NIGHT VISIONS 5
George R.R. Martin
Seven old-fashioned, mostly dead-weight horror tales by three high-profde monster-mongers; only Martin's closing--and rousing--werewolf novella saves this collection from the Hall of Shame. In his opening three contributions, King again proves that the price of being prolific is occasional mediocrity. Kicking things off is "The Reploids," which Douglas Winter in his unctuous introduction calls "a virtual pastiche of the ironic, science fictional horror of the 1950's"; translate that to mean "tired"--as here King replays the soggy notion of someone from an alternate universe popping into ours (on the Johnny Carson show). Bad taste undermines his "Sneakers," unscary business about a haunted public toilet, and "Dedication," a truly repulsive tale of witchcraft that hinges on the eating of semen. Simmons, winner of a 1986 World Fantasy Award (for his first novel, The Song of Kali), fares little better with: "Mestastisis"--more ashes-in-the-mouth stuff, this about the real cause of cancer ("cancer vampires" that grow tumors inside people as a food supply); "Vanni Fucci is Alive and Well and Living in Hell"--flat satire in which an irate soul from Hell takes a bow on an evangelical talk-show; and "Iverson's Pits," an atmospheric but turgid period piece wherein Civil War vets fight their last battle on the blood-soaked and evil-drenched fields of Gettysburg. Thankfully, there's a pot of gold at the end of this muddy rainbow: Martin's "The Skin Trade," the longest entry here, a jet-powered, marvelously inventive and suspenseful tale brightened by flashes of humor and of true terror--about a female P.I., her werewolf pal, and their pursuit of a grim beast who's slaying and flaying victims in a gothic urban jungle. Advice: King--stop pulling dusty stories out of your drawer; Simmons--write another novel; Martin--rest easy, you've come up with a scream of a werewolf story. And reader--a more sophisticated horror collection by far lurks in the forthcoming Prime Evil (p. 570).