The Clone by Theodore L. Thomas and Kate Wilhelm

It’s January, which means it’s time for Vintage Sci-Fi month. So here we go.

When you think of gelatinous slime monsters eating people, you would obviously think of the titular star of the 1955 movie The Blob. But if you need the non-union equivalent, the Frank Stallone or Joe Estevez of mucilaginous menaces, The Clone is here to do the job.

The first chapter of The Clone is pretty much nothing but a description of the chemicals and waste products being flushed into the sewer of Chicago. I’m sure on things aren’t great in the sewer on a normal day, but on this particular day, conditions are just right for the ooze under the city streets to generate life.

Things are already going south by the next chapter. A woman washing her dishes notices a gelatinous substance in her sink while washing the dishes. Before she has a chance to ask Calgon to take her away, it starts eating her hand. By the end of the second chapter, it’s eaten about half a dozen people and things are just getting rolling.

The book is split between our hero, pathologist Mark Kenniston, trying to stop the stop the creature from eating Chicago, and vignettes in which various citizens encounter the monster and getting absorbed. I know there’s a pandemic on, and people are suffering, but have you tried reading a book where children are eaten by a giant slime monster? It will cheer you up like nothing else. You may not be able to go to a Judas Priest concert, and you may be surrounded by people at the supermarket who have clearly never washed their face masks, and you may be in the middle of reading the latest Ernest Cline novel, but as The Clone makes clear, things could be so much worse.

It’s fun, fast paced novel that somehow only got one printing in America in 1965, despite being nominated for the Nebula award. Although the violence is more restrained than the novels of James Herbert and there aren’t entire pages devoted to describing ladies’ underwear as in the novels o Richard Laymon, this would still have fit in well with the novels of the 80s horror paperback boom. I’m honestly kind of surprised an outfit like Valancourt books hasn’t tried to reprint it, because it would fit in well with the rest of the books they publish.

I’m not familiar with Theodore Thomas, but Kate Wilhelm had a long and distinguished career in science fiction, but none of the other stuff I’ve read from her is anything like this. Perhaps she was a little embarrassed by it, which might be why this book remains somewhat obscure compared to something like Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. However, I thought it was a lot of fun, and if you enjoy novels where people are mercilessly eaten by slime, you’ll find it a hoot as well.

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