Dr. Who’s Book of Monsters

Using a nearby fire extinguisher, a schoolteacher thwarts an alien invasion in a story titled “Spawn” by David Campton. Later, in “The Eyes Have It” by John Halkin, a lowly carpenter’s apprentice shuts down a computer uprising with another fire extinguisher.

Coincidence? Probably. But one thing is apparent—we should all have a functioning fire extinguisher handy when the zombie apocalypse arrives or when kaiju start attacking Tokyo Bay or when sea monsters crawl ashore. I’m sure it’ll come in handy.

Fire extinguisher or not, most of the monsters in this Jon (Dr. Who) Pertwee collection from 1979 aren’t defeated at all. Giant slugs, carnivorous cacti, mermonkeys, dragons, interstellar spiders and vampire plants all live to see another day.

The vampire in George Evans’s “The Samala Plant” is actually an eight-foot tropical flower with a single octopus-like limb. It’s immeasurably old but as of yet unknown to science.

Immediately the blood-sucking plant establishes a complicated Frankenstein-like familial bond with botanist, Dr. Bernard Fenwick. It considers Fenwick a father, but is insanely jealous of his affections—especially with his 17-year-old daughter. “She was an intruder,” it thought. “She was the one causing trouble. With her out of the way, perhaps Fenwick would be happy.”

The Samala vampire eventually tries to kill the daughter but things take an unexpected turn. With the girl safely out of reach, the plant’s jealous nature manifests itself in a shocking last minute sexual gambit.

The plant reaches for Fenwick. Writes Evans: “The tentacle caressed his face, the touch so light that he could hardly feel it. Then it traveled downward, stroking him. Fenwick felt the affection, the love, that emanated from this strange being.” I have to admit; I’ve never read a story with such an overt eco-sexual climax.

My favorite story of the bunch is “The Lambton Worm” by Roger Malisson. I don’t laugh out loud much when I’m reading horror fiction, but this one had me snickering from start to finish.

A cruel serpent rises from a lake to terrorize a small village near the Scottish border. The creature was as long as a lane, thick as a barrel and ugly as a baby. Nothing could appease it except for a steady diet of milk and sugar and children. “No one was safe from its endless appetite,” writes Malisson.

The irony, of course, is that the serpent was initially found when it was a wee hatchling just six inches long. It was so insignificant at the time the villagers dismissed it entirely.

Now as a full-grown monster, the giant serpent couldn’t be stopped. But isn’t that always the way with evil? If you neglect it when it’s small, it will eventually grow big enough to destroy you.

[The Jon Pertwee Book of Monsters / Edited by Richard Davis / First Printing: January 1979 / ISBN: 9780416872002]

Killer Cockroaches

What do you get when mankind’s oldest profession meets mankind’s oldest enemy? In Donald Thompson’s novel from 1979, you get a little bit of sex, a little bit of creepy crawly action and a whole lot of exclamation marks.

Like all great novels, The Ancient Enemy begins with a naked woman standing by the roadside. But in this case, there isn’t anything sexy about her. Mostly, she looks like a peeled orange—“raw flesh from head to foot.”

Despite being flayed and catatonic, she helps lead a rescue party to Eros Ranch, a popular brothel 80 miles outside of Las Vegas. The situation at the ranch is unnerving to say the least. Neither Hieronymus Bosch nor Gustave Doré could have created a scene of such eerie silence, distorted color and horror. “The grounds resembled a butcher shop,” notes the author. “If the Angel of Death had lifted his fist, the judgment would not have been more brutal.”

Dead excoriated bodies were strewn everywhere. The women and men (some still frozen in coitus) all died from traumatic asphyxia. Every natural orifice was stuffed with cockroaches: throats, mouths, ears, eyes, anuses and vulvae.

When the killer cockroaches return to Eros Ranch that night they resemble “the inky, fetid tide of the river Styx rising in a wave of utter blackness.” That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? The only way the rescue team can survive the onslaught is to lock themselves in a refrigerated kitchen pantry filled with a bunch of dead bodies. Things only get worse when a rowdy motorcycle gang arrives the next morning.

Even though he raises the question repeatedly, the author never gets around to explaining why the desert cockroaches are on the warpath. I’m not sure an explanation is necessary though. For Thompson, it’s enough to simply let the bugs erupt Krakatoa-like from the earth.

Two nights of sexual titillation and biker roguery punctuate the cockroach invasion. To escalate the situation even further, the author throws a non-stop barrage of exclamation marks at the reader. There are entire paragraphs in this book completely dedicated to the shout-y punctuation tag.    

But whatever. I’m willing to give The Ancient Enemy a little slack. Cockroaches are nasty and they’ve been around for 250,000 years. When you think about it, they’re probably the only enemy mankind has never defeated. If the author wants to overuse the exclamation mark, it’s OK with me.

[The Ancient Enemy / By Donald Thompson / First Printing: August 1979 / ISBN: 9780449142165]

Monsters Forever

Monster fiction is a popular and specific horror sub-genre that’s been around a long time. After all, some people consider the Bible to be the first horror novel and there are plenty of monsters in that ancient tome.

There’s a special quality of entertainment in a good monster yarn, wrote editor Robert Arthur at the beginning of Monster Mix. “Monsters have been popular in fiction for a long time—since the first storytellers spun the first imaginative tales in some Oriental marketplace. Long before they were ever written down, and long before most of the types of story we know today were invented, giants, ogres, rocs, dragons and suchlike creatures were thrilling people of all ages.”

With this perspective in mind, the editor cobbled together a terrific collection of monster stories back in 1968 that featured signature work by Stephen Vincent Benét, H.G. Wells, Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson and Lord Dunsany (among others). The intention was to present a variety of monsters with imagination and literary skill.

Seemingly at odds with the editor’s prime directive and august story selection, Monster Mix was originally published for a young readership. Maybe that’s because vampires, abominable snowmen, bug-eyed monsters and sea serpents were considered the purview of children back in the late 60s. Adults were more interested in books by Jacqueline Susann and Harrold Robbins, I guess.

But now, 50 years later, Monster Mix stands as a worthy collection for readers of all ages. It’s true that most of these stories can be found in a sundry of anthologies, but it’s nice to have them bound in one handy volume.

The obvious centerpiece here is by Algernon Blackwell. Arguably his most well-known effort, “The Wendigo” is 60-pages of hallucinatory horror wrapped around an old Native American legend—in other words it’s an example of “the passionate loneliness a man can feel when the wilderness holds him in the hollow of its illimitable hands and laughs.” It was, said Blackwell at the time, the “Call of the Wild” personified. First published in 1910, it’s well-worth reading again (and again).

“Aepyornis Island” by H.G. Wells is both adorable and horrible, like a popular Pixar movie turned bleak, “Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent” by Stephen Vincent Benét is a genial political folktale that takes place during John Tyler’s presidental term and the dragon in Guy Endore’s story attacks the contestents in a Miss America pagent. Proving, I guess, that the old tales of dragons and maidens were absolutely true.

By far, my favorite thing in Monster Mix is by William Sambrot. In fact, “Creature of the Snows” is the best Abominable Snowman story I’ve ever read. It’s a first contact adventure (aren’t they all?) that’s both terrifying and touching at the same time. It’s not a horror story in any way. Instead, it eloquantly captures a moment in time on top of the Himalayas when man and yeti come face to face.  

[Monster Mix / Edited by Robert Arthur / First Printing: January 1968]

Monsters from the Deep

For my money, the most terrifying monsters can be found at the bottom of the ocean. After all, marine biologists admit they only have a vague idea what lurks below the water’s surface. Who knows? There might be a cast of Karathen (or worse) roaming the Mariana Trench.

So it was no surprise (to me) when a giant lobster was spotted on a beach in Oahu, Hawaii. “It was a gawd damn big brute,” said one eyewitness, “the biggest lobster you ever saw in your life. And red, like it hopped out of a boiling pot.”

The invasion wasn’t limited to giant shellfish either. Reports of other large sea creatures were becoming more and more frequent—squids, stingrays, jellyfish and octopi with tentacles almost 30 feet in length.

The scariest of these encounters happens one night in Burt and Jessica Burke’s honeymoon suite. “The hideous body of the gigantic devilfish filled the hotel room window, squeezing its soft flesh through the frame, its eight arms thrashing wildly,” wrote the author. “Its huge malign eyes and parrot-like beak inspired something deeper than physical horror.”

All these sea devils were on a singular mission: capture Jessica Burke, expatriate of an underwater kingdom called Akumu. She made the mistake of marrying a “land-human” and there wasn’t any greater disloyalty than that. The Akumus didn’t want any half-breeds diluting their royal blue blood.

With the help of a little sodium pentothal, Jessica spills the beans about the current scourge of sea monsters. “They’re the beasts of our world, the domesticated animals,” she told the authorities. “Some are trained to kill and they are possessed of the instincts of a bloodhound. There are others, too, far more horrible than red lobsters and invasive devilfish.”

The U.S. military gets involved and the novel quickly escalates into an end-of-the-world showdown. The Akumus wanted the surface dwellers to mind their own business. The Navy, on the other hand, embraced genocide—it wanted to flood Marracott Deep with nuclear waste.

I have no doubt that The Secret of Marracott Deep (first published in 1957) represents an affectionate nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s final effort, The Maracot Deep and Other Stories (published in 1929). Both novels include a secret underwater society and a forbidden love story. And both authors agree with me: the best monsters come from the bottom of the ocean.

[The Secret of Marracott Deep / By Henry Slesar / Armchair Fiction Edition: January 2011 / ISBN: 9781612870083]


In this 1995 novel, author Peter David describes the Hulk as “a nuclear warhead on legs” and “an unstoppable engine of destruction.” The Hulk’s muscles, we are told, defy all known rules of human anatomy. And when he’s on a rampage, “there was no plan to his pounding, no art, no strategy.”

But David’s version of the Hulk isn’t the same as the iconic inarticulate brute I grew up with. He may still be “seven feet tall and green as grass,” but he now sports the personality of puny Bruce Banner. He even wears nerdy black-rimmed glasses and smokes a pipe while contemplating advanced mathematical equations. He is 1,000 pounds of ripping muscles with the brain of a genius. No longer does he speak in monosyllables and confuse personal pronouns. He’s so refined he probably eats petite cucumber sandwiches while drinking a cup of P.J. Tips. Pinkie out, of course.

But one thing remains the same. The U.S. Army still hates his guts. Gen. Thunderbolt Ross may be long gone, but the Hulk continues to be hounded by the military wherever he goes. “Our country has been at war with him from the moment he smashed his first tank,” explains Major William Talbot.

With no place left to go, the Hulk retreats to another dimension with help from the Eye of Agamotto. And wouldn’t you know it, even in this negative-like zone, the Hulk can’t find any peace. He’s hunted by his future self (now called the Maestro) and an army of Hulkbusters. He even has to wrestle his 20-year-old son Brett (the name being a portmanteau of Bruce and Betty, FYI).

The entire novel is a never-ending string of crazy situations and connections. The Hulk gets a computer chip implanted into his brain, his wife gets pregnant and gives birth to conjoined twins, Doc Samson and Dr. Strange make guest appearances, and an army of Hulks show up armed with a collection of superhero accoutrements (like the Sub-Mariner’s trident, Captain America’s shield, Wolverine’s adamantium claws, and Thor’s hammer). Unquestionably, the book is a huge page-turner with lots of action and laughs (intentional and/or otherwise). And there’s even a little bit of Hulk sex too.

Overall, What Savage Beast is totally insane and awesome at the same time. Mostly because it’s unapologetically a comic book superhero novel and doesn’t court any sort of literary merit. The only way this book could have been any better is if the Hulk rode a surfboard or an invisible jet. Kudos to Peter David for his ability to maintain his hyper propulsive comic book storytelling skills in prose format. I had a great big smile on my face when the Hulk and his son started debating the merits of Friedrich Nietzsche. At that point, I knew I was reading something truly incredible.

[The Incredible Hulk: What Savage Beast / By Peter David / First Printing: July 1995 / ISBN: 9780756759674]

Behemoth Rhapsody, Part 1

According to paleontologist Dr. Warren Callaway a species of super-sized “Behemoths” lived during the last ice age. Somehow they survived the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event that killed the dinosaurs. Or maybe, he speculated, they were the catalyst for the extinction event.  

The Behemoths trampled the earth with primal impunity and possessed abilities only seen in mythology. They flew in the air, spit ice and fire and inspired all sorts of Toho-like havoc. Unlike the wimpy dinosaurs, these gigantic colossi didn’t perish—they simply went into hibernation or some other type of natural stasis.

And now they were back. After taking a nap for millions of years, they awoke to a new tumultuous era. It had been 30 years since the modern world exploded—coastal cities gone, places like Arizona almost unlivable due to rising heat, fires, massive storms, earthquakes. The recent shifts in weather patterns were like a ringing alarm clock for the Behemoths.

One by one they arose from their deep slumber—a 600-foot-tall bipedal lizard from Siberia, A pterosaur-like firebird from Brazil and an enormous kraken from the Atlantic Ocean. Within a few pages they were pounding New York City and each other. To the winner: world domination!

Even though Behemoths Rising is a short novel, the author includes lots of daikaiju battles and go-for-broke combat scenes. This is the first book in a Kaiju Overlords trilogy, so I assume there will be more thunderous world-shaking action TK.

Two comments: An elite air force squadron confronts the prehistoric creatures at every opportunity. There are big chunks of text devoted to aerial combat, but don’t expect any sort of descriptive air strategy or compelling tactical maneuvering from the pilots. This isn’t Twelve O’Clock High or The Blue Max (or even Snoopy vs. the Red Baron). “Hit the bastards with everything you’ve got,” ordered Captain Jason Bagley at one point. That’s all the strategy you get.

And lastly: I’m especially happy to see that love blooms even during a Behemoth uprising. Geologists, paleontologists and fighter jet pilots—they all deserve a little love and affection, right? After all, if you can’t find time to hook up during a world-ending disaster like this, when can you?

[Behemoths Rising / By John Grover / First Printing: November 2020 / ISBN: 9798561093319]

Ghouls Rule!

Mary Shelley invented science fiction. That’s a fact. But she also created the greatest monster of all time.

Back in 1818 when Shelley introduced her uncanny creation to the public, she couldn’t have predicted the ripple effect her novel would have. Cobbled together from romance and gothic literary traditions, Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus generated an ongoing interest in science fiction, horror and monsters that hasn’t abated in over 200 years.

In the book The Science of Women in Horror, co-authors Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence trace women’s influence in horror throughout the years. In fact, they strongly imply that women are the ultimate monsters because they are alluring and powerful predators. Women have been exploited again and again to strike fear in men’s hearts, they say.

Most female monsters are heteronormative preying easily on men who think with their dicks. But what about other women in horror? Women are not all whores, sirens or gorgons after all. What about those who exist somewhere else on the Kinsey scale?

The lesbian vampire, besides being a gothic fantasy archetype, can be used to express a fundamental male fear that female bonding will forever exclude men and threaten male supremacy.

Take Carmilla, for example. In the 1871 novel by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Countess Karnstein represents the most complete vision of the female vampire; a lesbian seductress who desires to overturn patriarchy by promoting female independence from men, and the rejection of biological reproduction.

Conversely, female werewolves offer another version of fear and loathing. They embody a kind of gendered body crossing where a woman expresses characteristics labeled both masculine and male by the dominant culture such as power, strength, rage, aggression, violence and body hair. Check out the movie Ginger Snaps (2000) for a good example of this.

Even off-screen, women have been making their mark on monsters for a long time. According to Guillermo del Toro, special effects artist Milicent Patrick designed the “number one monster suit in film history” (the awesome Creature from the Black Lagoon). Ruth Rose co-wrote the original King Kong script and contributed the last and most memorable line of dialogue: “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

Inevitably when thinking about horror movies, the gaggle of monsters from Universal Studios come to mind. The only female creature from the studio’s MonsterVerse to transcend its era is the Bride of Frankenstein. Considered by many film buffs to be better than the original movie, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is the first sequel to Frankenstein and revolves around a subplot in Mary Shelley’s novel in which the creature yearns for a suitable mate. The Bride has little screen time and is ultimately rejected by science and her intended bridegroom, but her aesthetic (including her tall, skunk-streaked hair-do) endures to this day. Inspired by Shelley, Frankenstein’s bride is the mother of all monsters.  

[The Science of Women in Horror / By Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence / First Printing: February 2020 / ISBN: 9781510751743]

Horny and Hungry Monsters on the Prowl

When Casey Lovitt’s mom found a wolf spider casually lounging in her living room, she quickly swept it out the front door with her broom. “People weren’t meant to live in the swamp,” she told her daughter. “This place ain’t for us. It’s for them.”

Casey and her mom had lived their entire lives at the edge of Green Swamp, North Carolina. Over the years, they’d learned to coexist with the oppressive bug population. But last season’s hurricane and subsequent flooding significantly altered the local environment. The bugs were now bigger, more plentiful and more aggressive. “They’re finally running us out,” agreed Casey. “The creatures are taking the swamp back.”

That’s bad news for Casey. She was the park manager for the Green Swamp Zip-Line Adventure and Campground, and she knew people weren’t going to visit the N.C. wetlands if they were being attacked by giant horse flies, centipedes, mosquitoes, water scorpions, ticks, fire ants and wheel bugs.

Normally, bugs were mindless eating and breeding machines. But now they were hungry and horny monsters on the prowl. Thanks to the mutated venom of a brown recluse spider, for example, Casey witnessed an unlucky bastard decompose before her very eyes. Something had to be done. Ignoring the problem only made things worse.

Trying to help, the entomology department at the local college released sterile insects into the area. It was their hope that these bugs would nip the ever-expanding population in the bud. It was a nice idea, but it was a false narrative. The mounting danger and unforeseen secret agendas turned Green Swamp into a horror show.

To keep Infested focused, author Carol Gore divided her novel into three manageable chapters. Eschewing a standard third-act finale, however, she gave her protagonist an open door to a welcomed sequel.

A supersized mosquito buzzed toward Casey’s face. She let it get close and then smashed it against her forehead. It exploded with blood that ran down her face like war paint.

She wanted the other creatures to smell the death on her. It was a warning, wrote Gore. Casey would not abandon her home in Green Swamp. She was ready to keep on fighting.

[Infested / By Carol Gore / First Printing: January 2020 / ISBN: 9781989206300]


As you’d expect, there’s a lot of witchery in this collection of short stories. There are a few werewolf tales too, of course, but the anthology is heavy with malefic magic.

In general, Rod Serling’s Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves includes an outstanding selection of stories, but it definitely doesn’t start off with a bang. In the first story, a pair of feuding witches turns a grifter into a cat. In the second story, a woman turns her husband into a dog—and later, in a twist, the husband turns his wife into a horse.

Thankfully, the quality of the stories improves dramatically once you get past these two ailuranthropy and cynanthropy contributions. For example, there’s a story about an amateur witch who screws up all her spells, another story about an elderly gentleman who serendipitously discovers he’s the high priest of a Boston coven and then there’s the story about a young man whose wife of three months is in league with the devil. The book ends with a 21-page history of witch trials from the 16th century to the 19th century.

Without a doubt the best story endorsed by Serling for this vintage 1963 collection is written by Jane Roberts. As a genre workout, “The Chestnut Beads” is simply about sorority sisters and an A-bomb explosion in New York. More than that, however, Roberts has a lot to say about a woman’s responsibility to the future. Men are the destroyers, she writes, and women are the creators. “Once more we are being asked to re-create the universe. But creation is not a kind act. It is an act of cruelty, and act of hatred against the darkness. The time has come when our hate must kill our love; when love can grow again from the rotting seeds of rage.”

And finally, beyond witches and werewolves, I’m always a sucker for stories about people who think they can outwit the devil. Except for Daniel Webster, nobody has ever done it. In “Blind Alley” by Malcolm Jameson, a wealthy gentleman pays Satan (a.k.a. “His Nibs”) to send him back to his childhood hometown 40 years earlier. He’s nostalgic for the past because “he hated modern women, the blatancy of the radio, the man in the White House and everything else.” Naturally, things go askew pretty quickly. Satan breaks his contract, collects his soul and turns up the heat. “See you in Hell, old thing,” he laughs.

[Rod Serling’s Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves / Edited by Rod Serling / First Printing:  May 1963]

To Conserve and Protect, Part 2

Fresh from their first assignment as U.S. National Park Service secret agents (see my review of Russell James’s previous novel here), Kathy West and Nathan Toland found themselves quickly dispatched to Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

After squashing a giant crab uprising off the coast of Florida, West and Toland were asked to investigate irregularities near the Kilauea Caverns of Fire. They didn’t know what types of monsters they were going to encounter, but they knew that no assignment would ever be routine for them.

That’s because West and her history lovin’ sidekick were undercover agents for a shadowy section of the National Park Service. The government wasn’t protecting state parks just because they were attractive natural wonders. Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, Jellystone—many of these areas were home to the most dangerous monsters on the planet. As Park Services secret agents, West and Toland’s mission was to keep those creatures secret and safely within park boundaries.

In Hawaii, the biggest mammal problem was usually feral pigs. Escaped from domestic stock, they had huge litters and destroyed the land as they rooted for food. They were pesky because they had no natural predators.

But at Volcanoes Natural Park, West and Toland stumbled upon something far more terrifying than a pack of wild hogs. They found 20-foot, fire-breathing Komodo dragons living in the lava tunnels created by the Kilauea volcano. These dinosaur-sized creatures were the kind of mutation that would have made Charles Darwin proud, wrote the author.

Without realizing it, the park rangers were caught in the middle of a nasty Hawaiian cultural war. One faction recognized the dragons as sacred children of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. They wanted to protect the indigenous creatures. The other faction was a bit more extreme. Their plan was to use the dragons to cleanse the islands and return the land to nature.

The leader of the extremist group was Romy Saturo Kang. With a name like that, you knew right away that he was a first-class MCU-like villain. With the help of the dragons, he was going to turn the white man’s tropical paradise into a blazing hell. “It won’t be long,” Kang promised. “Pele’s children will hatch, and the island of Hawaii will return to its wonderful natural state, with me as their king.”

Don’t worry. Kang the Conqueror’s evil plan was eventually undone. Because of West and Toland’s last-minute heroics, hundreds of dragon hatchlings were boiled in lava. Problem solved.

The park rangers saved the people of Hawaii, but at what cost? What would animal rights activists and native groups think of their endgame? Surely some kind of compromise could have been negotiated? Kang was a first-class asshole (and he got a fitting comeuppance), but the dragons of Kilauea deserved better.

[Dragons of Kilauea / By Russell James / First Printing: October 2020 / ISBN: 9781922323903]