Unsure of where this ought to go, but since it is for an American (I think) novel published by Berkeley Medallion I figured I would put it here. If it belongs elsewhere, I apologize.
Not as gruesome or sex filled as many of the other books mentioned on here, and it being nominated for a Nebula Award certainly elevates it above standard pulp paperback fare, but I've been a huge fan of The Clone by Theodore L. Thomas and Kate Wilhelm for some time now. I feel it is a marvelous and meticulously written spin on the "giant blob monster" idea.
Has anyone else here read it? My favorite part is when they're experimenting with the clone tissue sample in the lab and naturally it gets on someone's arm leading to the standard "cut the guy's arm off" to save him. It works. But then it happens again to a different character, and this time... well, they aren't as successful.
Supposedly the novel was based on a short story by Thomas. Does anyone know where this short story can be read?
.... just as i will try and track down a copy of the paperback. We ran a brief celebration of the blob of slime only recently but The Clone never came up so thanks for putting us onto it.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
Some info on the basic premise (without spoiling any of the other individual death scenes):
Chemicals poured down the drain in the American city of Chicago cause a giant amorphous organism to be formed out of old hamburger meat (!) and silica gel. The formless thing (the "clone" of the title) converts whatever it touches into more of itself, and thus grows larger and larger.
Describing how this creature differs from other blob monsters (that I know of anyway) is difficult. But I'll try.
It doesn't so much digest you as directly turn you into more of it. The moment you make physical contact with it, you become an extension of it; where it begins, you end. And the more of you it converts the less of you there is until there is no more you and just more of the clone.
You remain conscious for all of this until it gets your vital organs whereupon you die instantly. But if it gets you by the arm or leg you have the dubious honor of being conscious of your physical existence vanishing bit by bit. The process is, oddly, entirely painless, but distressing nonetheless.
To me, this is pretty scary. It's not gruesome but it is pretty disturbing. Unlike The Blob, the title creature in The Clone doesn't merely eat you; it almost literally erases you.
It converts nonliving matter as well. When it gets large enough, it starts absorbing parts of buildings. It grows so massive it basically begins converting all of Chicago itself.
Honestly why this book isn't more famous, especially having nabbed one of the first Nebula Award nominations, is beyond me.
I finally tracked down a copy of the Isaac Asimov anthology book Monsters, which contains Thomas' original short story. Thanks to andydecker for pointing me to it! I've only skimmed it so far, but it reads like (essentially) a condensed version of the full novel, and apparently has a much different ending.
Rally great cover art, too. Dig that giant purple snake!
Okay, here's the skinny on the short story version: as I anticipated it basically reads like a super-condensed version of the later novel, with dishwasher Harry Schwartz being the only main character to appear in both versions. The only setpiece of note is the clone absorbing a bunch of customers and kitchen staff at the diner where Harry works, a sequence copied verbatim in Thomas and Wilhelm's later book.
The ending is far bleaker than the novel, as well. Whereas the book ends with the clone being defeated, here, it successfully takes over Chicago and everyone either evacuates or gets assimilated; it ends with the military sort of dragging their feet and unsure of how to deal with the creature, and a dire warning to be damn careful about what we pour down our drains in the future.
I can definitely say I prefer the extended novel. It has death scenes and fun setpieces and more, well, actual characters, but it is still nice to have read Thomas' original short story just to see the genesis of the idea.
Deciding to give this the same treatment I gave to Slimer, Slime and The Worms. That is, a more thorough story description!
The novel starts off in Chicago. Or, "the city." It's never actually called Chicago, but a number of name drops give it away, and I honestly have no real idea why Thomas and Wilhelm were being so coy. The omniscient narration blathers on about how nobody really knows what is brewing down in sewers. Working late one night at City Hospital, janitor Henry Pollini decides to dispose of some leftover cleaning chemicals by pouring them down a sink drain. At the same time, a "scrubwoman" (who does Henry get a name and she doesn't?) pours some dirty mop water down the drain after cleaning the restrooms. Eeew. At the same time as that, a busboy at "a hamburger joint" discards some old hamburger meat the same way - down the drain, vile burger! Down with you!
The three different ingredients all come together in a sewer collector box, where they come into contact with a piece of silica gel. In this "chemist's cauldron" of a sewer, they combine and end up creating a new lifeform, due to the different ingredients providing different elements for the building blocks of life (at least according to Thomas and Wilhelm). For example, the cleaning chemicals have muriatic acid, while the gunk from the mop water has trisodium phosphate, and the hamburger meat is... well, meat. Wait, so does this mean Chicago is about to be menaced by a giant killer beef blob?! Yikes!
Thomas and Wilhelm refer to the newly created lifeform as "the clone," despite this not being exactly the right description for it. Anyway it starts out as a microscopic cell that adapts to its sewer environment by absorbing nutrients from the water inside the collector box. It starts to grow, bigger and bigger, and spreads like shower mildew over the sewer walls, leeching every bit of nutrients it can get, because it's a literal eating machine - its only goal is mindless survival, and to do that it needs to constantly, constantly feed. As soon as it's absorbed nutrients into its mass, it moves on, growing up through the pipes like a rancid fungus, before eventually emerging in the kitchen of Maude Wendall as she's doing the dishes. By the time the clone tissue emerges from the drain, it's morning, and the sunlight causes the thing's flesh (heretofore pale gray) to turn green.
The intrusion of the mystery gunk doesn't go unnoticed by Maude. She tries use a big spoon to shove it back down the drain but the clone no-sells. That having failed, she tries using her fingers, only for the tissue to latch onto them and begin converting Maude's cells and tissue into its own. Oddly, there's no pain, just the sensation of gradually losing the fingers... and eventually her hand... and soon most of her arm. Try as she might, Maude can't break free! The clone just stretches like taffy. She yells for her husband. Frank Wendall enters, sees his wife in peril, and rushes to the rescue! ... Only to immediately tangled up in the gunk and start getting absorbed just like her. Nice going, Frank.
As the pair get absorbed, the clone converts some of their clothing but not others, and also rejects nearly all the water from their bodies, resulting in huge puddles of water all over the kitchen floor. In the neighboring apartment, Mr. and Mrs. Knapp hear the Wendalls' yelling and write it off as them arguing again. So nobody comes to the rescue, and poor Maude and Frank are completely taken by the clone, dying the instant the absorbing mass reaches a vital organ like the heart or the brain. Having done this, the goo retreats back down the drain, leaving just empty clothes and water...
Elsewhere, we meet Harry Schwartz, who works as a dishwasher at Al's Restaurant, a burger joint near the hospital. He and his co-worker Joe are doing stuff in the kitchen when the clone decides to come out of the sink. Harry is a little leery of the stuff, but Joe pokes it and so he's doomed. As with Maude and Frank before him, the goo begins immediately absorbing him from the fingers up, and nothing he does will make it let go. He starts freaking out. Harry goes to get a meat cleaver to chop through the stuff, just as owner Al enters with a cook and waiter. Like Frank, they attempt to rush to Joe's aid despite Harry warning them "It'll eatcha!" Sure 'nuff, the three soon become entangled and get absorbed. Guess now they'll have to change the name of the restaurant.
A few customers come back to see what all the fuss is about, and one guy gets nabbed by the leg. Harry tries to save him by pouring a pot of boiling water on the stuff, but this does jack squatt, and so we can kiss this anonymous customer goodbye. By now Harry is really freaking out and hides in a far corner to try and escape the searching, grasping tendrils that spring forth from the now very, very large mass of clone tissue...
At around the same time as the kitchen staff of Al's Restaurant is getting turned into clone fodder, we're introduced to Dr. Mark Kenniston, a junior pathologist who works at City Hospital where's dating Nurse Edie Hempstead (an arrangement that totally sounds like the plot of an American soap opera). Before heading in for his shift, he swings by Al's for breakfast, as is his custom. He's been coming there ever since he first moved to Chicago, back when he had nothing and worked part time in the kitchen to pay his way through medical school. This is how he met and befriended Harry, when the dishwasher let him sleep on his couch until he could get his own place.
He enters, sits, and then notices there's something... amiss. There's a guy on the payphone trying to get ahold of his editor or something, while everyone else is crowded around the entrance to the kitchen. Rising, he goes over to see what the matter is, encounter Gracie the waitress, who is shell-shocked and faints. Harry has survived, and, still holding the meat cleaver he'd grabbed during his earlier failed attempt at rescuing Joe, manages to escape the kitchen. Mark can see the clone, now a lot bigger for having absorbed the entire kitchen staff except for Harry along with a few customers. It also takes the time to absorb all of the food. It then retreats back down the drain after its fleshy tendrils fail to find any more people in the room to grab ahold of (everyone still alive is just outside the door in the main dining area and so the clone doesn't sense them; more than once it'll ignore potential victims a certain distance from it).
Leaving the other survivors to collect themselves and see to the unconscious Gracie, Mark rushes out to go and get the cops (he can't use the phone because of that reporter). Harry, now basically unemployed since Al got eaten, follows him because they're friends and apparently for lack of anything better to do. At the police station, Chicago cop Sergeant Dwyer isn't having any of this blob monster gobbledygook, and neither is his superior Captain Prescott. There's people going missing left and right and they haven't got time to deal with the lunatic theories of a grad student pathologist and his fast food joint friend. Mark and Harry are sent away without any results.
They head to the hospital. Mark discovers his boss chief pathologist Dr. Rudolph Agnew isn't in yet. He calls him at home, but Agnew is in an irritable mood and also a massive jackass so he yells at Mark not to bother him and hangs up. That accomplished, Mark goes and finds Edie Hempstead where she works in the X-ray department and takes her into his confidence. Just at that moment, the clone comes up through the drain in the cafeteria's kitchen and starts absorbing people, as well as foodstuffs. Mark directs security to get most of the people out, while Harry manages to cut off a smallish chunk of the clone flesh before the main mass retreats the way it came in the face of this mighty assault.
Using some sugar as bait, Mark manages to capture the errant bit of flesh inside a small jar. Telling the guards not to let anyone into the cafeteria, and then whisks the sample of the clone to the pathology lab, where he, Edie and Harry conduct some really boring experiments with it. They put mice in the jar with it and observe it absorbs them pretty much instantly and leaves only water. They pour the water from the jar into a beaker (being careful so the clone tissue doesn't also get out), and weigh it, run analysis of its contents and such. Mostly they just feed mice to the thing.
Elsewhere, we're introduced to Ms. Carmel Maria Shea, a teacher at a Chicago elementary school. She hates children, considering them "filth," and also hates all of her co-workers and especially the principal (nicknamed "The Growler", which is such an awesome nickname I shall refer to him by it instead of his real name, Mr. Bent); one wonders why she's a teacher then. After some weird business where she is rude to new teacher Mrs. Grabowski and keeps waiting for fat teacher Mr. Walls' pants to finally bust and fall down (what), she heads to teach her class. In addition to hating children, she is also a severe clean freak. Every day, she makes the students present themselves for inspection to see if they're dirty or not. Just to fuck with her, three boys named Henry, Alan and Joseph have gotten their hands intentionally all muddy. Unfortunately for them, she remains cool (and cruel) and after humiliating them in front of the class she banishes them to the boys' room to wash their hands.
In the bathroom, the three wash their hands and express their disappointment at having failed to make mean ol' Ms. Shea hopping mad. But, hey, as long as they're in there they figure they may as well light up and take out a pack of cigarettes. Ah, isn't that just like third graders? Such delinquents. One of them (Henry? I'm honestly too lazy to check) goes and barricades the door with a trashcan so that nobody will walk in and catch them. The smoke and generally behave like such little shits it's hard to feel entirely bad for them when the inevitable happens and the clone comes up through the sink and gets 'em.
Still, them being just children makes this sequence one of the more disturbing parts of the book, especially Ms. Shea's reaction to it. Noticing that the three are taking an awful long time coming back, she goes to retrieve them (hey! Stay out of there, lady! That's the boys' room!) but can't open the door because of the trashcan. She can hear the boys screaming inside and tries to kick it in. Failing miserably, she enlists the janitor, Mr. Farley, to employ his superhuman janitor powers and he does manage to get the door smashed in, at the cost of his leg - he slips in all the water pouring off the children's bodies as they're being absorbed and falls, twisting and breaking his leg.
Ms. Shea sees the three bodies getting absorbed into the main mass of the clone and finally loses her cool and starts shrieking her head off. So does Mr. Farley. He screams to Ms. Shea for help but she ignores his pleas in favor of continuing to scream, summoning "The Growler" and a large collection of students and faculty who want to know what in the hell is happening and why it sounds like someone is slaughtering a goose. "The Growler" demands to know what is up, as the sated clone retreats back down the drain again. As poor Farley continues screaming in agony, Ms. Shea finally stops screaming herself long enough to start ranting about how the disgusting children "turned back into filth" and went back down into the sewers where filth belongs.
Somehow I think that after that comment (one made about three children who just died), her teaching career is over...
Oh but I love it... after all, if only a pulp paperback writer would call out one of his characters for being a jackass, point out that he honestly can't be bothered to check a characters name (and how often have we seen that really happen but not be owned up to in cheapo paperbacks?), and remark on a teachers callous attitude being an indicator to her career prospects (that last paragraph is excellent), then a lot of them would be a lot more fun...
Seriously, you should blog this stuff as well, you'd pick up a lot of admirers for the style.
Heh. Thanks. I have often considered doing such a blog, but am too lazy to get started. I guess someday I ought to...
Anyway! I sure hope "The Growler" calls am ambulance for poor Mr. Farley, since he isn't mentioned again after this scene. Neither is "The Growler." Farewell, grumpy school principal! I'll miss you and your awesome nickname.
Back at the hospital, Mark and the gang continue doing more experiments on the clone flesh in the jar. What they can actually do with it is pretty limited considering just touching the stuff is instantly fatal in all cases so far. Apparently none of them heard of gloves before. Anyway after reaching a bunch of conclusions already spelled out for the reader way back in the first chapter, they're interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Agnew, who demands to know why Mark cordoned off the lunchroom because he wants his Egg McMuffin, damn it!
Mark explains about how the stuff in the jar is evil and absorbs stuff on contact. Agnew's response to this is to berate Mark and fire him on the spot. Finally Harry suggests giving him "the regular fifty cent show," and another mouse dies in the name of science by getting plopped into the jar and clone-ified. Agnew is shocked and horrified and suddenly very contrite. Well, that solved that conflict! In any other story, Dr. Agnew would take forever to convince.
After feeding yet another mouse to the stuff so he can observe the absorbing process more closely (and presumably unfiring Mark), Agnew, excited, starts suggesting they do a lot of tests on it, all of which involve physically handling the tissue, apparently because he doesn't quite understand the "absorbs you on contact" part. Mark explains again what the stuff does, and Agnew reverts back to jerkass mode, and then plays keep-away with the jar, dodging Mark's efforts to grab it back from him as he unscrews the lid so he can dump out the contents on a nearby table.
Yeah, this is gonna end well...
He then tries to cut off a small piece to take and study, but the medical spatula he uses isn't doing the trick, so, panicking, he tries to force the gunk back into its jar prison. The inevitable happens and he gets it on his hand, whereupon it begins converting his arm. He freaks out and thrashes around, knocking over all kinds of chemicals but fortunately he doesn't try and pull it off with his other hand, allowing Harry to save the day when he uses his meat cleaver to cut off his arm at the elbow. Agnew survives, and his severed arm gets gobbled up. Okay, so they averted disaster, but now the clone blob is on the loose in the lab!
A guard and an intern come in. Mark firstly has the guard get Dr. Agnew safely to where his arm (what's left of it) can be treated. Then he tells the intern to help Harry corral the clone. Wait, isn't that the wrong way around? Shouldn't the guard be helping recapture the clone, and the intern be seeing to the hurt guy? Oh well. In doing so they notice the flesh seems averse to one of the chemicals Agnew spilled, which causes it to turn brown and dry up on contact. Turns out it's iodine. Aha! They found the clone's weakness! Thanks, Dr. Agnew! You and your clumsiness saved the day!
Alas they have little time to rejoice in this discovery - Harry manages to get the bulk of the clone into the jar by herding it in with his cleaver, but the intern, despite the warnings, tries to shove it in barehanded. Christ, here we go again! One absorbed hand later, the guy refuses to let Harry amputate his limb, so Mark instead pours iodine on it. It shrivels and dies. Hooray! Then the intern says he feels funny and drops dead mid-sentence. Some of the clone tissue survived underneath the dead tissue layer, and got inside of him by going under the skin of his arm and absorbing him from the inside-out. When Harry cuts off his arm to seem there's no bone or muscle, just a "solid green core of clone tissue." Ick.
Now Mark says the hell with it, just kill the stuff, and they start dunking iodine on the oozing mass of flesh that used to be the intern, just as Health Commissioner Ian Sorenson enters, fresh from a meeting with Mayor Slattery about the mysterious disappearances and rumors of an absorbing flesh blob. Now he sees those rumors are true. After Mark and the gang are done killing the clone in the lab, he confers with Sorenson who agrees to help him get the word out and start evacuating the city. Wow, a reasonable authority figure. I'm surprised and delighted!