Saturday, June 9, 2012

REVIEW: Vespa / Dean Lombardo

TITLE: Vespa
AUTHOR: Dean Lombardo
PUBLISHER: Active Bladder
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon US (paperback—very limited), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book)
APPROXIMATE LENGTH: 190 pages (paperback)

Recommended for fans of science fiction horror such as Stephen King's monster novels, films such as Alien, and Syfy original movies

Science Fiction—Horror

Vespa is a shriek-inducing scare fest with a spattering of scientific facts to add verisimilitude (but no lengthy techno-babble sequences). The ending is left ambiguous in the tradition of old-fashioned monster movies that ended with: "The End—or is it?"

This one’s a real page-turner. From the tantalizing prologue featuring a jungle encounter with the titular wasps to the rapid sequence of gross-but-fascinating creature attacks, Vespa barely lets you stop to breathe as it relentlessly barrels through scene after scene.

Third person omniscient. But for a handful of inner musings and descriptions of characters’ fear, the narrator remains largely distant. The descriptions of the gruesome events are objective and at times clinical in their precision.

As pointed out in the Author’s Note at the end of the novel, “vespa” is Latin for “wasp” and included in many scientific names for varieties of the insect. Perhaps that’s why Lombardo chose it for the title of his novel—the monsters featured in Vespa are giant insects that perhaps fall under the category of “wasp” but turn out to be so much more.

Following the prologue, in which the reader is given a glimpse of the wasps, called el monstruo by the South American natives, we are introduced to Dr. Thomas Goodman, a mild-mannered entomologist and good-natured family man. Due to his reputation as a bug expert, Goodman is called upon by the government to help bring an invasive insect species under control. He travels to Devil’s Den, the informal name of a forest preserve in Connecticut, and begins his research.

The novel jumps between Goodman’s scenes, which form the central plot, and vivid depictions of the wasps’ attacks on the residents of the area around Devil’s Den in a rather cinematic form. One moment, we’re watching Goodman examine a larva, the next we’re witnessing a brutal attack on a helpless child.

The wasps are a well thought-out species, with every detail of their behavior and biology carefully depicted. Their origins and motivations are only briefly touched upon—essentially, they were driven to expand their territory by deforestation and are seeking to reproduce. They are foot-long creatures with powerful stingers that lay their fist-sized eggs inside their victims, who are buried in the mud so they can’t seek help. Once the larvae hatch, they devour their victims on their way out. In other words, they do to humans what real-life wasps do to other insects. Except there’s a twist when it comes to these wasps—turns out they are capable of even more.

As a writer, Lombardo is, in a word, merciless. The definition of horror is fiction that intends to frighten its readers, inducing feelings of horror or terror, and Vespa certainly succeeds in that aspect. As the novel progresses, it grows increasingly disturbing, and it is clear that the author has no qualms about upsetting the reader. In fact, that seems to be his primary goal. Although there are a handful of good guys to root for, the aptly named Goodman among them, the novel chiefly focuses on the wasps and what they are capable of. Anyone is fair game, and the characters soon fade into the background.

The idea of a giant parasitoid isn’t original, but the execution in Vespa is spot-on. It is a nasty, simplistic monster story, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. The characters are left under-developed, as they are chiefly expendable plot devices that provide the framework for the main attraction. Nevertheless, the writing is intelligent and effective, sometimes twisting into vivid descriptions of a victim’s view but mostly keeping the language clean and efficient. This approach serves the author’s purpose well, allowing the narrative to roll forward without distractions. The tension remains high throughout, making for a fast-paced and stomach-turning read.

There is no table of contents in the Kindle version, and the chapters are not numbered.

There is some adult language.

As with most books in the horror genre, there are a lot of disturbing scenes that are described in detail. Do not read this book during your lunch break unless you’re on a diet.


Dean Lombardo is a self-proclaimed Gen X'er born in Norwalk, Connecticut, and educated at the University of Rhode Island where he was screened out of every creative writing course before settling on a Journalism degree. He makes enough bread to feed his own children by serving as a writer in the information technology industry.

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