Another book I read recently is Herbert’s classic animal horror novel, The Rats. I read Domain as a teenager and picked up The Rats and Lair cheap on e-bay years ago, but I hadn’t got around to starting them until now.
The Rats is a very thin novel, apparently around 40,000 words. That made it ideal for a quick read on a flight to America. It was Herbert’s first novel and it seems made up as he went along with some odd twists and turns and various opportunities for increased conflict which were tossed aside in favour of rapid-fire blood, gore and violent death.
But it set the standard for animal horror novels of the 70s; the various bit-parts are set up and then killed by the rats in gory ways while the hero (in this case Harris, a school teacher) tries to determine why the animals went crazy and convince the authorities to act when they think he’s crazy himself. Oh, and throw in some sex for good measure.
The gore begins early and deaths continue at a rapid pace through the book; I soon lost count of the number of bodies. Most of the book consists of back-story for the rat-bait characters interspersed with set pieces as the rats attack en masse and the heroes defend against them, and those set pieces are entertaining if sometimes hard to believe.
They also contain some very seventies attitudes which would be considered politically incorrect today, but much of the social commentary about the rats preying on homeless people would still stand up; it reminded me of my own ‘Homeless Horror’ script that I must finish converting into a novel before long.
Overall it’s good fun and a fast read, and contains some scenes that are still quite horrific today. You’ll never look at the London Underground or a cinema quite the same way after reading it.
I can certainly see why The Rats launched an entire genre of copy-cat books. But I still preferred Domain, as Herbert had clearly improved as a writer in the intervening years.
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