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Tendrils

Novel by Simon Ian Childer (Australia/England) 1986.

Anne Thomas is part of a convoy of demonstrators heading for a drilling site being tested for prospective nuclear waste storage. The demonstrators are invited in and shown round the site in an effort to keep them out of trouble. But then the drill hits what seems to be hair, then erupts acid over most of the crew and the protestors, killing most of them outright. Anne Thomas is also the wife of Clive Thomas, a scientist at the Central Public Health Laboratory, and the man who has to analyse what little is left of the catastrophe. And to add to the problem, black tendrils begin emerging from the ground to suck anything living dry of its insides, leaving only a solidified skin. Thousands are dead, the tendril attacks are becoming more numerous and they are moving south, heading for London. Only Clive Thomas has a workable theory and with a nosey reporter who indirectly caused his wife's death, he ends up heading the team attempting to locate and destroy the creature at the heart of the problem.

The two horror novels that travel under the name Simon Ian Childer have only one thing in common, namely that they are go-for-the-throat gore novels. In every other respect they are complete contrasts. Tendrils was the first Childer book (written by John Brosnan in collaboration with LeRoy Kettle) and it is what I affectionately categorise as a 'but that's impossible' book, because the plot is so far out that at least one character is bound to say those very words in the text; and the author plays on its outlandishness. Worm (written by Brosnan alone) followed Tendrils, and, though it is almost as far out in plot, is given a far more realistic storyline. Tendrils is more akin to those tacky black and white American '50s sci-fi movies, where a hungry monster from outer space or a freak mutant from a research lab arrives in contemporary society and causes havoc, until the hero of the film discovers its one weakness.

Here the tendrils are all attached to a huge worm like creature from outer space which has been hibernating inside the Earth for millions of years, and the creature's single weakness is light. Worm contains a lot of the main ingredients of a tacky gorefest, including a madman out to destroy the entire country and plenty of scientific jiggerypokery, but it's all 'down to Earth' in more ways than one. In short, Tendrils is an adventure story with the basic modern formula plot structure set down in The Rats, where you thrill at the chase and marvel at the monster. Worm is a particularly nasty horror novel where your stomach churns in delight at the gory bits, and there's a vast gulf between the two books. Both are equally tacky, but Worm is deserving of a lot more respect than this one.


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