Horror is a difficult genre to bring off successfully in creating the proper level of suspense and apprehension. The short story is a challenging format, requiring a writer to compress ideas and characters while not damaging either. Combining the two presents a writer with significant hurdles. Man-Made Monsters, a collection of horror short stories by “Mad Marv,” doesn’t quite clear them.
Marv’s thesis is fairly straightforward. To the extent monsters exist in the modern world, they are going to be created by man. They are going to be the result of science, technology or the government acting in an unchecked fashion. Moreover, rather than becoming part of legend or folklore, those involved will do everything they can to keep word or knowledge of the projects from the public.
Marv’s ideas may be right. The execution is somewhat lacking, though, as the stories tend to come off as hit and run horror.
One of the primary problems is there are just too many ideas in several of the stories and Marv doesn’t seem able to settle on just one until the very end.
For example, “Overtime,” which opens the book, is about John, an investigative reporter who somehow wakes up while on a table in a funeral home being prepared for embalming. Although John truly is dead, his essence keeps his decomposing body going long enough for him to set out in search of his murderer. But Mad Marv tries to do too many things in too few pages. As a result, John’s quest has him lurching from place to place and idea to idea (government conspiracy, saving a person he hurt with his last story, finding out if his wife truly loved him) before we find out whether he ultimately solves the mystery. At times, the story invokes images almost directly out of a Frankenstein movie.
A similar problem exists with “Sins of the Mother.” It is the story of Lorraine Adams, an ex-con whose time in a mental institution makes her wonder if the paranoia and voices she hears are mental illness returning. The story mixes such diverse themes as abortion and mind control while Lorraine, too, goes from place to place fearing or chasing one character after another. Again, we are provided with a resolution indicating that the nefarious origin of her troubles will never come to light.
The proliferation of characters and ideas in the stories is also damaged by the fact that some characters tend to be caricatures. This is especially so in “Narcolepsy.” There, retired former Special Forces soldier seeks reconciliation with his ne’er-do-well son in a tale that ultimately leads to them battling radio-controlled zombies and a drug cartel. Neither the father nor his back story rise much above the level of concoction and it is difficult to really care about what happens to him or his son.
The two stories that remain more focused on their theme end up being the strongest. In “The Hypno-Chondriac” we see a pharmaceutical company using a hypochondriac as part of a drug experiment that ultimately creates predatory human killing machines. In “Mosquito,” a charitable organization serves as a front for an effort to exploit a disease much like Ebola. This latter story also provides a slightly different slant on the role of man in the creation of monsters. Here, we see more of man’s inhumanity to man in an effort to use a naturally occurring disease for social engineering rather than man creating the substance that leads to the monsters.
Interspersed between each story is a “Recipe for Disaster.” In each, Mad Marv looks at how various legendary man-made monsters such as golems, mannikins and a homunculus are created and than segues into brief stories involving each. While the mix of history and fiction is interesting, these stories also tend to end abruptly or haphazardly.
There are touches of humor and satire here that tend to work fairly well. Unfortunately, the horror aspect of the book often tends to come off more as descriptions intended to create revulsion rather than a sense of fear or foreboding. Thus, while the stories show some potential, they ultimately fall short. They seem more suited for a pulp magazine than a collected work by one author. Moreover, each could have used additional editorial work in focusing the ideas, strengthening the characters or both.