tenderness there for the taking.”

After a few missteps, Lowson and his crew realize that they are totally unprepared to tangle with the creature from the black lagoon. Even the army can’t figure out a way to contain it. By the end of the novel, the Slime Beast was nigh unstoppable. No longer was it a shambling monster relying on brute strength and fear. It had somehow become swift and cunning like the alien aboard the USCSS Nostromo. Things end badly with a kinky rape scene, a wild chase through the swamp and a perverse showdown between Lowson and the object of his obsession.

Like everything I’ve read from Guy N. Smith, The Slime Beast is weird and crazy in a good way. His novels always feature a muddle of influences and they inevitably spring fully formed from his hyperactive id.

The sex scenes, in particular, are totally bonkers. During intercourse, for example, Liz begs her boyfriend to “Give it to me proper, like every woman wants her man.” What exactly does that mean anyway? And who talks like that in bed?? Later, when the two lovebirds are relaxing in post-coital bliss, Liz grabs her partner’s floppy cock in her hand. Writes Smith: “His limpness excited her as much as his hardness had done.” Even with all the spilled offal, skull slurping and tit noshing, this is probably the most cringe-worthy moment in the entire novel.

[The Slime Beast / By Guy N. Smith / First Printing: November 1989 / ISBN: 9780586204962]