Have you ever read a novel that you’d been excited about from the first time you read a synopsis of it, only to be disappointed? The Nebulon Horror qualifies as this for me. It’s not a bad book, but it’s dated in its language and the style of writing feels restricted. The synopsis is accurate, but it would help considerably if it said “In this reprint of a 1980 novel…” so that readers have a better sense of how the time period may have inspired this novel. 1980 is not even what I would consider “old”; many fun horror novels have been originally published in the 80s and the reprints are just as relevant and exciting now as they were then. The Nebulon Horror is a “different” novel.
The plot of The Nebulon Horror is perfect for fans of the evil child and/or occult subgenre(s). At its most simple, seven-year-old children in a particular school in Nebulon, Florida have become evil overnight and the adults in the town need to stop whatever is causing it unless they want to be the next victims. The cause of this evil is the summoning of a long-dead and powerful human man’s ghost via a unique symbol that he responds to. There’s scenes that are violent and gory (sort of, a point that I will address more in-depth), but the bulk of the story is about secrets that this community keeps from each other.
One glaring thing about this book is that the plot is slow-moving. I was drawn to this book from reading the synopsis because I expected action-filled scenes with small interludes of characters being introduced or characters wondering “What’s going on?” Simply put, it’s the opposite. To be fair, the scenes with the evil/possessed children Jerri, Raymond, and their classmates were compelling. The first chapter of the book, for example, was Jerri’s first sign of possession when she accused her mother’s boyfriend of molesting her and physically ripped his face apart in self-defense but when pressed for details said she couldn’t remember what happened. The boyfriend survives his attack and becomes an integral part of the story, which I won’t spoil beyond this except to reassure you that he survives. This attack/kill and then claiming innocence is common among all the children; there are multiple scenes of a normally-shy Raymond committing grisly murders of people in the community for example. This plot point is why I kept reading in spite of feeling disappointed. When the kids are off at school or playing in the park and the focus changes to the adults, the plot becomes “draggy” and repetitive. If you want to skip to the big reveal, go to Chapter 25 and read to the end.
Some literature lovers may enjoy the writing style-here referring to the language and word choices- of The Nebulon Horror. As I said earlier, I thought the language was dated. To give you a concrete example, in the first chapter there is an odd way of describing the difference in characters’ speaking styles.
“Born in New England of European-born parents, Vin Otto spoke an oddly formal kind of English, at least for this rural Florida town where speech was usually as casual as an old shoe.”
Vin Otto has a substantial reason for his formality of speech, but there are other examples of writing that seems “off”. I have no idea what “…where speech was as casual as an old shoe” means, and it gets even weirder from there. The word “queer” used throughout the novel is synonymous with “strange” or “bizarre” rather than its more familiar present reference to sexual orientation/gender studies, which may interest word lovers but did in fact throw me a bit. When attractive women are described, there are euphamisms such as “well-proportioned”. The second grade teacher, who is only 27, shamed evil/possessed Raymond by calling him “You wicked boy!” These are little moments of writing that eventually add up. Vin Otto, the character with textbook English, is less “old” sounding than some of this writing. I get the sense that while this book was originally published in 1980, Hugh B. Cave wrote it much earlier. One other thing I wondered was if Cave wrote a more blunt draft of this book but had to censor some words or phrases so these odd choices were the best he could come up with. Either way, the writing style does not make for enjoyable reading.
After kicking around the good and the bad of The Nebulon Horror, I have decided that it’s not for me but others may enjoy it. I hinted at it when talking about the writing style, but a surprising audience for this book is readers that enjoy “wordplay” and seeing how language changes through the years. I don’t recommend it for horror fans, however.