Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Scorpion by Michael R. Linaker (1980): Animal Magnetism

Poor Old Blighty: the once regal lord of the world would, throughout the 1970s and '80s, find itself overrun again and again by hordes of vermin which laid waste to so many of its proud, if overly class-conscious, innocent citizens—in the pages of paperback horror fiction, of course. Blame James Herbert, of course (certainly the threat from the natural world could be traced back to Wyndham and Wells, but probably found its true footing in an unassuming 1952 tale by Daphne Du Maurier's blown up to existential proportions by one Alfred Hitchcock) but it was Big Bad Jim who unleashed The Rats in 1974 and truly made the country a feeding ground for all creatures great and small. America was of course overrun as well, but there was something in British culture that was especially ripe for the taking, suffering cats, dogs, crabs, slugs, and worse (gah, do teenagers count?!).

And so we come to Scorpion (Signet Books, Feb 1981), a very slim offering from author Michael R. Linaker (b. Lancashire, 1940). Originally a writer of Westerns set in America, he apparently gained the notice of someone at New English Library and was commissioned to write one of their popular horror novels. At least Linaker had a familiarity with the English language, and knew how to deploy it with some idea of suspense and efficient characterization.

Now I don't really have much to say about the storyline once you've read this back-cover copy. In fact it's about as big a spoiler as can be; intrepid characters go off in search of the cause of these mutated monsters when the answer is right there: radiation leak! Of course anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of evolution knows that radiation causes animals to grow from teeny-tiny critters to five-inch long death dealers with a knack for finding the tenderest parts of the human anatomy. I mean duh.

The cover art makes clear that sex-and-gross-death will be mingled and prevalent, and readers hoping for such lurid shenanigans will not be disappointed. At least by 1981 standards; MMV for readers raised on latter-day product of similar nature. Linaker isn't shy, as the novel progresses, with doling out the wretched horrors visited upon the helpless victims. And also of course they are drawn to only the hottest ladies, I mean otherwise why bother?

The scorpions advanced from every direction, scuttling swiftly across the floor. A few became entangled in the long, silky blonde hair, and in their frantic efforts to free themselves began to lash out with their stings. Venom, injected into the soft flesh of Casey's neck, spread swiftly into the bloodstream. Numbing agony exploded inside Casey's body and she jerked helplessly as tortured nerves emitted spasms. The pain of the stings helped to alleviate the pain caused by the ripping, tearing pincers as other scorpions shredded warm flesh from her bare legs. Blood began to stream from the countless wounds, streaking the tanned flesh, pooling on the floor beneath her body. 

Original New English Library ed, June 1980

Sectioned into three parts (hey! just like a scorpion!), each with a pretentious title ("Encounters," "Engagements," "Invasion"), Scorpion follows the template of all books of its type. Characters are introduced, given a quick backstory (usually incredibly class-conscious; in fact the guy who identifies the culprits is a rough-hewn working stiff, "Er, whatcha call 'em, a scorpion!"), and then shuffled off this mortal coil posthaste. A scene in a supermarket, with scorpions marauding dozens of (female) shoppers, is a show-stopper. Two villain-types, involved with the responsible nuclear plant, are dispatched with max grody pain and suffering, so there's that.

Otherwise Linaker gives more depth to his expendable players than he does to his mains, so you might mix up some of the doctors perplexed by all the "bee sting" vics suddenly dying in excruciating, mystifying pain. Requisite love angle introduced, breakfast-in-bed scene during a lull in arachnid apocalypse, blame is placed at modern world advancements (though not as blatantly as in some novels; here's it's more a given), and quick wrap-up climax holds things at bay for now but... the sequel would scuttle from the darkness, and a third was perhaps promised by Linaker, maybe even with the scorpions arriving in the States, but it never happened. Whew!

Allan crouched beside the woman's body. He couldn't help noticing, despite the mutilations, that she had been young and very attractive.


5 comments:

Adam said...

Ha ha, picked this up in a HPB a few months ago based on that incredible back blurb alone.

"Lovers locked in their first sexual embrace are pulled apart by venomous insects" is the height of some kind of poetry.

Will Errickson said...

And it's no lie either!

highwayknees said...

Er, I beg to differ with that back cover synopsis in that scorpions ARE NOT insects! They are arachnids: with no antennae, and eight legs -not six, and two body segments-not three. So, research much Mr.Linkaer? I think not! Scorpions are still pretty scary I'll grant you that though.

Red shadow said...

This sounds like a more extreme version of that Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story called The green death.
Only with giant radioactive scorpions instead of giant maggots and bluebottles.

Red shadow said...

This sounds like a more extreme version of that Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story called The green death.
Only with giant radioactive scorpions instead of giant maggots and bluebottles.