Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen
Omnium Gatherum Media (July 2017)
228 pages; $12.99 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by C.W. Briar
Monster stories generally work best when approached in one of two ways. The first is to have a well-executed tale where intriguing characters clash with a unique creature. The other is for the story to double-down on clichés and formulas, preferably with a more tongue-in-cheek tone. Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen is squarely the latter.
Scientists Ozzy and Ben become stranded in Antarctica when their research station is decimated, and much of the horror derives from their increasingly dire situation. They face other hazards including mutant penguins, a paramilitary organization, and calving glaciers. If that seems like a lot to fit into one story, it is, and I felt that only the isolation issue was truly plumbed to decent depths.
I was struck by how much Cold Cuts reads like a bloody, direct-to-streaming horror flick. There is a certain aesthetic to B-grade monster movies, one in which costume zippers are Easter eggs, not mistakes, and questionable plots and acting are part of the spectacle. These kinds of flaw-to-feature inversions are present throughout Cabeen’s story.
Is that a backhanded compliment? Perhaps, to some extent. The book has a multitude of distracting issues. For example, characters are introduced and then forgotten for most of the book. Serious wounds are practically shrugged off, yet one character struggles with a minor tongue injury for weeks. The narrative swings wildly, with some chapters giving depth and character development while others skim like a plot summary. On numerous occasions, I questioned the logic of characters’ reactions, abilities, and motives.
These problems kept my engagement with the story at a surface level, yet also fostered the kind of charm one gets from B-movies like those riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is because Cold Cuts maintains its sense of humor throughout and does not expect the reader to take it too seriously. All of those issues I listed are just zippers showing in the narrative, and that’s part of the twisted appeal.
Those seeking a good, engrossing monster story ought to keep looking elsewhere. But if you think gore, sex, and Lovecraftian penguin abominations can more than compensate for struggling narrative, then Cold Cuts might be your kind of summer-popcorn fun.