Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Edward Lee
Published by Leisure Books
All right, I’ll admit it; maybe I’ve been a little to hard on Ed Lee in my past reviews. I’m never gone so far as to call him a hack (the worst insult saved only for very, very bad writers), but I’ve bitched about his character development, his pacing, his dialogue… if you can put it in a book, I’ve found something Lee did wrong with it.
Perhaps I’ve been too hard, yes. Or maybe he’s getting better. Or maybe, just maybe ... I’m getting used to it. Because damnit, I enjoyed Slither quite a bit!
Not to be confused with the fantastic James Gunn horror movie that no one saw (but everyone should be buying now that it’s on DVD), Lee’s book instead deals with worms. Really goddamn big worms with a taste for human innards. So far, so Lee!
Our story finds two worm experts (don’t even ask me to remember their exact titles) and a photojournalist being escorted by a military man to a deserted island off the coast of Florida. Formerly the island was used to house missile silos, but once the Cold War was over the missiles were removed and now it’s just an empty shell; a place where kids go to party and drug traffickers go to grow weed, but the mission of our little quartet is to take pictures.
The photographer, working for National Geographic, is on a mission to photograph an especially rare worm only found in these waters. The scientists are there to help, the military man is there to make it legit, and the worms are plentiful. Unfortunately for them and a group of lowlifes out to harvest some of their marijuana at the worst possible time, another group has taken up residence there long before them to conduct some very odd experiments on cross breeding worms. The result is a particularly nasty creature that can implant it’s seeds in any living creature, allowing said creature to become a host and give birth to even more nasty creatures who then implant themselves into another creature ... and the cycle of life goes on.
The worms start off small and the scientists start off unworried, more excited about finding a new species than realizing just how vicious these things really are. When people start turning up dead and more and more animals disappear, our happy little foursome is soon facing an epidemic that could easily decimate the world’s population in no time.
Most of the pitfalls of Lee’s stories are fully intact, including characters who feel it necessary to talk way too much and explain every minutia of detail to one another, one person (well, in this case two) who knows more than anyone else about what they’re dealing with so it can be explained to the reader over and over again, and lots of sex. Not that sex is necessarily a pitfall, as it were, but so much of this book is taken by characters thinking about having sex, actually having sex, or wishing they could have sex that for a while you forget it’s a horror story at all.
These are the sorts of things you almost expect from Lee anyway, which is why I might be more inclined to say that mentally I’m just adapting to his writing style. The premise at the heart of Slither quite obviously took a ton of research (which Lee tends to show off a bit too often) that helps make the horrors that much more believable. And the things these worms do to you...
If they get you when they’re young, the just use you as a host, implanting their eggs inside and using you as a carrier for their young. If they get you when they’re big (some up to 30 feet), they inject enzymes into you that liquefy your organs, slurp them out, and then use you as a host. Nasty, yes, but if the worm scientists are to believed there are worms in nature who do this, they just tend to be microscopic.
Such nastiness allows Lee to do what he does best; tell a horror story, and he does a damn fine job of it in Slither pretty much from the getgo. Though the action takes a while to rev back up once our visitors get to the isle, the tension that builds around them is some of the most believable in any of Lee’s work that I’ve read. Hell, there’s even a cool surprise at the end that I didn’t even come close to expecting, which is always a good way to win my affections.
If you’ve been reading Lee for many years I doubt I need to tell you to pick this one up. If you’re new to his style of writing Slither would actually be a really good place to start since the story is solid and the horror is thick and juicy. Now if only he could write a book without explaining everything over and over, I’d be a full-on convert.
3 out of 5
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