Tag Archives: Horror

The Troop

The Troop, by Nick Cutter, created quite a buzz upon its release late last spring. I paid it little mind and it wasn’t until the annual Boden family beach vacation that I picked up the hardcover and read the blurbs and breakdown, I decided to wait a bit as I have a fairly unwieldy TBR pile. A month ago we got the trade paperback in at the grocery store where I work. This impressed me and I looked at it with every pass I made by the tiny shitty book section. Eventually, I grabbed a copy.

There is a blurb on the back that essentially calls it a mix of Lord of the Flies and 28 Days Later. I love both of those works so I was all whoo-hoo! and anxiously dug in over the weekend. It is a nice, quick, pulpy read. Reminded me a lot of earlier King and some of those ooey-gooey 80s works from the pulp paperback rack at Hills. I loved it.

The story begins with Scoutmaster Tim taking his troop of five boys on their yearly campout on a remote island off the coast of Canada. During the first night, a stranger stumbles into their midst. A man disturbingly gaunt and pale yet voraciously hungry. He sets things on a rapid and downward spiral that will leave you dizzy. Without a chance to catch your breath, the pacing hastens, the sick man gets sicker, and Tim tries to help but endangers himself and the boys in the process.

The viral threat the man has ushered into camp soon becomes a catalyst for some real struggle as the boys find themselves sans supervision and left on their own to survive—the elements, the monstrously unsettling contagion, and themselves. We see their true colors shine through, and they aren’t all bright and pretty.

I’d really love to give more details, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say that I enjoyed The Troop a great deal. I found it invigoratingly fun and entertaining. Is it perfect? Not at all. The structure with the interview excerpts and science-y stuff messed with the flow for me (the science itself is a bit wonky), and the military conspiracy angle is as hokey as can be, but it’s just a book, so I rolled with it. Where it really shines is in its gross-out moments where the contagion shows itself and when we see the boys begin to show themselves. It is brutal in places and tragically sad in others.

The Troop is available from Simon & Schuster Books , which means damn near everywhere.

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Bone Whispers

I reviewed Tim Waggoner’s Skull Cathedral a few years ago—quite favorably, if memory serves—so when I saw that he had a collection coming out, I was looking forward to it. When I saw the chance to snap up a copy of said collection from the Post Mortem Press table at AnthoCon, I did it.

Bone Whispers is a collection of eighteen stories. Now, I’d be derelict in my duties if I didn’t warn the uninitiated that a Tim Waggoner story is NOT like any others. He deals out vicious, wriggling slivers of off-kilter horror, slathered in strange and stitched with surrealism. This is my favorite type of story, truth be told.

We open with “Thou Art God,” wherein a man makes the difficult discovery that he is God and much to his chagrin, that doesn’t equate to unabashed love and adoration from his fellow man. “Bone Whispers” takes us on a painful journey of sad nostalgia and coming to terms with tragedy…and a giant supernatural groundhog. “Some Dark Hope” give us a pathetic loner who finds a way to use his particular life “skills” to make some money in a very special house of ill repute.

Visit an orchard where the living dead sprout like trees in “Harvest Time.” “Surface Tension” delivers a very odd story of a man afraid of puddles, with good reason. “Best Friends Forever” shows us how powerful denial and guilt are when working together. “No More Shadows” is a bizarre exercise in paranoia and loyalty. “Unwoven” is a trippy little shard of existential humor…shaded darkly.

Marking the book’s equator is “Skull Cathedral,” a nightmarish kaleidoscope of surreal brutality. “Do No Harm” is a sort-of zombie apocalypse story without any zombies, but the vibe is eerily similar. “Country Roads,” which happens to be my favorite in this book, tells the tale of a sad man looking for validation in the echoes of his youth. Outstanding! “Darker Than Winter” gives us a tale of snowman murder and terror in the bold tradition of the old horror comics from the 50s.

“Swimming Lesson” corrals the weirdness into a public pool, while “Conversations Kill” finds a man confronting his woman issues in a very unhealthy way. “Long Way Home” is an apocalyptic tale of survival and resentment masked as guilt that, with it’s crazy monsters, plays like a Del Toro film. “Sleepless Eyes” is a crazy little scene in the most horrific roadside dive you’ve ever visited. “The Faces That We Meet” is a story that allows a dark glimpse into the secret habits and lives of those we know and think we know well.

The collection closes with “The Great Ocean of Truth,” a gonzo tale that channels the authors inner Kafka and brews it in a Norman Rockwell coffee mug to be poured down your throat while still scalding hot.

Bone Whispers is an astounding testament to the talents of Tim Waggoner. I have (and I hope to remedy this soon) only read his short fiction and I have loved all of it. Ranking among Brady Allen and Bentley Little in the halls of Weird Fiction Manor. toothy and terrifying and delightfully devilish. Good stuff that will leave stains and scars.

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Star Road

Here is an awesome sci-fi premise: Humans find at the edge of the solar system the entrance to a vast network of dimensional portals leading to other worlds all across the universe. No one knows who built it, or how it works—only that is does work.

With that tantalizing grand sci-fi mystery as a premise we begin Star Road, by Matthew Costello and the late Rick Hautala, a high-speed space action thriller that tips a hat, head, and most of the shoulders to Joss Whedon.

(Another name worth mentioning is Mad Max. But while the influence of Road Warrior and Firefly are superficially evident, I felt that the execution of Star Road owed more to A.E. van Vogt, for better or worse.)

This is first and foremost an action road-trip with plenty shoot-em-up “car” chases. Read if you want creepy alien mech constructs swarming over your spaceship while you’re in a firefight with a battle-cruiser, read if you want blast-em-up car chases on rickety jet ramps built over primordial oceans where sea monsters just might take a bite out of your ship if you get too close.

There’s a distinct horror flair that occasionally overshadowed the rational “why?” required by science fiction. Anyone remember that scene in Galaxy Quest when they have to pass through the timed mashers and fire to get to the Omega 13? That’s in here. But if car chases in space are your thing, look no further. (And for all you romance readers holding your breath, sorry, there’s next to zero romance. Go back to your dinosaur-on-human erotica.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, Star Road doesn’t have the massive cast of a true space opera, but there are plenty of characters coming in and out of the scenes. You have your requisite crew mish-mash: a war-weary gunner, a cool-handed captain, the scientist, a religious Seeker, a salty space-miner, a spunky adrenaline-junkie, and the government guy-with-secrets. Add to that a seemingly omniscient/omnipresent Super-Duper Space Federation, and a gaggle of space pirates called the Reavers—I mean, the Runners—and you can see why this was a fun if somewhat recycled read.

While we are down in the thick of things with the main group of characters, we’re told to care deeply about the larger struggle between Empire and Rebellion, as well as the internecine strife within the Rebel group. But the larger struggle never felt wholly tangible or meaningful.

Costello and Hautala write from multiple vantage points to connect us to the secret motives and thoughts of each character as they rush towards the final showdown on a distant planet. However, this relentless head-hopping ends up wearying me, and I end up not feeling close enough to any character to really understand or care for their motives. Speaking of motives, sometimes there just weren’t any. I caught myself facepalming with a “What are they thinking?” or “Why would they do that?” a few times.

(By the way: Hard sci-fi readers beware. They actually drive on the star road. In space. No, I don’t know why there is gravity. I think Asimov just twitched in his grave.)

But Star Road is about action and high-speed chases and creepy alien corpses being resurrected so heroes with blasters can fry them into bacon bits (rather than, say, about emotional resonance and astonishing truth about the human condition). I just wish that that awesome sci-fi premise we started off with resolved into a mind-blowing sci-fi answer.

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Violet Eyes

Billy and his friends are on vacation on a little island in the Florida Keys when they are attacked by a huge swarm of flies that bite. They run through the jungle and find a small hut where they take refuge. In the middle of the night, Billy’s girlfriend Casey realizes she can’t hold it until morning, and goes outside to go to the bathroom.

This time, hundreds of spiders attack Casey, tearing her apart with her teeth. Later, only Billy manages to escape.

Rachel has escaped her abusive husband Anders, and now lives in a small town in the Everglades with her son Eric. As they try to build a new life together, Rachel has no idea that the town she chose is about to be overrun by a plague that has never been seen before. Rachel and Eric becomes friends with Billy who, although nice, acts strangely at times. Tormented by terrible headaches he can’t explain, he gradually withdraws, until Rachel realizes it’s been quite some time since they had seen him. In the meantime, the townspeople are being bitten by an infestation of flies, sickening some and killing others.

Then the spiders come. Hatching from the larvae left by the flies, the spiders encase animals, people—even houses in their webs. Rachel and her new boyfriend Terry decide it’s time to get out of town, but run into trouble when her ex-husband Anders shows up. Soon after, all hell breaks loose, and time is running out to get out of town before the government shows up and annihilates the town along with the insects.

I love “bug horror,” and this is one of the best I’ve read. Fun, creepy, and gross, Violet Eyes, written by Bram Stoker award-winning author John Everson, made me squirm many times while reading. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

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Gossamer: A Story of Love and Tragedy

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Lee Thompson’s work. He writes fast, he writes hard, and he comes up with beautifully tragic stories that are both engaging and soul-crushing.

Gossamer: A Tale of Love and Tragedy is no different. From the very beginning, we’re tossed into an uncomfortably unflinching look at love and loss. Dorothy is a little girl forced to watch her father denounce her mother as a witch. As the sentence is passed, Dorothy hardens her heart and promises revenge.

The main story has to do when Dorothy has lived several lifetimes. She resides in the small town of Gossamer, guardian of an area filled with people that she grows to care for. Then her loneliness puts the residents of Gossamer in danger, and everything changes.

Lee has a clean, easy prose that still manages to be beautiful. He’s especially gifted at writing women, which is rare to see from a male writer. His portrayal of Dorothy and her aunt are both strong and chilling. Later in the book, we are introduced to two more strong mother/daughter characters, and the ineffectual boyfriend. It’s interesting to see the spine and determination in these women, and how far Lee is willing to push them until they either push back or break completely.

This book is full of witches and vampires. It’s full of magical carousals. It’s also full of betrayal, love reciprocated and not, and cowardice. Lee takes the unlovely parts of real life and sets it in a setting so deliciously bizarre that you think you’re simply reading a story, when in fact you’re listening to a man sitting across from you and telling you all about pain.

Gossamer goes down easy and leaves a bitter aftertaste. It’s dark and lovely. I’d recommend it.

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Dominoes—Now Available!

Shock Totem Publications is proud to announce that Dominoes, by John Boden, is now available!

Dominoes is a Little Horror Book, the perfect bedtime read for strange parents and bizarro children, a book not only meant to be read but also experienced.


Click for full-size images.

Cover art and interior illustrations were once again handled by the amazing Yannick Bouchard, who also did the cover art and illustrations for Beautiful Sorrows.

Praise for Dominoes:

“Now for something strangely different: death falls like a hellish deck of bruised songs through the lives of old and young in the unexpected flow of images screaming in Dominoes by John Boden.” —Linda Addison, author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend and Being Full of Light, Insubstantial

“Strong stuff. Strange, incantatory, and speaking of things that might already have come to pass. This is some seriously weird shit.” —Gary McMahon, author of Tales of The Walking Wounded, Pretty Dead Things, and The Concrete Grove trilogy

“Equal parts evil and beautiful, John Boden has created a prose poem that reads like a bedtime story that would work best if told right before the apocalypse.” —Adam Cesare, author of Tribesmen, Video Night, and Bound By Jade

“Boden is a master of the surreal. His language is lyrical and haunting, and he packs each sentence with more emotion than other writers manage to accomplish in an entire novel. Dominoes is a wonderfully off-kilter apocalyptic tale of madness and misery.” —Mark Allan Gunnells, author of Asylum, The Quarry, and The Summer of Winters

Dominoes is available in paperback format (no digital version for this release) from our webstore or Amazon.com (for other regions, see your specific Amazon website) for $6.99.

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The Hungry 3: At the End of the World

Sheriff Penny Miller is back! This time she and her zombie-fighting gang have made their way to an isolated town in the mountains, hoping to hunker down in a ski lodge and regroup. But nothing is ever easy during the zombie apocalypse, and their situation is made worse when the lodge owner steals their ride and all of their money, leaving them stranded.

Although they are not as exposed as they were before, they still aren’t safe from the zombies making their way slowly up the mountain. Penny and her friends must find a way to protect and fortify themselves, as well as convince skeptics that danger is heading for the town.

The previous books in the series—The Hungry and The Hungry 2: The Wrath of God—were fun and exciting, and The Hungry 3: At the End of the World is no exception. The entire series is great, and unusual in that a woman is the badass leader of a survival group. She’s not weak, but she does show her emotions in protecting and caring for her “family.” Penny is not someone to piss off.

Authors Booth and Shannon have once again drawn me in to their world, and kept me reading far into the night. I know that The Hungry 4 is in the works, and I can’t wait.

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Announcing Dominoes…

Shock Totem Publications is proud to announce Dominoes, by John Boden.

Dominoes is a Little Horror Book, the perfect bedtime read for strange parents and bizarro children, a book not only meant to be read but also experienced.


Click for full-size images.

Cover art and interior illustrations were once again handled by the amazing Yannick Bouchard, who also did the cover art and illustrations for Beautiful Sorrows.

Praise for Dominoes:

“Now for something strangely different: death falls like a hellish deck of bruised songs through the lives of old and young in the unexpected flow of images screaming in Dominoes by John Boden.” —Linda Addison, author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend and Being Full of Light, Insubstantial

“Strong stuff. Strange, incantatory, and speaking of things that might already have come to pass. This is some seriously weird shit.” —Gary McMahon, author of Tales of The Walking Wounded, Pretty Dead Things, and The Concrete Grove trilogy

“Equal parts evil and beautiful, John Boden has created a prose poem that reads like a bedtime story that would work best if told right before the apocalypse.” —Adam Cesare, author of Tribesmen, Video Night, and Bound By Jade

“Boden is a master of the surreal. His language is lyrical and haunting, and he packs each sentence with more emotion than other writers manage to accomplish in an entire novel. Dominoes is a wonderfully off-kilter apocalyptic tale of madness and misery.” —Mark Allan Gunnells, author of Asylum, The Quarry, and The Summer of Winters

Dominoes will be released in paperback format this coming October.

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365 Days of Horror? Yes, Please!

Every year about this time, I get excited. Not because I’m eagerly waiting for holidays such as National Beheading Day* (although it sounds cool) or Fight Procrastination Day** (why fight it?), but because I know that October is just around the corner; and that means that haunted houses will open around the city. Like any other city, Las Vegas offers your run-of-the-mill haunted attractions, built inside semi-truck trailers and parked in strip mall parking lots. Circus Circus Hotel transforms their indoor amusement park, Adventuredome, into a family-friendly haunt featuring multiple haunted houses (supposedly the best in Vegas).


This juggalo thing has gotten way out of hand.

Each October, I gather any friends brave enough to join me and venture out into the world of strobe lights, prerecorded screams and monster sounds, and zombies jumping out from behind plywood doors. It is the best month of my year. Then, after Halloween, the doors close for the year and the trailers are pulled away to be tucked into storage for another eleven months. I spend those eleven months sulking on my couch, wishing that someone would make a decent horror movie already.

Enter The Goretorium, Eli Roth’s premium haunted attraction on the Las Vegas strip. I no longer have a reason to cry into my bowl of burnt popcorn. When it opened last year, I thought I was dreaming. For 365 days a year, there would be a place for me to get my haunted house fix.

Need a break from writing? Go to the Goretorium!

Dog chewed through the bedroom wall? Go to the Goretorium!

Girlfriend can’t get enough of America’s Got Talent? Go to the Goretorium!

Life got in the way a bit since then, but I finally had my chance to visit recently. Without giving away any details of the actual attraction (you’ve got to experience it for yourself), I thought I’d share some of the details of this special place.

The idea behind The Goretorium is that it used to be a hotel on the Las Vegas strip (The Delmont), but has been condemned for many years following the discovery that it was a place of murder, where many bodies of locals and tourists alike had been found. The lobby was designed to look just as it would if it were still condemned and closed to the public. Cobwebs hang from an old chandelier; paint peels from the walls. All guests are greeted by animatronic ghouls in the entryway, which I felt was a little hokey and took away from the overall creepy ambiance of the place. I hoped the attraction itself would offer more of that atmosphere, and less Disney.


Please excuse our appearance. We are murdering people.

I was not disappointed. From the beginning, I felt as if I just needed to get out before something bad happened; of course, something bad did happen, and then I had to get out before something worse came along. The design worked well, as each room felt cohesive within the scheme of the hotel, but still offered a unique experience. It was obvious that the owners spent a lot of money on this place to fulfill Roth’s dream.

That’s not to say it didn’t have its flaws, though. At times, the actors lacked enthusiasm and sometimes slipped out of character. It also lacked a proper ending for me, as I was looking for more closure to the experience (I’ll leave it up to you to check it out and decide for yourself).

Most places like this would spit you out into a gift shop, expecting you to pay obscene prices for stuff you don’t need, but this is Vegas. We do things a little different in this town. Upon exiting, you will find yourself in the middle of a bar. Sit down and have a drink while you make fun of your best friend for screaming like a little girl halfway through. Don’t forget to check out your picture on the way out.

Overall, I had a good time, and I recommend everyone visit this place at least once. You may even be able to find half-off deals through travel sites or Groupon.

* September 2

** September 6

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Three Reasons the Strain Series Sucks

I was so excited to read the three books of The Strain series, which was a collaborative effort by director extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, author of the very entertaining The Town. All of the books came equipped with the full endorsement of the friends of mine who’d read them, and hell, the series was presented as a science-based horror yarn about a biological strain of vampires taking over the world! Take I Am Legend and combine it with a modern retelling of The Andromeda Strain and voila!—perfection!

Or so I thought.

The first book, The Strain, moved along quickly and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Sure, there were parts I rolled my eyes at, but the story was so entertaining that I could easily forgive them. Then came The Fall, which started out well enough. But then halfway through that book, something happened. The storyline became laughable. It all went to hell. And by the time I finished The Night Eternal, my opinion was set in stone.

The Strain series sucks.

And here are my top three reasons why, completely filled with spoilers for those who haven’t read the books.

#3: Bad Science

There are really only two glaring instances of this throughout the entire series, but trust me, these instances are HUGE.

First of all there’s the more minor affront. One of the man characters is Abraham Setrakian, who’s a Romanian Jew and who’s well over eighty years old. The text makes constant reference to his severely crippled hands and his bad heart, and yet he is constantly able to not only duke it out with the vampires, but all it takes is a single swing of his silver sword to sever head from neck. Seriously? I mean…seriously? Even guillotines, with their 45- to 50-pound blades, did not always succeed in hacking through the tissue and spinal column. And yet this ancient professor was able to do so every time with relative ease. Completely unbelievable, and we won’t even get into the fact he screams, “My sword sings of silver,” every time he executes a vamp, because that’s just plain dumb.


“Get off my lawn, dammit!”

The second and most egregious affront to science just so happens to be the conclusion of the second book, which completely sets the stage for the third book and forwards the vampire master’s plan. This plan includes exploding a series of nuclear power plants built by another rather unbelievable character in order to block out the sun with ash. Once this is finished, there will be a world that has only three hours of muted sunlight a day, which is of course vampire paradise.

The problem? Nuclear power plants don’t explode. They melt down.


“Wait, does anyone know how these things work?”


“Eh, never mind, no one cares.”

A nuclear explosion requires a catalyst and weaponized atomic fuel, which are quite lacking in reactors built to supply the public with electricity, because to have a reactor that could incinerate miles of prime real estate if anything went wrong would be just plain stupid. No, reactors melt down. When the core overheats, the fuel and fission products seep out and radiate the environment—which is of course really bad. Now, while it is true that hydrogen explosions from superheated steam can most certainly occur, those detonations wouldn’t be in any way large enough to create an ash cloud big enough to blot out Chris Christie, never mind an area of the sky. Even if it could, and the place did go up in a giant mushroom cloud, there’s no way that the main characters of the story, who weren’t even a mile away from one of the explosions when it occurred, would remain fine and dandy and drive off into the no-sunset.

Now, I know what you’re saying. These reactors were all built by one of the baddies from the books. He probably added explosive materials into his reactors to allow these nuclear blasts to occur, right? Well, I guess that’s possible…however, during the laughable back story (more on that later), it’s said that when Chernobyl melted down, one of the Ancient Ones (more on them later too) turned to dust. But wait…Chernobyl melted down, it didn’t explode! In other words, the authors are setting up the finale by rewriting a scientifically historical fact and hoping no one notices. Which of course no one does, because to most folks nuclear power is like Merlin, David Copperfield, and Ric Ocasek’s love life—it’s magic.

That being said, this sin is nowhere near as bad as…

#2: Good (Fake) Science Ruined By Bad Mythology

The vampires in The Strain are brilliant. They truly are. They’re created by parasitic (capillary) worms that burrow into and then change the biology of the host. Human traits are nullified, the skin becomes opaque, the digestive systems are simplified and fused to allow for quick absorption, and a stinger is formed where the voice box would be, which is the tool the creatures use to feed. Brilliant. Also, the effectiveness of silver is explained in a scientific way, given the metal’s antiviral/bacterial qualities, as is the sensitivity to UV light. In a less impressive addition they all share a hive mind, which might not be truly scientific, but then again all one has to do is look at the legions of Beliebers in order to say, “Okay, wow, this is actually a frightening possibility.”


Talk about getting your red wings.

And then the authors go and ruin all this groundwork by instituting one of the dumbest origin stories I’ve ever read.

According to the series, when God sent his angels to Sodom and Gomorrah, there were three, not two. One of the archangels, Ozryel, apparently developed a taste for killing and drinking blood. Why an all-knowing God didn’t step down and stop this, I have no clue. Instead, Ozryel is hacked into seven pieces and deposited around the globe, and it’s when the blood from those seven pieces seeps into the ground that the worms are formed, the Ancient Ones come into being, and vampirism begins. Goodbye, science!

What was once a thought-out and researched plot then goes on to be explained in the worst way possible. Vampires can’t cross moving water because they’re bound to their origins, but they can if they’re invited, which allows the Master, the renegade Ancient One, to cross the ocean and enter New York. Not a very well-thought-out fail-safe by an omniscient deity. It’s about on par with Darth Maul taunting Obi-Wan while the Jedi’s lightsaber, and certain death, is within easy Force-grabbing reach. The method, and the mythology, is just downright silly, not to mention lazy. And worst of all, it leads directly to…

1: An Insulting Ending

After all this plotting, after characters are left rummaging through a darkened world that shouldn’t in reality be changed in the slightest, our racially stereotypical heroes (no, I won’t get into that here, it’s just piling on) end up on some islands in Lake Ontario with a nuclear bomb in tow. (There’s that magic nuclear power again!)

It seems that all our heroes have to do is gather the ashes of the six Ancient Ones who had died because of those impossible nuclear explosions, lure the Master there, and then detonate the bomb. Then the whole shebang would end and the world would go back to normal. Yippee!

So they all arrive, the Master’s there (though he should have known their plan all along and stayed far, far away), and finally, after some eye-roll-inducing action, the bomb goes off. Let’s take out the fact that the main character and his young son go up in flames, which would be an emotional sticking point in the plot if not for the fact they were so damn annoying, and the added element that another couple of major characters are stationed on an island quite close to the one that blows up and they walk away completely unscathed after that magical nuclear blast. Instead, let’s focus on the direct aftermath of the explosion.

The sky opens up. A beam of light shines down on the detonated island. Two angels appear from heaven, and a third flies up from the ashes. The three angels then soar around together like fairies and then all three shoot upward and disappear into the clouds.

Um, huh? Did I just read that?

That’s right. The angel Ozryel, who was the reason the globe was thrown into chaos and that millions upon millions of people died, was just escorted back up to heaven after his body was reassembled. Talk about a massive crock of shit. It seemed his only penance was to kill shit-tons of innocent people and then get all blowed up without ever showing an ounce of contrition. It is without a doubt the most imbecilic and indolent ending to a serious work of fiction I have ever read. I literally slammed the book shut and mumbled curses to myself for a good five minutes after reading it. Sure, his entire strain was obliterated and humanity was saved from vampiric rule, but still…why the fuck was the angel let back into heaven? It makes absolutely no sense. It’s insulting. I can’t believe talented folks like del Toro and Hogan created it.


Just like eviscerated remains, heaven is pretty!

And just think…The Strain was optioned to be a series on FX! Ha! Will I watch it? Of course! And will I enjoy it? Probably. Why?

Because I’m an idiot.


“I give Rob a boner that big.”

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