Settle in my reading friends and let me tell you the story of the “Pink Slime”. Once upon a time, fast food restaurants were immune to criticism. Then one day, sometime in 2012, all that changed when ABC News ran an 11 part segment on what fast food meat looks like in its raw form. The most charitable description? “Pink Slime.” “Pink Slime” was defended as being a harmless additive to make ground beef go further, nothing more, but the controversy put all fast food restaurants under careful consumer scrutiny. In 2014, horror writer H.E. Goodhue proposed that “Pink Slime” comes from space and is anything but harmless.
The novel Pink Slime is hard to describe. It’s most like a bizarro novel but less explicit (no anthromorphized/sentient reproductive organs running around) and with a stronger, more real world-ish plot. If you removed the aliens and the Pink Slime, this is the story of a formerly bullied young adult who has the oppportunity to get revenge on everyone who hurt him and in the process becomes corrupt from the power. The thing is, Andy Holstein would not be able to get revenge without the Pink Slime. Immediately after reading it I described this book as being an easy read, which it is, but it’s not necessarily a “beach read”. Underneath the body horror and the Pink Slime, there’s a message about appropriate revenge versus becoming worse than the bullies. Also, “beach reads” aren’t usually this dark.
I don’t want to spoil everything about Pink Slime
but let me give you a little taste (pun intended). Andy Holstein is an overweight athletic store employee whose only genuine friend is a spacy, hyperactive character known as Squirrel. Andy is in love with Cece, a frequent customer who he thinks is out of his league but is also nice to him. Other than Squirrel and Cece, everyone who meets Andy bullies him for his weight and awkwardness. The only place he feels welcome is the local fast food restaurant. Through a convoluted series of events, Andy eats the Pink Slime and gains the ability to turn people into Pink Slime monsters. This is all explained better in the novel, I promise. With his new power Andy goes on a killing spree and…Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out how it ends.
While I enjoyed Pink Slime there were parts and characters that seemed unnecessary. The one that stood out to me was any scene involving the alien nicknamed Guy. The alien nicknamed Guy was there for exposition purposes but in the end felt like he didn’t have to be there after all. He even said himself that there were aspects of the Pink Slime that he wasn’t familiar with. For a character that explains complicated events, you would think they’d have a good grasp on said events. Unfortunately when you read the book, you can’t ignore Guy.
In spite of some…moments, I do recommend Pink Slime. The book, not the gunk at fast food restaurants.
Let’s imagine you are a fan of the zombie apocaypse horror/science fiction subgenres but you are cautious about reading unknown zombie apocalypse authors. Your fears are completely understandable; I’m not even a zombie apocalypse fan and that makes me very discerning about what I enjoy. We both have that in common, even if our reasons are different. Trust me when I say that Outbreak: The Hunger is a fun read and in spite of its writing style flaws I do recommend it.
Outbreak: The Hunger begins scarily similar to the zombie apocalypse horror movie 28 Days Later (note the reference to the movie in the text) in which three animal rights activists are in a laboratory to free the animals. They do exactly that, but of course it blows up in their faces when one of the friends is killed by an animal and another friend is badly injured. The third friend is Jason, a very important secondary character who survives the night and stupidly spreads the zombie virus. You’ll learn more about him later in the novel, so keep his name in mind.
The bulk of the novel is about John, a chef and father to daughter Fiona (Fi). They are visiting the local zoo for daddy-daughter day thinking it’ll be fun, unaware that some of the zombie animals are there and ready to attack/spread the virus. Does either one survive to the end? Let’s just say that you’ll have to read through the epilogue and then to the first chapter of book two, Outbreak: The Mutation to find out.
My biggest hang-up about Outbreak: The Hunger is the writing style. This is not a deal breaker for me, but it’s fair to mention it in case it bothers any of you. The book is partially in third person, like when the animal rights activists break into the laboratory, any backstory about people who handle the zombie animals (Ex: Animal shelter workers Julie and Jim), and any scene involving the military. The remaining chapters are in first person where John is talking about being attacked by the zombie animals at the zoo. While the mixed points-of-view are necessary for telling the full story, it’s jarring to switch from third person to first person and back again.
Although the writing style can be problematic, Outbreak: The Hunger is a fun read. At the risk of spoiling a key part of the novel, the characters are often as confused as the readers. There’s not a clear “This is what the zombie virus is and this is how it spreads from animals to humans” explanation. Different characters contribute new information up until the end of the novel. This means that you go through a similar journey as the characters (except without zombie animals). Just keep in mind this helpful hint: Don’t care too much for anyone because the body count is pretty high. If you hate everyone or can handle characters you like getting picked off by zombie animals, you have nothing to worry about.
Author Scott Shoyer has been getting positive reviews by other zombie apocalypse authors such as Joe McKinney. I wouldn’t normally mention the reviews because they’re ego-stroking by friends, but here it’s relevant. Outbreak: The Hunger deserves more publicity than it currently has. I can’t promise that everyone will love it, but I can tell you that it impressed a reader who isn’t normally a fan of zombie apocalypse novels. Tell me what you thought of it.
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.