Clamp: There’s Something In the Water
Vermonster Novel Resurrects Gory Monster Novels!
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).
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 –
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…”
“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.”
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.
Best of all, though, for the author’s unadulterated, relentlessly bloody mayhem and prolific output if nothing else, were the novels of 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 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.
On 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.
There’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!
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.”
“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… “
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,
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.”
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…