Infestation: William Meikle
Reviewed by Ben Walker
If bugs make you feel itchy, then get ready to scratch yourself red raw, as William Meikle’s Infestation is packed with more creepy crawlies than an anteater’s belly.
Unlike the easily stamped-on beasties in your backyard, the isopods in this novella have grown to worryingly enormous proportions. The odds are stacked against our heroes, a wisecracking squad of British soldiers, as they investigate a downed Russian vessel in Canada. They eventually find more than bugs in the freezing sea, while those pesky crustaceans swarm in search of food.
This is a book which wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, and manages to sit comfortably alongside them as a solid addition to the military horror genre, from Aliens to the SNAFU series of short stories. That does mean little in the way of surprises, but that’s not what I was looking for going into this. I wanted goopy bug explosions, soldiers yelling in shock at the sight of inexplicably large monsters, and plenty of narrow escapes. All that and more finds its way onto these pages, along with plenty of colourful language and satisfyingly squelchy gore.
Beyond the squad’s leader, Captain Banks, and a Russian scientist the men encounter along the way, there’s not much in the way of character development unless there’s a tragedy about to happen, in which case you start getting a bit of backstory before someone bites the big one. There were a few moments where I lost track of who was who, but the team are enjoyable company, which makes it all the more upsetting when the inevitable happens. Not all of the guys are going to make it through this one alive, and while you’ve likely seen these noble last stands elsewhere, they’re still affecting – and downright disturbing.
The bugs do more than bite, they’re filled with poison, too, and it’s the slow decay of some of the squaddies which makes for the book’s most effectively gruesome scenes. One death in particular plays out pretty much the same as an earlier one, but this lends the second loss a touch more tragedy, as you know how badly the unlucky victim is going to suffer.
All this nail-biting bug bothering leads to a finale where things escalate to the proportions promised on that brilliant cover art. Things don’t tie up as neatly as you might like by the final page, and I don’t know if what’s offered here is a cheeky cliffhanger or just cheeky. Despite the abruptness of the ending, there are enough thrills, chills and bug guts being spilled to make Infestation a quick, fun read.
It was supposed to be a simple mission. A suspected Russian spy boat is in trouble in Canadian waters. Investigate and report are the orders.
But when Captain John Banks and his squad arrive, it is to find an empty vessel, and a scene of bloody mayhem.
Soon they are in a fight for their lives, for there are things in the icy seas off Baffin Island, scuttling, hungry things with a taste for human flesh.
They are swarming.
And they are growing.
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.