"Dead Empires and Terrible Hosts: The JRJ Horror Sampler" Book Review
Written by Jeremy Robert Johnson
2013, 59 pages, Fiction
Released on July 29th, 2013
When Jack Ketchum praises an author, you'd think their name would be coming out of the mouth of every horror fiction fan. Strangely, that's not the case with Jeremy Robert Johnson. And it should be. Johnson had one of the best horror/bizarro/crime short fiction collections of 2012, We Live Inside You, for which he won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Collection, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you like your fiction incredibly smart, unique, impossibly dark, and gory, this is the guy you should be reading. And if horror is your cup of tea, Dead Empires and Terrible Hosts: The JRJ Horror Sampler is the perfect place to start.
Dead Empires and Terrible Hosts contains three tales that pay homage to horror tropes while simultaneously breathing new life into them. The first narrative, Laws of Virulence, is delivered via a memo. The impersonal/professional touch could potentially remove some of the story's power, but not when Johnson's the one writing it. Here's what you need to know: a hard-drinking man deals with a strange illness that turns his wife and daughter into hosts. Think about Cymothoa exigua, that parasite that eats and then replaces its host's tongue. Got a mental picture? Great. Now drop that in a bucket of awful, add some pain, and you might end up with something like "Laws of Virulence".
"The Gravity of Benham Falls", the second story, is a perfect example of how Johnson takes clichés and turns them into something exciting and fresh. This is a story about ghosts, murder, and revenge, but it's also a poetic explosion of language that sticks its tongue out at what other authors try to call literary horror.
The third tale, "Working At Home", is as brutal as short horror fiction gets. A man witness something terrible and deadly at work, and unknowingly carries it home...under his skin. Self mutilation is always great, but Johnson's writing chops turn it into an art. This is like the worst episode of Monsters Inside Me anyone could ever imagine. Johnson has an unhealthy fascination for parasites and they show up regularly in his work, and this story is a great example of that.
Blood, horror, and parasites are some of the cohesive elements that make Dead Empires and Terrible Hosts a superb introduction to Johnson's horror writing. If you're a fan of extreme, smart horror, this is a must-read for you. Oh, and when you're done, check out How to Fuck Up Everything and Die Alone: The JRJ Drug Sampler and Doomsday Variations: The JRJ Apocalypse Sampler. In this case, getting hooked on the samples will lead to good things with minimal side effects.