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August 19, 2012

Book Review: Jacked (2012, Severed Press)

Shane McKenzie is one screwed up guy. I like it, don't get me wrong, but he needs a psych eval, pronto. And it is this particularly endearing quality that allows me to enjoy his work so much. What we have on our plate this time is a little different from the usual cannibalism, food stuffs fiction. What appears to be a vile, squishy and goop-laden alien attack is viewed differently by three different guys trapped inside the gym they work out in; a glass lined prison where they can see the world go to shit outside while getting in a quick dead-lift. Herein we find where McKenzie is at his strongest: putting archetypal characters into horrible, extreme situations and, in this case, literally giving the survivor scenario steroids. This is Jacked, boys and girls, and even though I loathe to type this, the novella has gone into 'beast mode.'

Sid and Gabe, two trainers, are trapped in the gym on a slow day with Crow, a chemically enhanced 'roid pusher that is known to fly into frequent rages and destroy things. As Gabe and Sid (who debates whether or not to actually buy steroids from Crow) decide who is going to kick him out and enforce the ban on Crow from the management, shit gets sticky. Inexplicably, a noxious green enzyme/chemical/fluid has infected the local area. A river of it forms, infecting anyone it touches. First, it burns them and then it gets into their bodies and then they turn into mindless drones and vomit the caustic substance on people, animals, plants and buildings to assimilate more and more. This is the hell that the health-conscious trio find themselves in. This is a Shane McKenzie book, so shit goes awry. Bones break, caustic vomit oozes and that message is wrapped up in some disgusting imagery.

But it is the message I'm concerned about. This is well written, if a bit short. Coming in at a slim 94 pages, McKenzie has managed to pack in a nice allegory on mindless use of chemical substances, give us his take on bloated, drone-like and vomiting fatties (like most of us Americans) and does it with a grace that belies the grotesque mode of delivery. If one can get past the grue, he or she will see that even the extreme or hard core horrors are, in all reality, just another version of commentary on our society. That is what good horror does. It comments on what we are afraid of, or what monsters we've unintentionally built around us or reminds us that we are so insignificant that we should ALWAYS be afraid.

There is absolutely no reason that the extreme wing of this genre (who are even more disrespected than the 'straight' horror fictioneers) can't utilize literary tools. It is just a little bit wetter.

Check out Jacked from Severed Press. Feel free to click on any of our Amazon links to get there.

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