Samhain, June 2014
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
The full title of this volume is: Night Terrors: Savage Species, Part One. Readers should be forewarned to take it seriously for several reasons.
First (and no spoiler is intended here), Night Terrors is the first installment in a serialized novel that will ultimately consist of five parts—reading it is rather like watching the old Republic serials in the theater (if you are old enough to remember them). You can depend on two things: that the current installment will end with the hero enmeshed in inextricable, probably life-threatening difficulties; and that in the next installment, he will somehow extricate himself. Knowing those two fundamental points coming into the book helps avoid a sense of shock when the current volume abruptly ends in the middle of a crisis—rather like the sudden realization I felt when I realized that, in order to find out whether Han Solo was going to remain a giant chocolate bar forever, I would have to buy a ticket for the next Star Wars episode. Night Terrors is an episode and should be judged as such.
That said, there is a second reason to take the title seriously. The book is savage in several senses. There is, of course, the monster (more about that later), but even before the monster appears, it seems clear that one of the savage species is…us. As characters are deftly delimned, we are invited to see their strengths and their faults, ranging from the mindless hedonism of a group of newly graduated college students to the potential violence roiling just beneath the surface of a suburban husband’s carefully controlled façade. The frustrations thus introduced in this opening salvo are not resolved; eventually, however, the presumably will be.
Which leads to the monster—monsters, actually, since by the end of Night Terrors there are hordes of them, each more vicious and ferocious than the last. They are actually quite fascinating. Think a huge Bigfoot crossed with Rick Hautala’s secretive and voracious Little Brothers; the improbably leaping Yeti from the Syfy channel’s 2008 offering, Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon, crossed with H.G. Wells’ Morlocks (at least as envisioned by George Pal in the 1960s The Time Machine); 1980s beach movies crossed with contemporary tales of urban horrors; ancient tribal legends come horrifyingly to life crossed with inept bureaucrats seeking to squeeze a profit out of a landscape that has apparently been uniquely empty of human life for centuries.
These monsters have two goals—to eat as many people as possible in as gory a manner as possible; and to rape nubile young women who are, conveniently enough, running through the forest in űber-skimpy bikinis. When they final reveal themselves, they fulfill both goals efficiently and graphically.
There is a good deal of blood, especially in the later chapters. What keeps Night Terrors from being unconscionably bloodthirsty—to this point, at least—is that Janz deals with his victims indirectly, obliquely, almost objectively. Few of the partiers, for example, are given names. Instead they are given labels, rather like Wells did in the opening chapters of The Time Machine. And the labels are little more than physical stereotypes: Musclehead, Light Blue Bikini, Goliath. We are not invited to bond to any extent with the victims.
All in all, Night Terrors succeeds in what it attempts. It provides an ideal setting for unnamable creatures and unnamable horrors and at the same time promises to dig deeper into the past, to reveal secrets long forgotten, and bring humans face to face with their worst nightmares—another savage species.