Mandibles, by Jeff Strand

mandibles-by-jeff-strand coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Mundania Press
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: one and a half stars
Book Review by Ray Wallace

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OVERVIEW: Mutant fire ants wreak havoc upon Tampa, Florida. Various characters do what they must in order to survive.

DETAILS: I couldn’t wait to read this one. I mean, come on, a book about giant fire ants terrorizing Tampa, my home town! (Well, to be technically correct, I live in a suburb of Tampa. But, hey, close enough.) Now anybody who lives in these parts has more than likely felt the sting of these tiny insects. And, believe me, when you accidentally intrude on their territory and get enough of the little monsters simultaneously going at you – – say ten to twenty of them – – it’s no day at the waterpark. One shudders to think what two inch or six inch, or, hell, maybe even six foot fire ants would be capable of. Obviously fellow Tampa writer Jeff Strand has spent some time thinking about this very concept, so much so that he decided to sit down and write a book about it. It’s called Mandibles and if you’re into the whole giant-mutant-insects-terrorizing-a-major-US-city scenario (and who isn’t?) then this is one read you will not want to miss.

The book begins with a man stewing over the fact that his wife has left open his bag of gummy bears (grade A gummy bears imported from Germany, no less) which are now infested with — you guessed it — little red ants. Muttering threats he would never have the nerve to carry out he checks the kitchen pantry for any more signs of the tiny insects and there they are, swarming a box of cereal, this too left open by his wife. He grabs the box, visions of throwing it at his better half dancing in his head. That is until the ants start to bite him, causing him searing pain that should have been well beyond their ability to inflict. It is a conundrum he has little time to ponder as things go from bad to worse in a hurry. And this, unfortunately for the Tampa Bay area, is only the beginning.

The story deals with a number of different characters who must deal with this bizarre and deadly scenario. There is Roberta, Zachary, and Dr. Ruiz who become trapped in said doctor’s office, who must make a dangerous escape once the mutant ants find their way into the building. There is Trevor, Moni, Abigail, and Jack who all work in the accounting department of a major corporation and find themselves in their own harrowing situation when the ants invade their place of business too. There is Dustin Abbott, a scientist from Texas A&M with a specialty in Solenopsis invicta – – the red fire ant – – who has been called to Tampa to help with some top secret research presumably dealing with the recent string of bizarre deaths in the area. And then there are Hack and Slash, a pair of gun toting, convenience store robbing psychos who are the absolute last thing the besieged city needs.

Mandibles is the literary equivalent of a low budget sci-fi/horror movie. A good low budget sci-fi/horror movie. One that I would love to see on the big screen (if it was adapted properly by a director with just the right vision, of course). One of the coolest things about this book is the way that main characters suddenly and quite unexpectedly die. Few authors are quite this ruthless. It keeps the reader constantly trying to figure out who will get it next. As for the plot… Well, there’s about as much plot here as an EVIL DEAD flick which is to say there’s very little. The protagonists find themselves in a strange, life-threatening situation then do what they can to get out alive. Is this a bad thing? Of course not. There are few movies that are as much fun to sit through as THE EVIL DEAD. And this is exactly what Mandibles has in common with this classic B movie – – it’s a lot of fun to read. If you’re looking for high art and deep insight into the human condition this is not the book for you. Go read Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Hemingway. But if you’re in the mood for a light, entertaining read filled with giant insects and plenty of carnage then pick up a copy of Jeff Strand’s Mandibles. You’ll never look at fire ants the same way again.

BOTTOM LINE: A light, entertaining read sure to appeal to fans of sci-fi/horror stories and B movies alike.

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