Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press (October 2017)
200 pages; $31.84 hardcover; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand
Back in 1994, Joe R. Lansdale wrote a story called “Bubba Ho-Tep” about an elderly Elvis Presley teaming up to fight a mummy with a fellow nursing home resident who thought he was JFK, and I read it and thought, “Welp, it doesn’t get much crazier than that.” Boy, was I wrong.
Twenty-three years later, Lansdale has returned to the world of “Bubba Ho-Tep” for a prequel novel, Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers. It makes that first story seem like a Sunday School lesson in comparison.
Here’s a peek at the inventory: a secret, monster-fighting government organization called The Herd; hallucinogenic drugs; tuna and banana sandwiches; a giant, ravenous mass of flesh and teeth called “Big Mama”; a pink Cadillac; a ghost who trades protection for sex; and a Mississippi Riverboat piloted by zombies.
Personally, I wouldn’t need a plot synopsis after seeing that list of ingredients, but I’ll give a short one for those who may still be on the fence. Something is stashing its human victims in a New Orleans junkyard. The victims are in vile shape, wadded up like old newspaper, yet somehow still alive. Whatever is collecting them catches the eye of The Herd—think the Avengers if it was made up of pop stars and descendants of folklore heroes. The group is dispatched to New Orleans to eradicate this threat to humankind, and all hell quickly breaks loose.
Lansdale’s output over the last couple of years has mostly been confined to his more-real world stuff, like the Hap and Leonard series and the incredible Old West novel Paradise Sky, so it was good to see him cut loose and harken back to his pulp/horror roots. Restraint goes out the window in this one; this is pure, unadulterated Lansdale at its finest. The action is unrelenting for much of the book, but when he slows down enough to build a little atmosphere, it’s palpable—the opening scene alone is one of the scariest things I’ve read all year.
Lansdale’s characters have always been a strong point, and that remains true here. The team (which includes, among others, Elvis, Colonel Parker, a relative newbie named Jenny, and a hammer-wielding tough guy named John Henry) has great chemistry, and their interplay gives Lansdale plenty of opportunities to show off his sharp wit and skill with dialogue. (“We got to eat,” John Henry says as the group fixes sandwiches before going into battle. “I got hypoglycemic tendencies.”)
Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is pure, unabashed pulp fun. It doesn’t skimp on the stakes (or the gore, for that matter), but it’s not all grim and gritty, either. It’s vintage Lansdale, and the best part of all is that it proves there’s plenty of room for more Bubba stories down the line.