Review Index

WILLIAM SCHOELL (Leisure; 1989)

This irresistibly goofy novel, by a writer better known these days for his nonfiction publications, reads like the wildest B-move ever. THE DRAGON is a damn good time, in other words, even if it won’t make anyone’s list of the great novels of the 20th Century.

     It begins with Eddie, a photographer devastated by the senseless murder of his wife, agreeing to join an archeological expedition led by his wealthy archeologist friend Lawrence. Lawrence is obsessed with excavating a mesa in New Mexico where the ruins of a lost city reside.

     The dig entails far more than anyone bargained for, including cave-ins, swarms of biting insects, malfunctioning equipment, misshapen human skeletons everywhere, cavern walls made of living flesh, and several hired workmen who suddenly fall sick. The sick men are rushed to a nearby hospital where their bellies swell. They’ve somehow been impregnated, and give birth to nasty slug-things that crawl out of their fathers’ mouths. From there the creatures slither through the surrounding town, devouring all the people they can--and grow lots bigger!

     The real fun, however, is yet to come. As one of Lawrence’s team learns through convenient telepathic signals, the mesa was once inhabited by an ancient race of stunted humans. To protect their closed-off community these freaks created supernatural “security forces” through black magic. The slug-creature impregnations were apparently the result of one such force.

     The excavation, however, penetrates deep into the mesa, exhausting all the security measures but one: the title critter, a giant stone god known as Ka Kuna that’s about to spring to life. The consequences to Lawrence’s group will be devastating, as they will to the residents of the surrounding town, who after all the trauma with the giant slugs are going to have to contend with an even more destructive menace…

     I enjoyed this novel a hell of a lot. The writing, I’ll admit, is quite staid, and could have probably used more of the expressive verbiage of someone like Clark Ashton Smith. But then again the just-the-facts-ma’am terseness of the prose is a large part of what makes it so much fun. Irredeemably nutty though it is, the novel takes itself quite seriously, which in this case is the correct approach (and anyway, I think I’ve had my fill of smirking postmodern horror fests).

     One curious feature, though, is the unexpectedly pissy nonfiction afterward. In it the author rails against the horror community--“I have never claimed to be the “future of horror” (how silly!) as some are called, nor do I cling stubbornly only to the past”--and forcibly asserts that his primary goal was to entertain: “I freely admit that this novel has been influenced by Lovecraft and a variety of monster movies, not by Proust, Strindberg or Golding.” I’m assuming that since THE DRAGON was William Schoell’s second-to-last horror novel (following six previous ones) the above was intended as his farewell flip of the bird to the hand that fed him.