Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Locusts

City-slickers the Altons have bought a run down house in Shropshire, hoping that some country living will make a man out of their son David. He seems to be more fond of animals, especially his pet rabbit Bunty, than football or other manly pursuits. That's how furries start. They load up the moving van with all their stuff, including, for some strange reason, an enormous crate of half-rotten imported peaches. If you guess that these peaches are full of insect larvae, then ha! You're wrong. No wait, you're right, sorry about that.

David's mother Sheila isn't happy about the move, and has a hard time adapting to country life. She has a terrible fear of insects (the fact that her son collects them isn't helping matters), and soon after she arrives she is having nightmares about grasshoppers. Seriously, grasshoppers? I understand that they are similar to locusts and it's setting up the mayhem that will follow, but you've got to work pretty hard to make grasshoppers seem scary, and Smith isn't up to the task. Her frequent hysterics are dismissed and belittled by her husband Alan, who feels that the countryside is the best place to be raising their child, and that's that.

Basically, their marriage in on the rocks. She hasn't had an orgasm in years and complicating matters is Pat Emmerton, the stable-owner next door, a blonde bombshell and nymphomaniac to boot. She has had her eye on Alan's bulging trouser-front since they arrived. When Pat's portly husband is killed by locusts, she takes the opportunity to throw herself upon Alan while she's naked in the tub. Hey, we all grieve differently. He does eventually succumb to her advances, at which time she demonstrates the full extent of her horsemanship if you know what I mean (she has sex with him). Such wanton behaviour is punished severely in the Smithiverse, however, and she is later killed in a locust attack. Alan makes up with his wife later, though. They have post-locust-attack sex with their son asleep on the foot of the bed, which I think is pretty wrong. What if he wakes up? He's traumatised enough as it is.

Now, Locusts stowing away in a crate of Pennsylvania Peaches and sweeping through Shropshire (during a drought, naturally) sounds pretty unlikely, but I can go along with it. When they reveal that there is a simultaneous attack by a different species of locusts who have flown in from the mainland, my disbelief is officially resumed. I'm not sure why this secondary attack was introduced, it seems like a pretty clumsy way to raise the stakes. Perhaps to lessen the complicity of the main character, who had been feeling pretty guilty about leaving those insect-ridden peaches lying around. Things play out pretty much as you'd expect. Widespread panic, many horrible deaths and their son sneaks away to find his rabbit at the most inopportune time possible. The locust problem eventually resolves itself in a rather ho-hum manner, with no intervention from the hero or indeed, any humans at all.

The awesome cover might make you think that the book is about flesh-eating locusts, but these are just the regular type, eating crops, wood etc. Towards the end they get desperate and have a bit of a nibble on people, and they do eat a baby at one point, but they're pretty much vegetarians. Most of the deaths are caused by having every available orifice jammed with locusts. To add insult to injury, they'll even eat off your clothes. Stark-nekkers with locusts stuck up your ass, what a way to go. Smith also shows his usual talent at wringing exciting, large scale disasters from unlikely source material, such as a fiery pile-up caused by a road slick with crushed locusts. Several tense scenes owe a lot to The Birds, with people trapped indoors as locusts swarm outside, or being forced to walk through fields of sleepy locusts.

This is a pretty decent animals-on-the-rampage book. Aside from one or two positively Smithian moments, it doesn't get too ridiculous. There's no locusts stripping the flesh from people, leaving skeletons in their wake or anything like that (maybe in Locusts 2). The characters are a little more interesting than usual, in that the hero is a bit of an asshole at times instead of a bland everyman. I don't know how accurate the locust facts are, but it seems quite well researched, even if some of the events are likely to stretch even the most generous limits of believability. All in all, I thought this book was pretty good.

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