Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Good Reads :: You'll Never Know What Real Fear is Until You're Caught in the Flesh-Rending, Bone-Splintering Jaws of this Book!

Dr. Kate Dwyer, lead herpetologist at the University of Albuquerque, has no idea why she's been summoned to a clandestine meeting with the governor of New Mexico. But Dwyer gets an explanation quick enough when she's shown the charred remnants of what appears to be a lizard's tail; most likely from a gila monster. 

But why all the hush-hush hubub? Well, this dismembered appendage makes no sense, biologically speaking, due to its abnormal size. For, if you extrapolate from what's left, the rest of the critter would be some fifteen to twenty feet long. Which is impossible, right? Wrong. Dead wrong.

For even though Dr. Dwyer doesn't know what's really going on as she plunges into this nigh inexplicable mystery, the reader sure does. Do we ever! See, some thirty years after all those nuclear bomb tests over in Nevada, all that released radiation seeped across the border and spawned something both ridiculously deadly and deadly ridiculous: a strain of giant Gila monster. 

And not just one, but a whole herd (knot? gaggle?) of these deadly beasts that are currently laying waste to a good chunk of southern New Mexico, leaving no survivors at a wrecked diner and a mysterious bus accident (-- from which the tail was pulled), just carnage and half-eaten body parts, which only deepens the mystery. 

Thus, will Dr. Dwyer discover the truth and formulate a plan to stop these rampaging lizards before it's too late? Well, that all kinda depends on whether or not she can stop having sex with an old flame long enough to be bothered with finding a solution. No. Really.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, but raised in Albuquerque, Gila! was author Kathryn Ptacek's first novel -- published under the pseudonym of Les Simons, and it really and truly is amazing. Ludicrously so. 

Honestly less The Giant Gila Monster (1959) and more THEM! (1953) or Night of the Lepus (1972), this tale is nothing more than a good old fashioned Monster Movie; and taken on those terms, this thing is an absolute riot. To me, the author just has an uncanny knack for sketching out disposable characters, with just enough flesh on them, only to tear each and every one of them asunder as they're ground-up and dismembered by the rampaging Gila's' powerful jaws, shredded by their poisonous fangs, or just flattened underneath their feet and massive tails. 

I'm telling ya, Ptacek gleefully paints the mayhem and it's aftermath with all the restraint of a Mars Attacks trading card. And I, for one, relished each descriptive paragraph of people being relentlessly and methodically masticated to mulch. 

Unfortunately, in between lizard attacks, the author stumbles and trips over a fairly asinine concurrent plot to stop them that isn't helped by the "Dear Playgirl Magazine, I didn't think this could ever happen to me, but, I was a lonely herpetology professor at a small New Mexico college" subplot of Dwyer hooking up with old flame Chato, a native American. I shit you not, this thing was bluer than those old Monarch adaptions of Konga (1961), Gorgo (1961) and Reptillicus (1961). 

Seriously. There'd be a lizard attack somewhere; they'd get there too late; they'd survey the carnage; they'd go back to the hotel; they'd say, Wow, that was really terrible; shrug; and then hop into bed and knock some plaster off the adobe walls. I wish I was exaggerating. But not even a little, am I, as this scenario is then repeated almost verbatim again. And again. And again. Aaaaaaand again -- with each encounter more absurdly inappropriate than the last. (I kept envisioning Ken Tobey sucking on Mara Corday's nipples during these scenes. This, did not compute.)

Thankfully, the incongruity between the carnage and the carnal only adds another layer of a delirium to the whole thing. And honestly, it pales when stacked up against the mounting stupidity of the conspiracy surrounding the governor's slow reaction to this crisis. And like with The Giant Claw (1957), the author gets kinda stuck on one solitary metaphor to announce the Gila monster's impending attack: a leaking tire. (Though the one time the hissing actually was just a flat was kinda funny.) 

Now, I also have very little patience with phonetic spelling to convey a yokel's accents, with Governor Bubba being the absolute worst offender. Still, my only real beef with the book was due to the fictionalized incompetence of the New Mexico National Guard, which denied me, and you, a battle between a flock of giant Gila monsters and a column of tanks. Fie and Phooey on that, I say! 

Aerial bombings with napalm prove just as ineffective due to the lizards burrowing ability. And after laying waste to the New Mexico State Fair (my favorite part) and flattening an Air Force base, the giant lizards continue their relentless march north, drawing a bead on Albuquerque itself. 

And with conventional weapons failing on all fronts (-- though those tanks should have been given a second chance, and I would've loved to see what a bazooka round would do against the lizard's hide), our heroine comes up with a possible solution -- if anyone is still listening to her. And just like with many B-movies of old, just when you think it's all over, it isn't. 


Look. All I know is when I got to the last chapter of this book, I didn't want to read it. I simply did not want this insanity to end. Nay. I wanted this rampage to continue on indefinitely. And I sort of got my wish, as the last page is a perfect set-up for a sequel that, alas, hasn't happened yet. 

At a brisk 160 pages, this was a quick read that had me barking out loud with laughter with nearly every page turned. The Simons Signet paperback is long out of print and has gotten terribly expensive since I got mine -- if you can even find a hard copy. The good news is, you can now purchase a digital copy listed under the author's real name. Whichever version you choose, get to reading Gila! as soon as possible for a gruesomely good time. 

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