Book Monsters: Ryan Lockwood’s BELOW

When I think about great sea monster books, JAWS tops my list. How could I forget that iconic cover, the tiny beautiful swimmer at the surface, and that jaws imageenormous saw-toothed mouth coming up from the depths? The ultimate killer shark story might have become famous as a summer blockbuster, but it started as a dog-eared copy in someone’s beachbag.

One look at the cover of Ryan Lockwood’s BELOW, and you know what kind of read you’re about to have.

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The blocky print, the tiny object at the surface, and the partial view of a huge creature rising from the deep all scream “I really want you to think about JAWS when you’re shopping on Amazon and see my thumbnail.” And I totally did. So I bought it.

Ryan Lockwood’s 2013 debut horror novel tells the story of a nasty group of squid that develop a taste for human flesh.  Our hero, a worn out dive master, enlists the help of a sexy marine biologist who will help him put an end to the carnage. A blood bath ensues, as well as love, sweet love, between the two protagonists.

You’re probably thinking the squid looks something like this.

moby dick and squid

And you would be wrong.

The rest of you are imagining something like this.

squid monster

Still wrong.

The squid in this book come from real life, the giant Humboldt squid that sometimes reach a length of seven feet and travel in shoals of over a thousand in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

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Yes, this smallish Humboldt squid looks like it’s eating this diver’s arm, but sadly, no. In reality, Humboldt Squid don’t attack people. Much. At least there aren’t any confirmed deaths. Probably. Divers like this dude wear chain mail to swim with them, mostly because their tentacles are lined with teeth and their sharp parrot-like beaks have been known to take off fingers. But they’re harmless. Really.

When it comes to monster makers, nothing beats mother nature.

Imagine if a thousand of squid this size and bigger, all traveling together in a big icky clump, all went insane for some reason (no spoilers) and wanted to eat divers, attractive partiers unlucky enough to skinny dip off a yacht at night, and a very likeable marathon swimmer we get to know for only one chapter. That is the thrill ride of BELOW, and I recommend picking it up if you’d like to know the creepy and plausible scientific reason behind the carnage.

But why did I bother with a book when I could be terrified by the same story in a film? Open Water, The Reef, and hundred of other movies require a much shorter time commitment. And I’m kinda busy.

One reason is point of view. On the screen, you can see the monster, and you’ll even get the famous point of view shot from the monster’s perspective, but you don’t get a scene from the emotional POV of the monster. Imagine if you tried. As the shark from JAWS approaches his victim, a voice over tells us, “This kid tastes like chicken…”

Well, that’s just silly. But the scenes from BELOW in the POV of the big bad are sort of fascinating. The queen of the shoal thinks mostly about being hungry and confused, but still, it freaked me out.

But is that enough to make the time commitment jump from two hours to twenty?

True, the written word can’t give you the collective scream experience of the theater. But there’s something about a good monster book, like JAWS or BELOW, that takes away the distance between you and the characters. You’re not watching the swimmer on the screen. You are the swimmer, taking her last breath, before she’s dragged under.

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So if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush that stays awhile, skip the theater, crack open Lockwood’s BELOW, and order a big, tasty plate of fried calamari on the side. I can’t promise you’ll finish your food, but I’m pretty sure the book will keep you turning pages until the horrifying end.

Water Monsters You’ve Never Heard of: the Monster from THE HOST

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Let me make it clear that this freakish people eater isn’t underrated everywhere. In fact, when The Host came out in 2006, it became the highest grossing South Korean film ever.  But when I mention the movie in the west, most people give me a blank look.  And that’s a shame, because this beast is freakin’ awesome.

We all know how the story begins. Someone pours the wrong chemical into the sewer system, and nature coughs up a big dose of I told you so.  The theme—humankind’s arrogance will be the end of us—isn’t that original. So why does the monster from The Host make the cut?

One, the design of the monster is over-the-top original. If you took a catfish, increased its size a thousandfold, gave it legs and the maw of Predator—oh, and a prehensile tail, don’t forget that—you have one of the most terrifying creatures to swim in the deep blue sea.

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And unlike the weird lobster-tick-frog monster from Deep Star Six, the catfish monster registers immediately on the fear meter. Trust me, the first time this thing shows up on screen, you’ll spill your popcorn.

Two, this monster can hunt you on land. Most water monsters can’t chase their victims across playgrounds or parking lots. This restriction gives our survival stories some exciting “don’t go in the water” moments and feeds into our instinctive fear of dark, alien places like the sea. Our heroes usually end up perched on a raft or a few yards back on a deserted beach, thanking their stars and all things holy that they’re not IN THE WATER.

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Enter the creature from The Host. It loves the water. But it also likes to hang like a bat from underneath bridges, and it loves to run with wild abandon through crowds (with its weird webbed feet) causing general destruction and mayhem. Your safe haven? Gone. If you learn anything from The Host, it’s that no place is safe.

And that’s what’s so brilliant about the monster’s design. Ugly catfish thing is our Frankenstein’s monster, the beast we created. When your species is the cause of so many catastrophic changes to your planet’s environment, such as, well, dumping billions of tons of toxic chemicals into the ocean, you can’t just go back to your trailer and hide.

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