Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Uninvited by William W. Johnstone

The Uninvited
by William W. Johnstone
1982 Zebra

A tanker spills experimental fertilizer that causes cockroaches to grow to 6-8 inches and hunger for human flesh in two isolated Louisiana parishes.  Cockroach bites cause human brains to turn to puss and turn their owners into homicidal maniacs.

The town is sealed off by the government, some journalists are gleefully killed, and some rebellious Green Berets rescue the few remaining uninfected townspeople before napalming the entire area.  But wait!
Late August. Click.
Duh duh duhhhhh.

Not Johnstone's first book, but there's a ton of rookie moves here:

Don't Tell, Show:

Johnstone tells.  Almost every scene that isn't dialogue is telling.  We're told a dozen times that the town has been besieged by rape gangs, but we're not shown one save for a quick roadblock scene.  He also tells too much, and tells and then shows.  We know in the first couple pages that the fertilizer will create killer mutant roaches, that they are immune to pesticide and have a hive mind, and that the government is behind it.  We're introduced to characters like "Here's Bob.  He's going to be eaten by roaches later."

Do Your Research, or at Least Fake It:
Slick opened the door with a special tool policeman carry...
Slim Jim, Y Tool, or jimmy.
 He rattle off a series of chemical names, then smiled.  "Forgive me.  Probably those names mean absolutely nothing to any of you."
Hydral Cloxate, Potanium Flouridimide, or Phlenial Sodimate.  Yes, those are made up.  You're a writer, you're allowed to.

Don't Rely on Coincidence:

There are three separate truck crashes.  The tanker carrying the fertilizer, on it's way to the ocean to be disposed, is hooked up to an unlocked valve which jars loose during a minor accident.  The parishes can only be accessed by three bridges.  For the first, a truck driver is stun by a wasp, has an allergic reaction, and crashes the truck on bridge one while the FBI agent investigating the roaches is driving the other direction.  Then bridge two collapses because nutria are digging up the ground around the supports.  Bridge three is closed off by the military, who could have closed the other two just as easily - the two collapsing bridges had no impact on the plot.

The world's foremost entomologist lives in town.  Two characters know the Lieutenant Governor personally and one knows the President.

There are a few things that are off-formula, but I actually appreciate those.  For example, two characters are developed early on as main protagonists before being mostly forgotten.

This is going to sound weird coming from me, but the whole thing was way too short.  The cockroach killings last a line or two each, and there are sometimes three scene changes in a single paragraph.  This combined with the "telling" made it come across flat and lifeless.  It's okay to linger a while on cockroaches eating out eyeballs, it's what we came for.

Most bibliographies list The Uninvited for 1988, but I confirmed the first edition was 1982.  This would be the first of Johnstone's in a long line of generic titles that have nothing to do with the book, though to be fair, nobody invited the cockroaches to eat them.

Available for Kindle from Amazon.

Click here to read a sample.

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