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.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


In the quest for the truly obscure, I've looked for comprehensive checklists of Horror and Men's Adventure books with limited success - Vault of Evil has some good ones by publisher.  I've also flipped through most of the covers on BookScans, though that site ends with 1979.

I've started doing a deep dive on some of the more specialized publishers, one ISBN number at a time.  Publishers tend to buy ISBN numbers in blocks, as they get way cheaper in bulk.  Starting with the number range from ISFDB, I look up the ISBN numbers one at a time.  The last digit is a check number, which can be calculated here.  I then type the ISBN directly into the url as the product code for Amazon.  If anyone knows an easier way, I'd love to hear it.

There are lots of ISBN databases, but none are nearly as comprehensive as Amazon.  I double check Google if Amazon comes up empty, but if the 'zon doesn't have it, it rarely comes up anywhere else.  I take our information age for granted, but there are so many books with zero information.  Some have no cover and maybe a partial title and author, and I have to dig around for enough information to guess at a genre.

I hope to rectify some of that, and I'm grabbing some of the re-discovered horror novels as I go, provided they're cheap enough.  I'm only hitting up certain publishers: Zebra, Pinnacle, Leisure, Gold Eagle, Critic's Choice, etc, ones that only go through a couple hundred ISBN numbers a year.  Some of the larger houses easily go through thousands a year, and I'm not that crazy.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trash Menace Gallery

Continuity Games

To my knowledge, the stories of Sherlock Holmes are the first that attracted organized fan scrutiny of the series' continuity.  I could be wrong - as far as I know Victor Hugo got angry "Well, actually," letters sent to him on a regular basis.

Called the Sherlockian Game, authors and critics would try to explain away various continuity errors in the series, as well as create a biography of Holmes as if he was a real person.  Later works added details and characters to the Sherlock universe.

Marvel Comics may have the gold standard for continuity, with over 55 years of non-rebooted continuity over tens of thousands of comics.  Of course there were errors, and Stan Lee was probably worse than most.  The fans could be savage with the corrections, but it was turned into another game.  If a fan could explain away the error, he or she would receive a "No Prize".  Sometimes these kinds of explanations could be the source of new plot lines.

The Wold Newton Family is a concept created by Philip José Farmer in 1972 in Tarzan Alive.  In his fictional biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage, Farmer created an incident in 1795 in which a meteor strike gave a group of people exceptional abilities which they passed down to their descendants.  This was expanded by Win Scott Eckert in 1997 to the Wold Newton Universe.

The basis for both is that all fictional characters, or at least the pulpy/nerdy ones, are not only in the same universe, but are blood relatives of each other.  Nero Wolfe is Sherlock Holmes son, Lara Croft is James Bond niece or something, etc.

Of course, none of this is true.  Not even fictionally true.  Many series aren't even in the same universe as themselves from episode to episode, and you can't even pretend that these vastly different worlds are the same without a healthy amount of spackle to paste over the glaring contradictions.

There are evidently rules to this and essays and lively arguments - whatever keeps them off the streets.  It has produced a great deal of crossover fan fiction, some of which I've read and enjoyed.  It does get in my craw as I enjoy reading about these fictional characters, but don't enjoy so much when the original information gets mixed in with fan theories.

We've got fictional character biographies - think Wikipedia entries.  These stick with the texts and leave in all the inconsistencies.

We've got No Prize style discussions of continuity errors, with readers talking about things that may have happened off-page.

We have authors adding supplements to the original texts, either details or entire works of fan fiction, then pretending that it's in the same continuity.  It isn't, but I'm not going to get too worked up about whether the pretend thing about the pretend thing is real or not.

And then we have the unforgivable - re-writing the original text as a piece of fan fiction and then selling it to the public under the original author's name and title.

Which brings us to the 2003 edition of Doctor Omega by Arnould Galopin, "Adapted and Retold" by Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier.  Doctor Omega was originally published in France in 1906, and is a tale of a mysterious scientist who flies a spaceship to Mars.  He is not the Doctor from Doctor Who.

Or is he (he isn't)?  The Lofficier version has some winks and allusions to Doctor Who, as well as French pulp characters of the day - not so much subtlety weaved into the narrative as hammered in with a mallet.  Without the additions, I think the word "Doctor" may be the only commonality.

I got as far as a striped scarf reference before giving up.  From other reviews, it looks like some scientific concepts were updated and the entire ending was rewritten - Omega originally brought back some Martians and sold them in true colonial style.

If the additions weren't so glaringly obvious, there was no other way to determine that the text had been drastically altered.  The Amazon and Black Coat Press website descriptions have no notes of the changes outside of the "adapted and retold" byline, and the foreword doesn't explain things either.

And what is the point?  If your only hook is that the characters have vague similarities, most of which you invent yourself, why bother with the entire exercise?  If you want to write fan fiction of a public domain character, have it at, like the later Doctor Omega and the Shadowmen.

I think the Lofficiers did the same with Doc Ardan and Doc Savage, but hell, they're probably both Doctor Who as well, why not?

A presumably un-retold version is available in ebook from Baen, though the Amazon comments all seem to refer to the Lofficier version, half from disappointed Doctor Who fans.  And look for my retold adaptation of the works of Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote the precursor of the A Team.  At least he will have once I give Perry Mason some gold chains and a mohawk.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

In Darkness Waiting by John Shirley

In Darkness Waiting
by John Shirley
2013 Night Shade Books
Originally 1988 Oynx

A human potential est guru type, seeking to free the human ego, unleashed Grey Pilots inhabiting the brains of certain individuals.  These Pilots burst out of exploding eyeballs and manifest as giant flies with human faces, spreading murderous sociopathy like a plague.

Not as silly as it sounds.  I don't know why it took me so long to read Shirley, but I definitely intend on catching up.  He makes it just hallucinogenic enough to work, walking that tightrope between exposition and just letting the crazy happen.  If anything he explains a little too much for my taste, but he doesn't completely spell out other connections, like the otherworldly Lord of Dark Corners.

Not an easy task, given that the premise is part It Conquered the World and part The Tingler.  Shirley's mood-setting helps, along with multiple scenes of random violence.  In a way, it manifests as a thinking-man's version of the Devil series, with victims having intrusive thoughts of violence before committing cold-blooded murder.  A favorite scene of mine had some infected children and an elderly woman in a wheelchair at a roadside snake farm.  By the end, we're literally knee deep in blood and feces.

There were several points where the plot threatened to dip into cliche, but Shirley resisted temptation. In particular, I'm proud of him for having several Native American characters and not have a "my people have a name for this creature" scene.

Shirley seems like a cool cat, and his writing has lived up to this vibe so far.

The 2013 version has some of the usual "updating", though the mention of "cell phones" and Sum 41 were outdated even then.  I have to wonder if these small press publishers have a macro that inserts "I can't get a connection on my phone" at certain plot points.

Currently set at "we'll sell ebooks but we don't want anyone to buy them" prices by Simon and Schuster - I grabbed it off Hoopla through my library.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Terror Tales - James A. Goldthwaite

Terror Tales - James A. Goldthwaite
James A Goldthwaite, sometimes writing as Francis James
The Laughing Corpse
A walking corpse attacks the crew of a steamliner, his victims die laughing with the faces ripped off their skulls.

The Unwelcomed Dead
A man takes his wife to a mad scientist in hopes of rousing her from her catatonic state.  The scientist can return life to the recently deceased, fugitives that he kills with his own gallows, but at the cost of their souls.  He ties the comatose woman's nude body in front of his legion of zombies as he whips them, hoping the stimulation of pain and fear will return their souls, while the husbands tries to kill his own wife before her soul is forfeit.

Monster's Death Song
Monster killings at an inn to cover up search for hidden treasure, Scooby Doo down to an Old Man Jenkins.

The City Ruled by Death
A convicted man raises the dead to wreak vengeance on the judge and jury.

Dance of the Bloodless Ones
Rich tenants of a Florida winter retreat have their faces ripped off after complaints of something crawling over them.

The Plague From Underground
Victims are singled out with a mark on the palm of their hands, before their body bloat up and sprout black flowers.  A mention of "addicts of the unspeakable Mexican peyote", before going a different direction.

Dance to Satan's Drums
An ancient rural cult menaces fancy city folk in town to survey a damn.

Where Goldthwaite would rip out throats in his Dime Mystery collection, for Terror Tales he ripped off faces.

"One side of his face seemed torn off by the roots, skin and flesh ripped down as one would shuck an ear of corn.  Behind the jets of spurting blood, the bones showed in grisly outline."

"Some one - something - had ribboned that face with stripping of giant claws, literally cleaned off the flesh as though raked by a monstrous currycomb."

Goldthwaite reused a lot of plot elements, the main one having victims being marked prior to their grisly deaths.  Old Man Jenkins aside, not too many Scooby Doo endings - the horrible thing that appeared to be happening actual happens, and the plot is often revealed early on.  One thing I noticed in this collection is that Goldthwaite seemed to be actually trying to be scary rather than just gory.  Early chapters regularly ended with the sound of someone trying to get in the house, or already creeping up the stairs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Blood Oath/The Initiation by William Johnstone

Blood Oath
by William W. Johnstone
1999 Pinnacle
Originally as The Initiation 1982 Zebra

In 1973, a secret clique of rich kids gang rape and accidentally kill a thirteen year old girl, then attack her brother and leave him for dead.

Twenty six years later someone is raping and killing the children of the clique.  The crime is investigated by a Sheriff's deputy, a Johnstone standby, who doesn't so much investigate as has hunches and fails to do much to protect the obvious future victims until the killer is revealed.

There's a twist that's ridiculous even for Johnstone that pretty much no reader will swallow, and some not especially graphic sleaziness.  A lesser effort.

I read the 1999 version - I don't know if there were any differences.

Available for Kindle from Amazon.

Click here to read a sample.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

John Peel and Lee Harvey Oswald

Just learned that legendary DJ John Peel was present at the JFK assassination and talked his way into the press conference with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Devil's Kiss by William W. Johnstone

The Devil's Kiss
by William J. Johnstone
1981 Zebra

"We're entering the age of Liberalism, Sam, and it's going to be awful!"

1958.  Whitfield, Nebraska population 2500.

Something strange is happening in Whitfield.  Church attendance is down.  Folks don't seem as friendly.  Rumors are swirling around about incest behind closed doors.  Townsfolk are wearing strange medallions.  Bodies are disappearing from the graveyard.  And it all started after an archaeological dig began, led by Black Wilder, the head of a cult called the Church of the Fifteen le Diable.

A teenage couple sneak into the closed property around the dig and are attacked by wolf-like creatures.  The boy is eaten, the marrow sucked from his bones.  The girl escapes, is picked up by the Sheriff's department, gangraped by deputies, and tossed back over the fence for the beasts to mate with.

Meet Minister Sam Balon, a drinking, smoking, cussing Korean War Special Forces veteran.  His wife Michelle has been stepping out on him, while he has his eye on sweet Jane Ann Burke.  He's concerned about the changes in town, and has surrounded himself with the few remaining decent folk, including Father Dubois, Miles and Doris Lansky (the town's only Jews), newspaper owner Wade Thomas and his wife Anita, and a few more.

The chief of police is mysteriously killed and it becomes clear that something is going on.  Father Dubois airs his suspicions.  Every few centuries, Satan tries to take over an entire town, where he is opposed by an agent of God.  One such agent buried a magic tablet in Whitfield over a century ago, a tablet that Black Wilder has recovered.

Not sure what the tablet does or what's going on with the people being recruited to the cult.  People join willingly, are maybe possessed, are changed after being raped or bitten, are brainwashed by subliminal messages in radio music, or just plain aren't Christian enough.  The point that is made regularly is that they all, on some level, chose to be evil.

Bolan kills several beasts and his mission becomes clear.  Gather up the remaining virtuous of Whitfield to defeat Satan.

The beasts are like stripped down werewolves - tall, hulking, hairy brutes with half-human faces.  They are God's mistakes, from his failed first attempt at creation who have made a pact with Satan.  They are long lived but vulnerable to conventional harm, hibernating for centuries at a time.  If they bite or "mate" with a human, they turn into a beast.

Balon gathers his forces, while the only roads out of town are closed for a week.  The majority of the town has succumbed to the forces of evil and spend all day molesting each other.  There are a few folks inbetween, mostly the elderly.  Christians, but somehow not Christian enough.

Balon isn't taken seriously when he makes a joking aside about the Devil being in Whitfield, and his remaining parishioners laugh him off.  Well, he tried.  He's had enough of his wife and punches her out, leaving her tied up for an exorcism.

Father Dubois attempts an exorcism but it doesn't work - turns out that Michelle is no longer human at all but a centuries old witch with powers given to her by Satan.  And as everyone knows, the only way to kill a witch is by a stake through the heart.

Now that his wife is out of the way, he proceeds to bang Jane Ann.  There's a little known five-minute rule for fornication, and he marries himself to her right afterwards.  At this point Balon just starts knowing things.  He knows that there will be a seven day battle, and that the cult will not attack until the beginning of the seven days.  And he knows that he has to kill the entire population of Whitfield.

Balon and the faithful head for the woods, living rough in the back country, raiding outlying ranches with Tommy guns and sticks of dynamite.  In addition to the beasts they also face the undead, kind of stripped down vampires.  Animalistic reanimated corpses vulnerable to holy water and stakes through the heart, though they can be shot down in cow form.  They can turn into cows, by the way.

Witches are also kinda vampires - they drink blood and can turn their victims into undead or cultists.  Not enough?  Turns out there is a secret mental asylum in the county for radioactive mutants, victims of a failed Manhattan Project style experiment.  Sounds cool, but for us all it means is that Balon and company drive past a clump of lumpy people waving clubs at them at shoot them down.

They don't get a ton of resistance from the cultists - I think they get off one shot the whole book, and it helps that there are convoluted rules of engagement.  Nobody can attack Balon, and on Sunday nobody can fight back at all.  Except for the beasts.  And cultists if it's within the city limits, but not in the outlying county.  It gets pretty complicated, but luckily Balon just knows these things as one of God's warriors, so he doesn't have to keep track as Johnstone pulls this stuff out of his butt.

The town itself gets wiped out in a fireball from an exploding gas station, thanks to gusts of winds courtesy of the man upstairs.  This kills most of the rest of the town, presumably including the rest of the Christians hiding in their cellars from rape gangs.  And the children - I'm guessing this town had children.

Meanwhile, Black Wilder is being usurped by his witchy companion Nydia, who wants to have a baby with Balon.  Balon basically surrenders in a pact - he'll let himself get raped to death by Nydia if they let the rest of his crew live, especially his now-pregnant wife Jane Ann.
"Make our son a man, Janey, a real man.  Instill in him virtue, but don't make him a pansy."
This happens and the fighting is over.  There are still a few surviving cult members, but that fight isn't for another twenty years.

1980, Nelson College NY.  Sam Black Williams and Sam Balon King are college roommates.  King admires a photo of Black's twin sister.  Duh duh duhhhhh.

Highlights: montage sequences of cultists violating each other: murder, sodomy, incest, all the good stuff.

Lowlights: For a book with a body county in the low quadruple digits, there's surprisingly little violence or action.  I'll admit it would get a little monotonous, but not as monotonous as the endless dialogue.

Devil's Kiss is directly followed by Devil's Heart, Devil's Touch, and Devil's Cat.  Devil's Laughter is in the same continuity but with different characters, and the Cat books (Cat's Eye and Cat's Cradle) are arguably as well.

Available from Amazon for Kindle.

Click here to read a sample.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Johnstone 26

There have been a lot of negative reviews here recently, and Warbots almost did me in.  It's time to get my mojo back, and in keeping with the spirit of the age, I'm going back to what made America great.  I am, of course, referring to the 26 William W. Johnstone horror novels published in the 80s and early 90s.

I love the cover art for horror paperbacks of the 80s, but most of the time the steak didn't live up to the sizzle.  Instead of blood & guts we'd get a tepid thriller.  Johnstone lived up to those Zebra covers, and then some.

When I first read a Johnstone horror, it recreated the feeling I had reading James Herbert as a kid - that I had stumbled onto some shameful secret, that this was something I wasn't supposed to be reading.  That feeling is hard to recreate as an adult in the 21st century without risking being put on a registry.

Johnstone's horror novels are lurid fever dreams, their excesses unencumbered by plot or logic.  Until recently they cost way too much in the used market, and I had to hope to stumble upon them in used bookstore.  Now, almost all of them are available for Kindle very reasonably.

I was also delighted to find a couple of titles of his in the "Also Boughts" of my own titles on Amazon.

The Johnstone 26 are:

1980 Devil's Kiss
1982 Initiation aka Blood Oath
1982 The Uninvited
1983 Devil's Heart
1983 A Crying Shame
1985 Devil's Touch
1986 Cat's Cradle
1986 The Nursery
1986 Rockinghorse
1986 Jack in the Box
1986 Sweet Dreams
1987 The Devil's Cat
1987 Wolfsbane
1987 Baby Grand (with Joseph E. Keene)
1987 Toy Cemetery
1988 Sandman
1989 Cat's Eye
1989 Carnival
1990 Darkly the Thunder
1991 Watcher in the Woods
1992 The Devil's Laughter
1992 Them
1993 Bats
1994 Night Mask
1995 Rockabilly Hell
1996 Rockabilly Limbo

The Devil books are a series, and the two Cat books are a series and are arguably in the same universe as the Devil series.  Some websites list most of his horror books as being in the Devil Series.  I'm assuming the Rockabilly books are related.  Blood Oath and Night Mask are cop thrillers, but with plenty of horror elements.  All of the horror novels were at one time put under the category "Satan Inspired" on Johnstone's official website, but that is no longer the case.  Hunted and Prey may have some supernatural elements, but those seem solidly in the action-thriller category.