Welcome, one and all, to another MDM Projects book review. Last month, I reviewed Brad Harmer-Barnes’ horror novel, North Sea Hunters. Earlier this month, he stopped by for an interview. Now, Brad’s back again! Those of you who read the interview will have noticed that we mentioned his latest novella, Tempest Outpost. Brad was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of the book, so here we are with the subsequent review!
Background: Brad Harmer-Barnes is a British horror author. Outside novels, he both runs the Suppressing Fire pulp gaming blog and hosts Brick Fury on the site’s YouTube channel. He is a founding member and contributor to the nostalgia tinged geeky blog site, Emotionally Fourteen, and is a regular guest on their The Crazy Train podcast. He’s also a former stand-up comic that ran the Rock N Rant comedy club in his local area, as well as being a part of the skiffle band, Bender Crack Corn.
Tempest Outpost is Brad’s second novella, and was released by Severed Press on October 22nd 2017. The story follows a geology student named Jazmin Hayes as she embarks on a placement at Tempest Outpost, an Antarctic facility with an impressive experimental drill. During Jazmin’s stay, the team excavate some strange looking rock samples that are carbon dated as being older than the Earth itself. Then, the rocks start to hatch …
The Good: So, let’s begin with the story being told here. When I read what the book was about, I had a certain feeling in mind as to how it would likely play out. By the time I’d finished, I was happy to not only find a few surprises in the events that occurred, but to be able to say that the book felt the way I was expecting. Essentially, we have a hybrid of The Thing and one of my favourite X-Files episodes (Ice – S01E08), but with added spiders. What makes this all interesting is that, even with all the other references to films thrown in by the characters, Brad has succeeded in paying homage to some classics while keeping the focus on his own vision here. Yes, we can recognise bits and pieces, but the key points are his own. That is something that can be commended. As a side, I would be interested to know if the title is a reference to Star Wars: The Old Republic though.
The characters are well placed for the story too. Each is easily distinguishable from the others, we get to see their own little quirks – which is given a suitable amount of time to shine through – but the book focuses on the right characters at each step. That’s key here as the named cast is, while not unwieldy, large enough that it would be easy to fall into trying to shoehorn more characters than are needed into scenes.
Another thing I like is that the novella proves that Brad is not a one-trick pony. Yes, it’s still horror, and yes the monster has roots in actual creatures, but this is a very different beast to North Sea Hunters. The spiders are as much a creation of the author as they are an actual species (though their abilities are certainly similar to certain viruses seen in the insect world), and the book features a little more humour than the aforementioned sharksploitation novella. The more modern setting also allows Brad some freedom to give the cast a very different feel.
That being said, one welcome similarity between this and North Sea Hunters is that of restraint. While the plot and setting would work in a longer format, Brad has done exactly what he needs to with the story. There’s no fluff to pad things out, just a well-paced tale that can easily be devoured in one sitting.
The Bad: As I stated above, Tempest Outpost would have worked just fine if it was longer. An increased word count would certainly have provided more space to play up the paranoia driven scenes. While that would have been nice, I can’t really complain too much about this though, as the story works well as it is.
One thing that I would have liked to see though, was mastication. No, that’s not what it sounds like. You see, spiders both terrify and fascinate me. As such, I do like to read up on them. If you didn’t know, mastication in terms of spiders involves the arachnids liquifying their prey’s insides in order to eat them. Even taking into account the way the spider’s venom works in the book, I would have loved to have seen what Brad could have done with the imagery of a masticated corpse.
Final View: Tempest Outpost is a thoroughly engrossing tale of frozen terror. The story hurtles along without ever feeling like it’s skipped over details – or indeed adding more than is necessary – and leaves you satisfied by the conclusion. If you’re a fan of modern B-movies, or you simply want a fun slab of arachnid horror, this one is for you.
Final Score: 4.5 / 5