Clamp: There’s Something In the Water

Vermonster Novel Resurrects Gory Monster Novels!

[Part 1]

Clampcvr
I’ve been sick as a dog since Tuesday night, and was so out of it with a head cold by Wednesday AM that I couldn’t even sustain the attention span to watch television. And that’s saying something.

So I turned to my stacks of unread books and eased from halfway down the third stack a novel I’ve been saving for such a day: local author Peter K.K. Williams‘s Clamp (2007). Peter gifted this copy to me when I was speaking at a function in northern Vermont back in October 2009, telling me it was a novel inspired by the monster movies he loved growing up. We chatted back and forth and even ducked out for a bite to eat afterward with Joe Citro, and had enough common ground between us that I was eager to read what he’d come up with.

My taking this long (and waiting for this state of mind) isn’t a slap to Peter or Clamp: my bedside stack of books is always formidable, and I read two-three books per week, usually having to gear my choice to whatever is pending in my CCS teaching arena. Clamp never quite fit those parameters.

But I sure was ready for it this week, and Peter‘s novel didn’t disappoint. I haven’t had this much fun with a gory monster novel since I reread four of the six infamous Guy N. Smith Crab novels four summers ago (alas, I’m still missing two of ‘em: Killer Crabs and The Human Sacrifice, as well as the brand-new Crabs short story collection; more on these tomorrow).

Flockcvr

Now, first of all, understand that I’m not damning with faint praise here. I truly love and shamelessly enjoy these kinds of monster stories: contemporary settings, isolated rural locales, characters by and large set up like tenpins to be devoured, etc. I don’t expect much of the genre, but I’m often disappointed. 

The genre Peter engaged with — what I’ll call here, unashamed, the ‘gory monster novel’ – is a venerable tradition. It was an absolute staple of US and UK paperback racks in the 1970s and early ’80s, and though it’s been overtaken by the Sci-Fi Channel ‘gory monster movie’ movie (which, by and large, aren’t as well crafted as the ‘gory monster novels’ of yore, but just as thick-headed, thick-skinned and malicious — and Clamp would make a terrific Sci-Fi Channel movie), it’s still an honorable genre. 

At the top of this carnivorous food chain I would place stellar gems like Clive Barker‘s short story Rawhead Rex and James Robert Smith‘s novel The Flock; terrific stories that work as literature and as page-turners. Rawhead Rex is gory-monster-story-as-art, the single best monster tale of our generation. The Flock is damned near as good –

  • –and I said as much back in January 2008, when I placed The Flock in my Myrant Fave Books of 2007′ lineup.
  • I wrote then, “It’s Blackwater vs. tribal prehistoric birds — the carnivorous Pleistocenian phorusrhacid Titanis walleri — in the wilds of Florida, and it’s a hoot. I’ve been a fan of James Robert Smith‘s writing longer than almost anyone on Earth outside of his immediate circle, having read much of his short fiction since the late 1980s. …This, his first published novel, is superficially in the Jaws and Carnosaur mold; if it’s ever adapted to film, that’s how it’ll be taken, no doubt. But that misses the point, really.

    But what Bob accomplishes here (and the aspect that will be toughest of all to capture in any other media, save perhaps comics if it’s ever adapted to that medium) is persuasively steeping the reader in the mindset of a pack animal’s culture, ecology and literal pecking order amid life-altering conflict and crisis, and he does so with straightforward, yet always imaginative, efficiency. To my tastes, Bob‘s accomplishment ranks up there with my favorite Robert F. Jones adventure novels (Bloodsport, Slade’s Glacier, The Diamond Bogo, etc.), but with (yum, yum) monsters. It’s the unwavering intelligence, insight and empathy for the feral intelligence and ferocity of his predatory creatures that places The Flock amid my fave reads of 2007. I read a lot of fiction, little of it sticking to the mental ribs, but The Flock delivered…”

  • I wasn’t the only one to heap deserved praise on Bob‘s novel: check out this anonymous review at BlogCritics.org:
  • The Flock is a great first novel, with an impressive group of characters both human and animal (and sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart) who actually grow on you. By the end of the story, you find yourself on the edge of your seat, worrying about the ones you like and hoping the ones you don’t get what is coming to them. The story is complex and intriguing, with the parties involved facing off and each one with its own plan.”

  • The Flock is now in production as a feature film from producer Don Murphy, who took umbrage with comments Bob posted on Eddie Campbell‘s blog about Murphy‘s From Hell movie adaptation; Murphy ordered a copy of The Flock ready to tear it apart, and instead fell in love with the book (if nothing else, Murphy knows a good read when he finds it) and the rest is history. Or soon will be.
  • Bob has already announced a mass market edition of The Flock coming from Tor Books later this year, and a sequel in the words, The Clan. I’m eager to give that a read, natch!
  • (You can still pick up copies of the OOP Five Star first edition of The Flock online; but don’t wait too long to do so.)
  • Now, between the highs of Rawhead Rex and The Flock are various levels of glorious blood-drenched entertainment and ever-diminishing returns.

    I’d place John Brosnan‘s novels penned as Harry Adam Knight at the upper levels, particularly Carnosaur (1984), The Fungus (1985) and Death Spore (1990), along with Michael Crichton‘s bestsellers Jurassic Park (1990) and The Lost World (1994) — yep, those were gory monster novels, too, despite their high-profile releases. 

    Below there I’d have to slide the plethora of giant shark potboilers like Peter Benchley‘s Jaws (1974), which I never really cared for as much as Steven Spielberg‘s in-every-way-superior adaptation to film, and all its sequels, imitators and ripoffs, including Hank Searls‘s Jaws 2 (1978) and Jaws: The Revenge (1987) and the prehistoric shark permutations like Steve Alten‘s Meg quartet (1997-2009). And on down the food chain it goes, including a spate of crocodile/alligator novels not worth mentioning and special soft spots in my skull reserved for K. Robert Andreassi‘s tepid Gargantua (1998) — just because it’s the last ever paperback based on a made-for-TV monster movie, I think! — and especially Shaun Hutson‘s horrifically moist Slugs (1982) and Breeding Ground (1985), which are the most obvious precursors to Peter‘s Clamp.

    CrabsMooncvrBest of all, though, for the author’s unadulterated, relentlessly bloody mayhem and prolific output if nothing else, were the novels of Guy N. Smith.

  • If you want to grasp the enormity of all that Smith scribed since 1974 (when his first novel, Werewolf by Moonlight, hits the stands in the UK), this is the place to look. Really, go check it out. It’s a staggering, mind-blowing tsunami of novels. And damn, Smith is still cranking ‘em out: Maneater just came out last month, and Deadbeat is out this month. No deadbeat, he, this bold fellow named Guy N. Smith!
  • The man is a ceaseless writing machine, also penning novels and children’s books under pennames (‘Jonathon Guy,’ ‘Gavin Newman,’ and maybe more) and reportedly boasting over 1000 published articles and short stories over his long career. Move over, Dean Owen!

    Given the obvious popularity of Smith‘s novels, no surprise that he has nurtured his own cult following, and count me in that number.

  • I was delighted to find the Crabs novels gloriously lampooned by comedian/author Matthew Holness, under the nom de plumeGarth Marenghi” — here’s a taste. Just a taste.
  • I once inadvertantly insulted a very close friend who was working on a novel by evoking Smith‘s name; to my lasting and eternal regret, he immediately stopped work on his book. Damn! That certainly wasn’t my intention, nor did I evoke Smith‘s legacy as a pejorative — I adored Smith’s loopy horror novels in their day, and still have enormous affection and respect for them.

    So Peter, when and if you read this: I mention all these books in the context of Clamp to assert how much fun I had with your book.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    EatThemAlivecvr1On the other end of the gory monster novel barrel is the real dreck, none of which is more beloved or mind-rotting in my collection than Pierce Nace‘s Eat Them Alive (1977).

    These bottom-feeders can be just as much fun as the best of the lot, but sometimes one holds a special place in one’s black little gory-monster-novel-devouring heart for the truly exceptional, utterly abysmal mongoloid cretins in the field — and none I’ve read yet come close to Eat Them Alive.

    I tracked down this paperback in the pre-Richard-Bachman-outed-as-Stephen-King era, when it was rumored Stephen King had ghost-written Eat Them Alive — complete bullshit, and unfathomable bullshit at that if it was ever intended as anything except a joke.

  • The rumor was fueled, perhaps, by the fact that no other novel has ever been written by this ‘Pierce Nace‘ fellow,
  • and nothing has (to the best of my knowledge) ever surfaced to provide a clue who ‘Pierce Nace‘ was or might have been or might be — even Freebase‘s ‘Author‘ section simply notes, “We can also tell you Pierce Nace is a… Person.” Period. And nothing more.
  • EatThemAlivecvr2There’s absolutely no author bio in the paperback itself (I have the New English Library UK edition, pictured at left; it was originally published in the US by Manor Books, pictured above), and that’s it, folks.

    Eat Them Alive predates the ‘splatterpunk’ era and its pioneer hucksters (Shaun Hutson primary among them), and it’s all spun from the perspective of a complete misanthrope named Dyke Mellis who finds himself on the wee island of Malpelo, aching to exact vengeance against a quartet of nasty shitheads who’d castrated and left him for dead over a decade earlier.

    An earthquake disgorges a buried stash of primordial giant Preying Mantis and Dyke watches the mayhem from the safety of his offshore boat as the insects devour the natives and one another. Dyke nurtures and feeds a select group of the growing, ever-ravenous insects, dubbing his favorite Slayer. Dyke mobilizes Slayer and twenty of its carnivorous companions into a murderous militia, and… well, you’ve got to read it to believe it. And even then, you won’t.

    Since it’s all written from derango Dyke‘s pov, the book veers the reader into a deep, despondent phase of lunacy for the duration, and the repetitious nature of Nace‘s obsessive writing skills only fuels the fires of dementia.

    Now, I thought I was the only fan of Eat Them Alive, but a cursory glance around the internet proved me dead wrong about an hour ago. There’s a virtual Pierce Nace cult brewing out there! You can feel the love for Eat Them Alive simmering at every corner of the globe!

  • Fright.com‘s anonymous critic declares Nace “a demented fuck with a penchant for over-the-top gore and misogynistic sleaze,” among other things.
  • Even today, readers (like the fellow at Fright.com) marvel at “its insanely overwrought descriptions of bloodletting and evisceration. …Each chapter contains some new jaw-dropping outrage, such as Slayer’s lovingly described mid-book dismemberment of a woman, which lasts a full three pages. Or when Slayer takes to lopping off and scarfing down ladies’ breasts, apparently the most appetizing part of the human anatomy. Or when Dyke enthusiastically chops up the body of one of his enemies and drinks the blood before offering the morsels to his mantis companion.”

  • Popping over to Goodreads, the great equalizer, I find ‘Dreadlocksmile‘ giving Eat Them Alive two stars, declaring it a “monstrous blot on the literary world…”! But feel the love:
  • “Nace has managed to come up with possibly the wildest and most far fetched storyline that has ever existed. This is pulp horror at its absolute peak. A hate fuelled man who commands a small army of giant mantises, is out for revenge on four men who cut off his manhood. This is sheer pulp horror genius…

    From the moment the mantises first grace the pages, the blood spill and sheer carnage is almost unrelenting until the novel crashes to its final ending. No exaggeration, this is splatter piled on splatter piled on splatter. Nace barely comes up for a breath before more bone crunching, head splitting, brain eating and blood drinking ensues once again.

    Nace’s writing style is amateurish to say the least, throwing together a litany of clumsy and awkward sentences that seem to carrying on forever. The tale is so over-packed with splatter, that it appears to be repeating the same old carnage again and again…. All in all, ‘Eat Them Alive’ is what it is. It’s pulp horror taken to its pulpy extremes. It’s both the epitome and the peak of the genre. It’s fast paced and packed with splatter almost from cover to cover. There’s no escaping it, this is a novel of enjoyment for those who really should know better. It’s got so many faults, but that’s almost what makes it so the much greater. I can’t rate it highly because that in itself would be an injustice on the books nature. It still remains the most ridiculous and wildly over-the-top pulp horror novel that there ever was. You’ll either love it or hate it. But I urge each and every one of you to read a copy. I promise you won’t regret it… “

  • Over at ‘The Incredibly Bad Book Show’ at TrashCity.org, we find this anonymous review that dares to speculate who Pierce Nace might have been, and British author Scott Gronmark vigorously denying the charge.
  • Again, though, feel the love:

    “…this book marks probably the lowest depths NEL, publishers of James Herbert and Stephen King, have ever sunk to; in a genre not exactly noted for humour, this book succeeded in making me giggle hysterically on the train into work providing my fellow commuters with the edifying sight of a sober suited gent biting his hand while reading a book whose cover depicted a blood-stained insect chewing a gobbet of flesh.

    Let’s be honest – it is no exaggeration to say I was capable of producing more coherent, better written stories when I was eleven, and I wasn’t an especially gifted essayist. The whole book, presumably written under a pseudonym, is the literary equivalent of a ‘Best of Italian Cannibal movies’ tape put together by the Monty Python team while out of their collective heads on amphetamines….”

    And if that isn’t enough to whet your depraved appetites,

  • Furious Ape! Read Book tosses more gas on the pyre with his Retrotrash review from last year, which I can’t even excerpt — just read it.
  • Hal C. F. Astell at The Last Page Bookshop offers in “The Horror Reviews” this succinct summary.
  • Hal writes, “Forget Guy Smith’s The Sucking Pit. Forget Spawn and Slugs and Piranha and Slimer. And forget all the other tacky novels you can think of. Because none come close to this. …Please note: this is far from being anything like a well-written novel – the characters are two-dimensional stereotypes who speak unbelievable dialogue; the plot is more outrageous than you could imagine; and the ideas lie further into the realms of fantasy than The Lord of the Rings! But Eat Them Alive works because it’s the bloodiest, nastiest, most sadistic, go-for-broke gore novel in existence. …Those who despise Hutson and Smith and the rest of the gratuitous gore merchants will lose their lunch to this, but the gorehounds will lap it up and it will end up one of the most reread books in their library.”

  • And there is, of course, an entire thread dedicated to Eat Them Alive at the Vault of Horror: Brit Horror Pulp Plus! discussion board.
  • So, you see, I’m hardly alone in my wallowing in Nace‘s sole atrocity.

    But enough on all that — I came to write about Clamp

    [Tomorrow: Clamp!]



    Discussion (14) ¬

    1. Patrick J. Kennedy

      I already passed this along to my friend Damian Maffei, via Facebook. He has read all of the Crab Monster books and I am trying to get my hands on them, too.

    2. srbissette

      Spread the word, Patrick! More to savor tomorrow with Part 2 of this essay…

    3. Drexell

      Firstly, Steve, I will be searching the net upon my next payday, and ordering a tattered copy of EAT THEM ALIVE. How in all that is holy can I resist? In my head, this is akin to Q, the Winged Serpent as imagined by Fulci. WANT. NEED.

      Secondly, your mentions of Rex have me remembering a certain artist’s renderings of the toothy beast. Come up with any images of RR during your most recent sorting and labeling session? Howsabout putting one up for old times sake even if you didn’t? Puh-leez?

      Lastly, I’ll be ordering the VM Guide from you within a week’s time. As a child, I voraciously devoured many, many books like it after weekly jaunts to the library. Cryptozoology fascinated me, even though the sonar photos of Nessie’s face underwater scared the shit out of me for some reason. Who knows? Being in a boat atop deep and murky water still gives me the creeps.

    4. Mike Howlett

      I must find EAT THEM ALIVE… now!

    5. srbissette

      Lotsa copies of EAT THEM ALIVE are still cheap and available at abebooks.com — snag ‘em while you can, and enjoy!

    6. Gary Redman

      James Herbert’s trilogy of Giant Rat books “The Rats” “Lair” and “Domain” are visceral pulps drenched in blood and sex and are favorites of mine. He really makes you feel what its like to be chewed on and devoured by a giant rat. ;)

    7. Mark Masztal

      Give me Harry Adam Knights Slimer!!! My fave besides Carnosaur and Fungus.

    8. Mike Howlett

      I just grabbed on from AbeBooks. Came out to $7 total ($1 plus $6 shipping from the UK!) Nice deal!

      Herberts “The Rats” was one of the first gore/ sex books I read as a teen. Needless to say, it was a favorite.

    9. James Robert Smith

      Thanks for the kind words. The Tor Books edition of THE FLOCK will be out in Fall of this year. Followed some time later by the sequel (which I’m writing now).

      I have a deep love for the giant monster novels. Weirdly, I always liked EAT THEM ALIVE. I read it when I was about 18 years old and living in a horrible town where I’d gone to stay with my parents. Strangely, for all of its weirdness and lack of logic, it’s not a bad book at all. Basically, it’[s simply written, it’s easy to read, and the narrative flows well. It’s crap, yes. But…well, it’s just a decent book.

    10. srbissette

      Finally, we find common ground in our affection for junk, Bob. I knew you had it in ya!

      This whole essay was fueled by the genuine enjoyment I get from these books, including deranged gems like EAT THEM ALIVE. I could go on and on about my favorites — I have to my left three five-foot shelves filled with paperback dinosaur/prehistoric/monster novels from the 1940s-present, and I’ve devoured ‘em all and reread many for the sheer pleasure of it. It’s inexplicable to many, but good to know this essay struck a common nerve for so many!

    11. John Platt

      Much love for SLUGS, one of my all-time faves. Never found me a copy of BREEDING GROUND, though!

    12. LOVETOREAD

      There is Something in The Water… CLAMP is one of a TRILOGY, The author says #2 is nearing completion…
      CLAMP, by author Peter K.K. Williams made me yell, laugh, scream “Gross”….and kept me reading feverishly. I just had to see what would happen next. I wondered who might be spared and what exactly would be in store for those people and creatures who would not. (You can’t imagine…)
      Peter’s description and scenarios are fresh, original, his character’s varied and often quirky. Some are highly intelligent, sometimes scientific, some are the salt of the earth, some are downright Nasty (and you naturally hope that they “get it”).
      The setting: a variety of Vermont’s geography and weather, is alternately, serene, beauteous, civilized, primal and threatening.
      This is a new Star in this genre. I could say that Peter K.K. Williams is Vermont’s own Stephen King, but that would be a limited description. I recommend this book, and anticipate the movie!

    13. srbissette

      Check out my review proper (next post, Saturday March 6) for my own two cents. Glad to know Peter already has some fans!

    14. Pegleg

      Great article! Don’t forget to add Warren Fahy’s Fragment alongside Jurassic Park. Carnosaur was one of my favorites and the US movie by the same name had only the name in common with it! Some of the species were used in JP.

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