Monday, 4 February 2008

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Bats out of Hell

Professor Brian Newman is busy researching meningitis on bats when he accidentally creates some sort of bat-borne supervirus. Whoops! Rather than kill all the bats, he decides to wait around for a few days and hope things blow over. Unfortunately, he gets into a fight with his girlfriend/lab assistant, the cage is smashed and the bats disappear out of a convenient open window. Let the carnage begin!

First to die are a couple of horses, an unfortunate motorist and a little girl. Newman's unbearably smug colleagues refuse to believe their deaths are caused by his bats. Soon, though, the death toll rises to the hundreds, then to the thousands as widespread panic leads to riots and looting. The Prime Minister declares a state of emergency and a trigger happy British Volunteer Force attempt to contain the infection. Birmingham is burnt to the ground, though, so I guess the bats aren't all bad.

Between you and me, I don't think Newman is a very good scientist. He routinely confuses the terms "virus", "bactera" and "toxin", plus he makes repeated references to the bats' "radar" (they actually use sonar). Every experiment he attempts ends in failure and the only reason he manages to defeat the bats in the end is because of some article he saw in Scientific American, of all places.

The book concludes with one of Smith's favourite characters, the gamekeeper, musing about how science has upset the natural balance of things, and it will only be restored when mankind is wiped out.

Compared to some of Smith's other novels, this one doesn't seem particularly well researched. All of the science and bat biology is pretty much glossed over, pushing the would-be hero into the background. When he does appear, he is usually sitting around feeling sorry for himself while his lab assistant gives him backrubs and strokes his ego. He doesn't even have sex with her! In fact, there is no sex whatsoever in this book (the second Smith book I've read in a row to feature a distinct lack of sex), although Newman's girlfriend is almost raped by a gang of incensed anti-vivisection thugs before the cops reluctantly intervene.

Aside from one or two scenes of mayhem, this book doesn't have a lot to offer. Later in his career Smith managed to produce some highly entertaining animals-on-the-rampage disaster books, but this early offering is a little limp in comparison. It doesn't even have much of the trashy lunacy that makes his books so much fun to read. I'd pass on this unless you are a dedicated Smithophile.

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