Pros: Interesting concept
Cons: Some dry material; stereotypical bad guys
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pete Kahle’s The Specimen: A Novel of Horror (The Riders Saga Book 1) introduces us to parasitical Riders, alien organisms that embed themselves in their victims and live through them. An organization called Acme sends its goons out into the field to retrieve and/or destroy Riders, attempting to protect the human race from these creatures. Unfortunately, a particularly powerful Rider that was hidden away is now loose to wreak havoc once again.
The bad guys embody too many bad guy stereotypes. It’s made clear in the book that Acme is an ends-justify-the-means kind of organization, and it seems like there’s supposed to be some tension around the idea that they are trying to help the human race. But Acme’s scientists and thugs are so one-sidedly casually brutal that there’s never any question that they’re anything but evil. They’re also stupid as hell. One thug actually has the balls to say that “we strive for anonymity,” seemingly without irony, as he casually blabs everything about them to the people he’s about to kill. Every operation these guys carry out turns into a cluster-fuck, with explosions and flying bullets and dead bodies everywhere. How the authorities aren’t aware that something is going on is beyond me. The Riders, the other bad guys, are also pretty one-note megalomaniacal evil.
The physiology of the Riders is a bit overwrought. They can break off a piece of themselves into a person in order to influence that person. They can implant a larva in a person in order to influence that person. They can exude pheremones in order to influence people. Some of them can use telepathy–to influence people. It would have been better narrowed down a bit. I did like one aspect of their physiology, when a Dr. Coe manages to accidentally create a new form of Rider called a Cluster. The Cluster is actually pretty interesting and one of the better parts of the book.
Most of the material about the Riders is presented in excerpts from various notes or primers from Acme. It’s dry reading, and kind of made me sigh every time I got to one of these sections. I really wish the author had decided to present the past events at Greylock Institute as a more traditional narrative rather than journal entries. There are also random sections detailing various Rider/host pairs from history; these become more interesting in retrospect when they get tied together toward the end.
Content warning for rape, torture, and animal deaths.
I didn’t find most of the characters all that intriguing or compelling. They just felt a bit flat. The general horror setup of the book is good, it just never really sank its hooks into me. Toward the end things do pick up and get pulled together, and thus the story becomes more engrossing. I have no interest in reading the sequel, however.