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Bubba and the Cosmic Blood Suckers by Joe Lansdale

Published by Subterranean on October 31, 2017

Joe Lansdale is a versatile writer. He’s churned out westerns, horror novels, science fiction, and a ton of crime novels. Some of his books approach the subject matter seriously, many are written as comedy, and some are a blend. He never fails to entertain, but occasional efforts, including this one, seem dashed off. Lansdale wrote the story as a prequel to Bubba Ho-Tep, a novella that was made into a movie several years ago, so maybe he was kicking the idea around for a while and felt the need to jot it down.

One of my favorite horror novels is Lansdale’s The Bottoms, a truly frightening story. As you might guess from the title, Bubba and the Cosmic Blood Suckers plays with the horror genre but the story’s tongue-in-cheek nature makes it more funny than scary. Still, the creatures Lansdale describes in the opening chapter (written as a straight horror story) demonstrate how capably Lansdale can scare the pants off his readers. Had he written this as a straight horror story, I might have wet the bed.

So perhaps it's fortunate that Lansdale quickly introduces Elvis and his team of monster fighters, led by his manager, Colonel Parker. Already, I’m sure, you can see the potential for humor. This is a jaded Elvis, at the peak of his career and starting to lose control of his weight. He still has his charisma (and still has a lot of sex), but the charisma is attracting a dark force from another dimension. The “cosmic blood suckers” in the novel’s title actually feed on charisma more than blood, which makes Elvis a prime target.

Johnny Smack, who tells some of the story in the form of journal entries, is one of Elvis’ bodyguards. He is also part of the Hidden Agenda, a group that for centuries has battled monsters. After bodies are discovered of unidentified people who have had their innards sucked out, Richard Nixon sends Hidden Agenda on a mission to tame the responsible monsters. The Colonel, Johnny Smack, John Henry, a charismatic singer named Jenny, a wizard named Jack, and a fellow called the Blind Man join Elvis on the Hidden Agenda team.

The concept is goofy enough to be funny, and Lansdale adds characteristic bits of humor in nearly every paragraph. One of my favorites is a barrier to keep ghouls away that is made from ashes from incinerated corpses mixed with nun pee, but there are too many examples to count. One of the funniest passages involves Elvis’ sexual encounter with a ghost. Well, it’s Elvis, so he really can’t refuse.

I can’t say I laughed out loud at much of the goofiness, but I was consistently amused and entertained. Lansdale can do that without even trying, but the story does give the impression that he didn’t try very hard. I look forward to Lansdale returning to meatier work, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with being amused.


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