I’m going to kick off 2015 right with a weird aquatic horror novel about lampreys. For those of you who don’t know what a lamprey is, consider that a benefit for reading Lampreys by author Alan Spencer. If you do know what a lamprey is, you are going to find the entire premise of this novella ridiculous. Actually, I don’t know a thing about lampreys either and I still found the premise far-fetched. I have to warn you of that right now. In spite of the weirdness, you should give this novella a chance because it’s so weird but in the end it works as fun reading material.
Lampreys begins with a scene in a secret research lab where a research assistant is completing her work for the day and is about to leave the laboratory when her boss’s voice comes over the loudspeaker saying “Mama” is hungry and she is sucked through a hole in the ceiling by something large. She is chewed up and the scene fades to black. We are then introduced to the main character Conrad Garfield, an English professor who is mourning a break-up and is sent on a volunteer trip to Africa because, as his brothers say, he’s too big of a wimp. Conrad is extremely bookish, the stereotype of an English professor. This is somewhat significant to the rest of the novella, so keep that in mind. When Conrad, his brothers, and the rest of the volunteer team are taken to Africa, they are warned it’s a hot zone. That’s when things get good.
Once we reach this point, we find out what’s going on in the secret lab. The owner/lead scientist Dr. Sutherland is certifiably insane. He allowed normal-sized lampreys to infect his body so he could be “in tune” with their desires. The lampreys are flesh-eating machines, so Dr. Sutherland has to order human organs and flesh for them to munch on. In addition, he sicced his “super lampreys” (larger-than-human sized creatures, including “Mama”) on his research assistants to keep them happy while he ordered massive shipments of body parts. When Dr. Sutherland wasn’t feeding his lampreys, he was combining lampreys with humans to make weird living weapons. I won’t spoil the gory goodness, but let’s just say that the human/lamprey hybrids were much more lamprey than human. If you like body horror, you’ll love reading these scenes.
I also won’t spoil the ending, but the lamprey experience changed Conrad to a point, in a good way. Our bookish hero remained interested in literature and teaching, but the way he approached the subject matter became more personal. Also, the sad sack “I can’t move on from my unfaithful girlfriend!” person Conrad had been was gone. If nothing else, the lampreys made him realize he had control of his life and nobody had the right to decide the direction it took. Conrad is not always a likable character, but I promise he becomes more three dimensional throughout the novella.
I did have problems with believability of the novel. “Super lampreys” are out there, but as a fan of fantasy novels I can definitely get the need for unusual, inventive creatures. More than the lampreys, I didn’t buy mad scientist Dr. Sutherland’s lamprey/human hybrids. Humans can’t survive having living creatures shoved into and/or stitched to their bodies. There is no way, even in a clearly fantay/horror novel, that this technique is plausible. The only way author Alan Spencer could make the lamprey/human hybrid believable in context of the novella is to increase the novella to a full-length novel with more explanation. In order to enjoy this novella, you can’t question the logic at all.
Although I’m highly critical of the novella, I would still recommend reading Lampreys. It’s the horror equivalent of a beach read. Sometimes you want to be grossed out and entertained, no logic required. Lampreys doesn’t make sense, but it is a fun read.
After becoming bored with supernatural horror novels, I turned to creature horror novels. To make a long story short, I can’t get into novels about land creatures and nobody will ever convince me that I’m missing out, but I’ve been falling madly in love with aquatic horror, specifically where it involves things with tentacles and parasitic offspring. The ocean is a scary place. If you’ll excuse me going off track a little, allow me to say that I used to love going to the beach and swimming around but now you couldn’t pay me to step a foot into the water. By foot, I mean my foot, not the distance. Aquatic horror plays on everything that terrifies me about the ocean, which is a) why you can’t get me into the ocean ever again and b) why I can’t get enough of the literary subgenre. Deep Devotion is a worthy contribution to the aquatic horror subgenre, though it isn’t without its flaws. Follow me into the ins and outs of this novel, and please try not to throw up over the parasitic octopus parasite things that you’ll be hearing a lot about. If I can handle it relatively well with my fears of the ocean and my fears of food poisoning, I think anyone can.
Deep Devotion begins simply enough at an exotic seafood restaurant Ryuu where a young man named Collin proposes to his girlfriend Sarah. The two are so excited about starting their new life, but of course readers know better. Minutes later, Collin collapses on the floor and vomits up his lobster and crabcakes (which, spoiler alert, are important to future events in the novel). Sarah freaks out and takes him back to his apartment (because in horror novel land, nobody is capable of making genuinely intelligent decisions). Collin gets even worse, going into a catatonic state except when he talks about needing to return to the sea. He is picked up by an ambulance and a nurse, Kate Browning, discusses the situation with Sarah. Sarah eventually reveals that when she looked in Collin’s eyes at one point, she couldn’t see him and knew this was more than a regular case of food poisoning. Kate takes Sarah’s concerns seriously because there were other patients in the hospital that she had worked with earlier in the day who had the same reaction. Long story short, the crabcakes and other crab dishes served at Ryuu were infected with microscopic one-eyed tentacle parasites that could affect their hosts’ minds and couldn’t be removed through force. The only way to speed up the process of removing them from their human hosts was to take the hosts to the ocean and let the parasites remove themselves. Problem: The parasites were offspring of a monstrous octopus/squid/dinosaur entity who was not happy about humans interfering with them in any way. The only way that Kate and a marine biologist she teamed with could save the patients was to kill the mother entity. Are they successful? Well, I’m not going to spoil the very ending for you. I guess you should check out Amazon for a copy of the book. It’s worth the cost.
I have to be honest with you and state that although I recommend it, Deep Devotion isn’t 100% perfect. It’s missing this something that makes other horror novels gripping. I’m not quite sure what the word I’m looking for is, so bear with me as I try to explain it. I would say that as soon as the focus of the book moves from the food poisoning/parasite infection to Kate’s relationship with the marine biologist, there’s less of that desire to keep reading word-for-word. Don’t get me wrong, the love story isn’t the main focus of the novel as a whole. It does, in fact, have significance to the very last page of the novel. If you want to know about the octopus/squid/dinosaur entity’s capacity to recognize human emotions, you have to accept Kate’s relationship as being genuine and meaningful. It’s just that, well, why did there need to be that love story interrupting scenes of urgency and in some cases straight-up horror? This may be because when I go into a horror novel I expect horror above everything else and I keep my horror separate from my romance, but I felt like the relationship was when Deep Devotion lost its energy. I admit that I skipped around so that I didn’t have to read the blah blah blah descriptions of the relationship formation.
If you are a reader who enjoys mixing genres and/or can overlook the relationship, there’s not much else I can gripe about. I mean, yes there was content I wanted more of. You know what kept me interested in this novel? I was a big fan of the infection/possession from the offspring and the mystery surrounding what was happening to the patients. More of that, please. I don’t necessarily mean that M.C. Norris needs to pull this edition and rewrite it to have more of these elements, but this was what I mean when I say I want that something. One thing I thought was interesting about this novel was that it was relatively “clean” as far as the bloodshed content. Don’t get me wrong, there was copious amounts of blood concerning the parasitic tentacle offspring removing themselves from their hosts’ bodies, but it wasn’t a bloodbath for the sake of having blood and gore in the novel. I realize this makes very little sense if you haven’t also read Deep Devotion, but I guess what I’m trying to get at is that the disgusting straight-up horror elements of the novel are necessary to the story.
The best way to summarize how I felt about Deep Devotion is that if you read all the positive reviews about it on Amazon, they’re much nicer than my own review but they’re not wrong. This is definitely an aquatic horror novel I recommend you all add to your collection of horror novels. It’s on Amazon in print and Kindle editions and also Severed Press, its publishing company’s website. A bit of an aside, but one of my favorite horror authors, Tim Curran, is published by Severed Press. Interestingly enough, Mr. Curran also has an aquatic horror novel (well, novella titled Leviathan) that I highly recommend. In short, I feel safe recommending not only the book Deep Devotion but the publishing company Severed Press.
I am on a creature horror kick right now. Although the trend in self-published creature horror seems to be dinosaurs and robot entities (god knows why; they’re kind of blah), I particularly like aquatic horror. The idea that the majority of the ocean hasn’t even been explored and you don’t know what’s living in its deepest darkest depths is already the most terrifying concept I can think of. What happens when (fictional) people learn the answer to the mystery? Seaspawn is a speculative fiction horror novel in asking “What if these humanesque creatures overpopulated the ocean and needed to spread out to land?” I was totally hooked by the synopsis but in the end I am 50/50 on whether I liked how this book played with the idea.
Up front, I’m going to tell you that I hate the way Edward Parker wrote this book. In the first seven or so chapters, readers are introduced to various characters who are vacationing in St. Meads, a tourist beach community. The novel opens with a small team of lobster fishers on a boat called The Esmeralda who are slaughtered by a seaspawn they were unfortunate enough to catch. In the second chapter readers meet the Collins family, who are visiting St. Meads at exactly the wrong time. A few chapters later the focus is on Keith Evans, a local restaurant owner who had money problems way before the seaspawn and did not need yet another problem to compound his cursed life. There are other characters as well but I would have to reread the novel to explain their purpose. As a good reviewer I have a responsibility to provide factual, accurate information, but let’s be honest for a second. If characters aren’t appealing enough for me to remember, they’re just not important. The point is that there is no one character that you can follow initially and in the middle and end of the novel when everyone’s paths converge, it’s not particularly important who they are. Here’s the thing: I loathe this style of writing and it was a potential deal-breaker for me. If you are a reader that can follow multiple characters’ storylines and you get into that deal, maybe this won’t be a problem for you. I just have to warn you because it did not endear me to this book and if there was nothing else redeeming then I would’ve given up.
The redeeming factor is the seaspawn themselves. An old homeless man named “Mick” refers to them as mermaids, which they are definitely not. What they are is the fictional creation of author Edward Parker, and they’re pretty creative. They are humanesque in some ways. They have all the basic human body parts that allow them to feed, fight, and basically function on land as they would in the water. They are such a threat because they are semi-immortal; the only thing that can kill them is firebombs dropped on the St. Meads’ community. I would assume that the idea Parker is playing with is that of the “four elements”, water is more powerful than everything but fire. Anyway, when these seaspawn come out of the ocean for new land, they are dead-set on making it theirs. They aren’t scared of humans even though they’re not familiar with humans and being physically attacked by their human victims/prey doesn’t phase them at all. I like reading about creatures that are bloodthirsty and emotionless. Parker could’ve easily written a novel where some of the seaspawn become pets of the tourists and break from their animalistic instincts, but instead he writes them to be all about the food and generally unpleasant little things. I enjoyed reading about these creatures and I’m disappointed that they weren’t featured in a better-written novel.
There was one other thing I genuinely liked about this novel, but I’m cautious to explain what it is because it’s the “end” of the novel and it would be a huge spoiler. I’ll leave you with this: Consider that these creatures are called seaspawn. What does the word “spawn” suggest to you?
I’m going to avoid giving an official recommendation because I realize that the things I disliked about this novel are liked by other readers. There’s nothing horribly wrong with this novel from a storytelling perspective (as in, everything is justified and Parker leaves no loose ends) and there were no obvious grammar or spelling errors that I picked up on. I would just recommend that if you purchase this novel, be sure to read other reviews so that you know what to expect in advance. Finally, I want to add that I am not turned off from this author. Edward Parker has written other novels that sound interesting and I’d be willing to give them a chance. He has excellent concepts in his novels, so I’d like to give him a fair chance to impress me with other works.