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THE ROACHES HAVE NO KING
By DANIEL EVAN WEISS (Serpent's Tail; 1990/94
)

You veteran horror readers may recall the mini-tempest this novel drummed up back in 1990. Specifically, the novel (initially titled UNNATURAL SELECTION), written by the New York based Daniel Evan Weiss, was controversial due to the fact that it was "censored"--i.e. it couldn't find a publisher--in its native country, and so had to settle for a UK-only publication. It didn't make it to the US until four years later, courtesy of Serpent's Tail's "High Risk" imprint.

     It's a unique story, told from the POV of Numbers, a learned and resourceful cockroach. He and several fellow roaches reside in the apartment of Ira, a dweeb whose girlfriend, the shrewish and overweight Ruth, is moving in with him. This follows a whirlwind romance with a woman known as the Gypsy, which represented a time of "great prosperity" for the roaches, as the Gypsy had a tendency to throw food around when she got angry--which was apparently quite often. Unfortunately for the roaches, Ruth is a neat freak, inspiring Ira to perform a mass clean-up and kitchen renovation, which cuts off Numbers and his fellow roaches from the food that was once so readily available.

     Being abnormally intelligent after eating their way through the various books on Ira's shelves, whose knowledge the roaches have apparently absorbed, Numbers and several of his fellows decide to use their insectoid wiles to remove Ruth from the picture and encourage a romance with Elizabeth, a hottie who lives in the apartment next door. This involves jamming Elizabeth's front door lock, a strategically placed strand of hair, an even more carefully positioned roach cadaver and the unwitting intervention of Rufus, a black cocaine dealer. Along the way Numbers gets a tour of the apartment's sewer system after being flushed down a toilet, is briefly stuck inside a roach motel and has a change of heart about Ruth after an eroticized encounter with her vagina.

     That latter description may explain why the novel had a hard time finding publication in the US. Weiss isn't exactly subtle in his depictions of interspecies sexuality ("I worked my tongue against her mountainous clit, walking over it and down the other side, and then back and forth to where I started"), nor in passages like that of Numbers looking up from the bottom of a toilet at the assholes of his human hosts defecating. As for Weiss’ depictions of the doings of the black cocaine dealer Rufus, they aren't what you'd call politically correct. In addition, Ira's ultimate fate is downright gruesome, and nearly places the proceedings in splatterpunk territory (of course, the fact that this account first appeared around the same time as a similarly themed novel, THE COCKROACHES OF STAY MORE by Donald Harrington, may also explain why THE ROACHES HAVE NO KING was initially passed over by US publishers).

     Yet outside the grotesquerie, THE ROACHES HAVE NO KING is funny and disarmingly intelligent in its depiction of human (mis)behavior viewed from a non-human perspective, and drafted in sufficiently erudite yet lively and kinetic prose. Of course, the concept of roaches who can read and reason with the same facilities as humans is a bit farfetched, to say the least. The author doesn't resort to a handy science fictional gimmick (such as radiation contamination) to explain the roaches' abnormal intelligence, which is both an asset and a hindrance. This is to say that the less gimmicks an author employs the better, but that doesn't make the suspension of disbelief any easier.

     

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