Robert Payne Cabeen
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
Robert Payne Cabeen’s Cold Cuts is unlike any other novel I have read.
It begins much as one might expect from an intense horror novel: an unnamed man, bound to a bed, about to suffer unnamable horrors at the hands of an equally unnamed maniac. And yet…in the middle of his suffering, he engages in an improbably sensuous and sensual memory of an “obscenely oversized” donut “oozing scarlet raspberry jelly” —and his rhapsodizing moves on to the pure sexuality of a first kiss.
It shifts abruptly to the California headquarters of Environmental Defense International and almost immediate intimations that all is not well with the group’s Antarctica expedition. And yet…along the way, several characters engage in quasi-serious sexual byplay before confronting the problem: the two scientists stationed have discovered “a rash of mysterious mutations and mutilations.”
Increasingly, Cold Cuts sets up expectations of serious horror tropes, only to undercut them with lengthy snippets (oxymoron intentional) of what seems random stream-of-consciousness comments, and yet…are not. And as the story develops, characters, descriptions, conversations, and events slip into directions more appropriate to surrealistic or absurdist narratives than to traditional creature-features. While the threat of carnivorous monsters is never quite forgotten, the incremental madness of the scientists, isolated and starving and facing imminent death on all fronts, becomes the focus of the story.
With the revelation that the monsters (not really a spoiler, given the hints on the excellent cover art) are mutated, tentacled, Lovecraftian penguins—penguinosaurs, in a manner of speaking—the story, and the characters, release all hold on verisimilitude and Cold Cuts becomes an extravaganza of irrationality bordering on the ludicrous.
And it all works. Cabeen brings to his tale a necessary whimsicality, build upon wildly inapt similes and equally wildly juxtaposed dialogue and events. In doing so, he indulges in unbridled language and graphic sex in contexts that accentuate the inherent absurdity of his vision.
Having just reviewed Essel Pratt’s satirical Sharkantula (http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2017/11/essel-pratt-sharkantula.html), I enjoyed Cabeen’s “avian cephalopod freaks” on different levels than I otherwise might have—as a fascinating exploration of isolation and madness and as yet another sample of our interest in AmalgaMegaMutaMonsters run amok.