Book Review: “Vyrmin” by Gene Lazuta

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Long-infected with the genes of the vyrmin–an evil, werewolf-type race–the townsfolk of Harpersville run wild when the Dark Time arrives, and the leadership of the menace will fall to one of the two Norris brothers.

Werewolf stories are dime-a-dozen.

Werewolves (and vampires, and zombies) are so overdone that most horror outlets specifically say “hey don’t send us anything with werewolves, vampires or zombies in it” when you look at their submission guidelines.

So what makes Vyrmin stand out in a sea of lycanthrope also-rans?

Simple. It’s weird.

Originally published in 1992, Gene Lazuta’s Vyrmin is the story of a small Ohio town that harbors a terrible curse. It’s the epicenter of an awakening. The awakening of a long-dormant cosmic evil.

Does this sound like H.P. Lovecraft? Good. Because that’s exactly what it is like.

At the center of this awakening are the Norris brothers, one of whom will inherit the title of “Blood Prince” and oversee the return of the “Dark Times”. These Dark Times are essentially a return to hell-on-Earth when a demonic force turns everyone into werewolf-like creatures that go bonkers and murder everything.

Vyrmin is a strange book. It’s definitely NOT the standard “bitten by a werewolf and the old gypsy said BEWARE” plot line. Lazuta mixes the aofrementioned ‘Lovecraftian’ elements in with the lycanthropes, and some absolutely surreal action.

Seriously, the action sequences are like batsh*t crazy fever dreams. They really shine with excellent description and prose, but are extremely jarring if you’re not ready for them, because they are written in a different tone than the rest of the story.

Insane action sequences aside, my major gripe with Vyrmin was its slow middle. The book starts off strong, ends strong, but like so many novels it has kind of a saggy middle where not a lot happens. There are sequences of action followed by long lulls of exposition. That said, it didn’t keep me from finishing the book.

While not for everyone, I could definitely recommend Vyrmin to any fans of werewolf horror who are looking for something outside of the same old plot lines.

Side note: This is the 2nd re-issue I’ve read from Bloodshot Books. The other, The Breeze Horror, will be an upcoming review. Editor Pete Kahle is doing the Lord’s work over there, resurrecting all these lesser-known but interesting horror novels from the 80’s and 90’s in ebook format with new cover art. It’s really cool to see someone making some more obscure horror stories available again in a convenient and affordable way.

What I Liked:

  • Weird werewolves with human-skin belts
  • Whacked out, almost psychedelic, action sequences
  • Sheriff Conway

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Saggy middle
  • Peaks and valleys of action versus massive expository dialogue
  • Some of those cool action sequences felt like they were from another book/story

 

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Book Review: “The Cipher” by Kathe Koja

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Nicholas is a would-be poet and video-store clerk with a weeping hole in his hand – weeping not blood, but a plasma of tears…

Books like The Cipher come along rarely.

One of the strangest, most existentially disturbing horror? novels I’ve read in a while, it’s a gem that is certainly not for everyone.

When video store clerk Nicholas and his sometimes-girlfriend Nakota stumble across a strange hole (The Funhole!) in an abandoned supply closet in his apartment building, they don’t really know what to make of it. Over time, Nakota begins to perform “experiments” by putting things in or near the hole, with frightening results. This includes a camcorder that creates video so intense it beguiles anyone who sees it.  As tension builds, it comes to a head when Nicholas’ hand accidentally goes in the The Funhole and comes out with a bizarre negative stigmata. A “mini Funhole” that begins to grow.

From there, the conflict between Nicholas and Nakota grows, as she assembles an almost cult-like following of artsy weirdos on the fringes of society, who she tempts by showing them the video which them eerily obsessed with the mysteries of The Funhole…and Nicholas.

Koja’s work is a phenomenal piece of writing. It eschews taking us into the Funhole itself, and rather deals with the psychological aspects of how gross, down-and-out people deal with an unknown (and revelatory) situation. The Funhole’s interactions are on the periphery of the story, but it’s presence is at the heart of what drives this horrible group.

And I do mean horrible. This book is full of really unlikable people. Nakota is an effective antagonist because she is a real-world monster. Selfish, arrogant, uncaring and narcissistic. She preys on weakness; the kind Nicholas has in spades. Reader beware if you need “likable characters” to finish a book.

The Cipher is also a technical tour de force. If you want a book that “breaks the rules”, look no further. Written in stream of consciousness narration, it is full of sentence fragments, interjections, collapsing paragraphs, and 4th wall asides. Her prose is beautifully poetic while simultaneously grimy and disgusting.  I’m sure Koja’s editor had a field day with it.

Again, to those interested in challenging writing styles, you’ll love it, but anyone who wants an easy straightforward read may shy away.

Ultimately, I’m not even sure if I’d classify The Cipher as a horror novel, although that’s what Dell Books called it back in the early 1990’s. It’s certainly weird alt-horror, if not an exercise in existential dread and the human condition.

5 awful, disjointed thumbs up.

What I Liked:

  • The Funhole.
  • The slimy sheen of Koja’s characters and prose. Nothing is nice or clean or off limits.
  • Nakota is a monster and a wonderfully realistic villain.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Sometimes the stream of consciousness was too much.
  • The middle sags, just a tiny bit, but it does.
  • It’s long out-of-print and paperback editions are EXPENSIVE.