Absolute Unit: Nick Kolakowski
Reviewed By Ben Walker
With a title reminiscent of English pub banter, a cover that suggests mutated madness, and a sub-title of The Boredom of the Stalingrad Sniper, Absolute Unit packs in the contradictions before you even get to page one. And that’s not a bad thing, I like it when a book isn’t afraid to get weird, which is definitely the case here. Coming across like a perverted version of Scott Sigler’s Infected crossed with the B-movie classic Brain Damage, we’re soon introduced to a team of parasites who live inside Bill, a down on his luck widower with a whole host of problems. Instead of wanting the little buggers out of his system, Bill lets them ride in his body as his life goes from bad to worse.
The whole book is narrated by these teeny tagalongs, and this helps keep things interesting as the parasites navigate the host body, finding ways to increase their control. This means periodic interruptions as they assess risks to their wellbeing or crack wise at the expense of Bill, and other humans. Despite this being a refreshing change from the typical infected story, where you read things from the host’s POV, it also left me wanting more from the parasites at times, mostly when the plot moves into conversations between people. There’s a balance to be had between too wacky and somewhat grounded I guess, but I wouldn’t have minded more interjections from the parasites, as the human dialogue is pretty by the numbers.
About a third of the way in is where the shit really hits the fan, and the parasites start to exert some real control, moving from casual observers to instigators, which leads to some awkwardly amusing scenes, swinging from slapstick to serious. The plot also peppers in some oddball encounters with a furry sex ring, and a grammar-loving, jacket hating drug dealer.
While the parasites here aren’t as goofily endearing as Elmer from Brain Damage, or as psychotically deadly as the alien spores from Infected, they do push the limits of their host body on both a personal and physical level, which makes for some interesting scenes. As with any kind of body horror, there’s a certain kind of worry you feel on behalf of the host when you see them losing control, but I never really found myself siding fully with either the human or the parasite characters. For my tastes it could have gone a lot more over the top with its concept, but it’s still pretty entertaining, easy to enjoy and to read through in one short sitting, with a decent sense of humour and plenty of surprises.
Absolute Unit is a dark carnival ride through the underside of the American Dream, where hustlers and parasites fight to survive against gun-toting furries, sarcastic drug kingpins, old ladies who are startlingly good with knives, and angry ex-girlfriends. It’s a hardboiled slice of modern American horror that asks the deepest question of all: Is the human race worth saving?
Bill is a nobody, a health inspector who’s not above taking a few dollars to overlook a restaurant’s mouse problem, and hated by nearly everyone except his long-suffering girlfriend. His nephew, Trent, isn’t much better: sexually and morally confused, he’s probably the worst teenage con artist on the East Coast. But today, these two losers are going to become the most important people in the world.
That’s because Bill and Trent harbor a sentient parasite with a sarcastic sense of humor and a ravenous appetite. As the parasite figures out how to control its new human hosts, the focus of its desires grows from delicious cheeseburgers and beer to something much darker and more dangerous.
The apocalypse might come from within us…
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on Twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.