One of the reasons that William Meikle is one of my favourite authors is that he is able to produce stories that fit into a wide range of genres. He can write straight-up horror fiction such as Ramskull, which I recently reviewed; ghost stories, like his latest title, The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror; Lovecraftian Mythos fiction, such as The Midnight Eye series, which are also hardboiled noirish detective thrillers, or his short stories in various anthologies; and what he terms ‘creature features’, where monstrously-sized creatures like crabs, insects, ants and even seaweed, rampage across the globe as humanity mounts increasingly-desperate defences. Mr Meikle’s latest ‘creature feature’ is Infestation, published by Severed Press, about a British special forces team that are ordered to investigate a mysterious Russian boat which has suddenly appeared off a remote section of the Canadian arctic coast and begun drilling into the seabed. It’s an intriguing concept which drew me in immediately, aided in no small part by the brilliant piece of covert art commissioned by Severed Press.
After parachuting into the area, Captain John Bank’s squad rapidly find themselves in a situation they’ve never encountered before; first come the bodies of hideously eviscerated walruses, and then an entire Inuit village that has been torn apart, its entire population either disappeared or reduced to the odd limb that has been torn off and left behind. And just when they think they’ve stumbled upon some kind of horrific war crime committed by the crew of the Russian boat, they discover the true culprits – gigantic Isopods the size of dogs, far larger than any that have ever been discovered previously – and hungry for human flesh!
I read all of Infestation in one sitting and absolutely loved it – it’s a fantastic action-adventure story, full of gruff, sweary special forces characters that get into intense gunfights with otherworldly creatures that are almost invulnerable to human weaponry, and which keep coming no matter how many are killed by Captain Banks and his rapidly-diminishing band of heroes. It’s intensely cinematic with fast-paced and skillful writing that makes imagining the scenes on and around the Russian boat incredibly easy, to the point where I could almost see the ragged band of survivors falling back, expending magazines and desperately looking for a way to escape from the rampaging Isopods. It reminded me of old B-Movies, or their more modern equivalents like Dog Soldiers or The Thing, and frankly it would be a crying shame if Infestation isn’t made into a 21st Century-equivalent of films like THEM! and Tarantula.
However, there are any number of ‘soldiers fight terrible creatures’ titles available already, either in print or on the Kindle, particularly in the post-apocalyptic and zombie genres, so what exactly raises Infestation above the rest of the pack? Well firstly the writing is of an extremely high quality, as is usual with all of Mr Meikle’s stories, and although the special forces team are to an extent a collection of stereotypical squaddies, the author has given each just enough personality to make them memorable; this is particularly notable with one character, Nolan, an Irishman whose final few moments are genuinely touching. As I’ve noted above, the plot rattles along at a cracking pace and takes the reader along with it, but the real crowning glory are the beasties themselves, the gigantic Isopods. They’re deftly realised by Mr Meikle, who manages to make them threatening enough without being too overpowering and therefore not giving the protagonists a chance to survive; and they are given a logical reason for suddenly appearing and attacking the Russian boat and the surrounding area, while still granted sufficient mystique to ensure their origins are never quite explained, giving enough room for sequel.
Infestation is an excellent piece of writing and a joy to read, skillfully combining the aesthetics of the B-Movie, ‘creature features’ that Mr Meikle cites as an inspiration, while still giving a sufficiently original take on the creatures and their opponents to ensure that the novella rises above the rest of the competition. I was incredibly happy to find out that there was a second title featuring the same characters – Operation Antarctica – and I will be reviewing that very shortly.