Review by Joey Madia
I am going to be up front at the start: I grew up in the eighties and it is my position that there was no cooler time to be a teenager. Not for movies, music, clothes, and just plain being a kid. We didn’t have the Internet or cell phones, and video games were still confined mostly to arcades—which we had aplenty at the Jersey Shore—and life was just simpler and more pure. I still remember hanging out with friends and listening to new cassette releases like Def Leppard’s Pyromania and being completely blown away by the lyrics and guitars.
Although Psycho Hose Beast from Outer Space takes places in the early nineties, there were plenty of culturally cool things still going on. For instance, each chapter takes as its title that of a popular song from that time. Some of the songs are obvious in their relationship to the chapter and some—if you are inclined to do some lyrical detective work—take a little digging.
Given that the dedication is to “the boys from back home,” it’s clear that Gallant is as nostalgic about his early teen years in the nineties as I am about mine in the eighties. He certainly brings it all to life.
Psycho Hose Beast from Outer Space is part of a great tradition—from Stephen King’s Stand by Me to ET, Goonies, and Stranger Things (the last one coded textually in the book)—namely, middle and high school kids coming together to beat the Big Bad in an inspiring Coming of Age adventure.
Add some laughs, and what you have is a fast-paced, often funny ride.
PHBOS opens with a prologue subtitled with Dream Theater’s “Pull Me Under” (you’ll get this one right away). During a massive storm off Newfoundland, in a scene evoking Lovecraft, two perceived-as-weird witch sisters go missing and are presumed dead. Flash forward sixty-three years… we hear—ala Napolean Dynamite—The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love”—Robert Smith’s answer to the criticism that their stuff was just too dark.
Now we meet our heroes—Pius and Niall… the prototypical best friends. One awkward, who will probably always be that way, and one only slightly less awkward, but for whom we are sure it is just a passing phase. Niall’s clearly our Hero of Heroes… the type of kid River Phoenix was such a pro at playing. He’s on a journey to answer the call to adventure, impress the girl, and improve his self-esteem. They are debating which is better—Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog. Enter Harper, Pius’s cousin, on whom Niall has a monster crush.
Think Eleven from Stranger Things, but with far less nosebleeds and nary an Eggo in sight.
In Hero’s Journey terms, they are in their Ordinary World—excited to see Batman Returns, ride bikes, and just hang out. At this point, the requisite bully enters (in this case, wholly redeemable, although there are other bullies who aren’t). He goes at Niall hard.
At that moment, right on schedule, the writer dials Niall’s number. It’s his Call to Adventure. There’s another big storm, drowned bodies start turning up without explanation—kind of like John Carpenter’s horror classic, The Fog—and our hero trio and their parents—and an awkward kid named Skidmark (even his pastor calls him that) start getting sucked instantly into the mystery.
Gallant-King’s Gale Harbour is beautifully constructed. Somewhat isolated, near the water, with underground tunnel systems, and an old Air Force Base, it begs for paranormal happenings. And the cops and Fish and Wildlife folks are just small town enough to be sharp but not too sharp—so they take a journey all their own. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police—aka the Pros—are there, but in the background.
Further bringing the town, the characters, and the decade to life are abundant references to video games, movies, TV shows, music, commercials, and other early nineties staples. A highlight is Skidmark’s rapping Snow’s “Informer.” It’s probably an ear worm for you now. You’re welcome.
Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this is fluff. All throughout the book, the themes of age, memory, and history are woven through on multiple levels, from one end of the character continuum to the other. Niall’s grandmother—suffering from dementia—is put into a nursing home early on. The town itself has bad memories of the storm of ’29, and everyone has something with which they struggle; something to overcome. From the kid who lives in a fantasy world of video store rentals his parents would flip out about if they knew that he was watching, to the adults who have something in their past they are trying to make right or make their peace with.
And not only the good folks get their psychology illuminated. Even the Psycho Hose Beast—who may or may not be from Outer Space—gets their moments of inner contemplation in a series of intermèdes.
As we would expect from an adventure such as this one, the kids (and the adults) return to the Ordinary World noticeably changed. Gallant takes an opportunity to work in Dungeons and Dragons—and the start of the Satanic Panic that flared up around it that I remember so well, having played it for sometimes 20 or more hours straight in friends’ basements in middle school.
The kids of PHBOS better not get too comfortable with their tabletop adventuring though… word from the author and the Epilogue both indicate that there’s a sequel on the way, no doubt packed with more nineties cultural references, humor, and a further call to adventure and rite of passage.
I have already requested a copy, and I truly cannot wait.
TITLE: Psycho Hose Beast from Outer Space (Gale Harbour Book One)
AUTHOR: C.D. Gallant-King
PUBLISHER: Stories I Found in the Closet, 2020