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Trilobites!, by Kenneth Gass
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Specialized Quality Publications
Published: 2005
Review Posted: 6/17/2005
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 8 out of 10

Trilobites!, by Kenneth Gass

Book Review by C. Dennis Moore

Have you read this book?

Trilobite was a prehistoric sea animal. It lived during the Paleozoic Era, which lasted from about 600 million years ago to about 250 million years ago. Trilobites lived in all parts of the world, and scientists have identified more than 4,000 species from fossils. Trilobites were covered by a shell, and most were under 4 inches long. Two grooves divided the animal's shell lengthwise into three lobes (sections). The name trilobite means three lobes. Trilobites had three main parts: the head, the thorax, and the tail. The thorax had many segments, each bearing legs. The trilobite breathed through gills on the legs. --The World Book Encyclopedia

Dr. Keith Parish is an oceanographer for the North American Oceanographic Institute in San Diego, California who's just returned from a near record-setting dive with his crew to study underwater life and how this might benefit humanity. At the same time, his girlfriend, Dr. Rachel Sanders, is teaching a class on Invertebrate Paleontology, discussing extinct species. One of her students suggests that maybe trilobites, one of the animals they're studying, have simply been playing hide and seek for the last few hundreds of millions of years and maybe if someone well-educated in these animals were to accompany a team sent to the ocean's floor, they might be found to still exist. Rachel suggests this to Keith who agrees to let Rachel join their next dive. What a coincidence. Trilobites are found to exist after all.

Author Kenneth Gass's novella Trilobites! published by Specialized Quality Publications is one more in the world's countless supply of "Hey, I thought they were extinct. But there they are alive, after all, and they're going to kill us if we don't kill them first" horror stories. The problem? Where to start?

For one, there's a scene after the trilobites are discovered to still exist where a press conference is held and televisions all over the country are tuned in. It's a TRILOBITE!!! It's not as if they've found living saber tooth tigers, it's a friggin' water bug. But shoppers are watching department store televisions, an old man watches from his apartment with a beer in his hand grumbling over "the game" being interrupted, an elementary school class watches, mesmerized. Okay, MAYBE the class, but I just don't see hundreds of shoppers stopping what they're doing in the middle of the store and rejoicing with hoots and applause because trilobites have been rediscovered.

Let's talk about length. This story is 110 pages long, and don't get me wrong, I'm fine with having finished it in one day, but we seem to go from discovery to threat in 5 pages, almost literally. How about some development? Trilobites are described as being voracious eaters and rapid breeders ("a single breeding pair could generate up to 5,000,000 trilobites in only nine weeks.") and there are apparently two types of trilobite that are poisonous to humans (of course, because what else would they be, but deadly? One breed causes dementia, another can cause death. Oh, and they spray acid, too) and suddenly the celebration is over and the world is in ruin.

As Keith (who has been affected by one of the ones that causes dementia) explains to Rachel's son Justin, "I'm sorry, but deadly animals are spreading all over the seas and eating everything around them. Pretty soon they'll have ruined the entire food chain, not to mention our economy, causing climatic changes, starvation and mass extinctions, possibly of our own species. Oh, that might take a few months, but just so we don't forget that we're doomed, they remind us every day by killing off a bunch of people directly. And we can't kill them without killing everything else in the oceans along with them. Their little bodies are simply saying, 'Hey. We waited millions of years for this. We learned how to be patient, how to avoid danger, how to conserve energy, how to tolerate harsh conditions and how to make the most out of what's around us - and we got damned good at it. Now we finally got out ride to the banquet and it's time for the feast.' Justin, it's impossible to stop them. It's impossible!"

And they're going to ruin the economy. I can already see gas prices soaring from the trilobite menace.

And another thing that bothers me: trilobites have been around this entire time, all these hundreds of millions of years, but now, because WE know they're there, they suddenly breed like bunnies and start to cause all the other animals in the oceans to starve because they're eating up all the food? If that were within their capabilities, wouldn't it have happened already? Surely they weren't just waiting for humans to find them before they started eating again?

So naturally, since Rachel and Keith found them, they decide they'll be the ones to end the threat just like any good b-movie character would (it's not surprising to learn this novella is adapted from the author's screenplay of the same name. Too bad John Agar's dead, he'd have made a great Keith). They hole up in a mountain cabin for weeks and weeks using dozens of different chemicals on the trilobites to see if anything can kill them. Nothing can, but Justin spots something on a video feed from a French diving team that might be the key to humanity's survival. I've read a lot of deux es machinas in my time, but this one takes the cake! ANOTHER previously-believed-to-be-extinct animal is discovered. And guess what: like the koala, its entire diet consists of ONE THING: Trilobites. WE'RE SAVED!!!

Now, I love a good crappy horror story as much as the next guy, but for God's sake, write it well. There's a rule in fiction: show, don't tell. Gass does indeed show, but when you do it almost exclusively through dialogue . . . well, that doesn't really count, does it? It's sort of the same as a first-person narrator who says to the reader, "What's that you say? How did I get this sucking chest wound? Well, that's a long story. It all started back in..."

I can admire Gass for his determination, taking something that, seriously, no one else in the world could possibly find terrifying, and crafting an entire story around it wherein mankind itself is in danger of extinction, but I'm just not sure this story was ready to be published quite yet. Definitely a few more drafts were in order, clean it up, revise revise revise, and let a good half dozen writers you admire critique it for you. Then revise some more. I think this COULD have been a good story, it's got the makings of an entertaining read anyway, but the way it sits now, the prose just doesn't do it for me. That, added to a story that is cliché at best and you've got a book I'm going to shelve and never look twice at again.
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