Recently I had the pleasure of reading Peter Kahle‘s The Specimen. I had no idea what I was in for based on the cover of the book – a strange fetus floating in amber fluid, all surrounded by emerald green background. Out of focus are other specimen jars, but it’s more of a tease as you can’t see whats in them. The book itself is (thankfully) thick, and the author has included a list in the front with all of the principal characters, what time period they belong to, and enough information on each to more than jog the reader’s memory. Kahle writes about several characters, and is very adept at switching locations, time periods, and characters without missing a beat.
Kahle’s writing is reminiscent of John W. Campbell, who wrote Who Goes There? (later made into John Carpenter’s The Thing). It’s smart, sassy, and scary as hell. It follows in the footsteps of the aforementioned sci-fi titan, because once again humans are being attacked by an alien presence, and can’t seem to gain a foothold in fighting it off. Only in Kahle’s work, the humans gain benefits from their symbiotic relationship – better health and charisma are only a few. In most cases, this leaves the Host willing to participate, and unwilling to part. In a few instances, however, the aliens misjudge their steeds, and wind up saddling an unwilling host with a dominant personality. The aliens, or Riders, can also create armies of enslaved creatures called Thrall to serve them. But that’s enough of a teaser because the best details are still yours to read.
As for the characters themselves – they range. There’s one girl in particular who could give any serial killer a run for their money – while at the same time looking like a mix of a porn star and Miss America. There’s the steed that won’t let go because he doesn’t want another poor soul to have to shoulder his burden. And the doctor who recklessly experiments with the alien tissue, to the detriment of the human race. And the Riders themselves. Full of hate, vengenace, violence. But nothing of the good qualities of humanity.
The Specimen is a great read. Kahle is very skilled at managing several characters at once – as well as several time periods. He seamlessly shifts between modern day and other time periods, weaving in the culture of the Riders with the events of our world. At times, it’s hard to remember that it’s a fictional book! Frankly, I would love to see The Specimen made into a movie, or a series on TV. I’m getting a little tired of all of the supernatural mystery shows out there (and come later this fall there will be more!). I’m ready for a good old-fashioned alien sci-fi show!
(Hint hint: the ending suggests that there may be a sequel coming, so get started NOW!)