« Bird Box / Josh Malerman | Main | Netherworld / Lisa Morton »

Seeders / A.J. Colucci

Thomas Dunne Books / July 2014
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

For readers, half the enjoyment derived from today’s horror is in the never-ending quest to find the next malevolent source of what’s going to do us in; for writers, it’s the challenge. In an admittedly jaded age when we’ve all been there and read that, the focus has imperceptivity shifted from pure originality in concept to creative reinvention. Supernatural threats in their myriad forms, serial killers with (literal) axes to grind, and flesh-feasting zombies have long been staples in the modern horror author’s arsenal – but readers quickly tire of uninspired rehashes. Even in the perennial recycle bin of ideas, readers want to find gems of imagination and ingenuity.  

A.J. Colucci doesn’t so much invent as she reinvents by dipping back into an older horror mainstay: the eco-horror subgenre. It’s territory she’s explored previously in her debut novel, The Colony, and one with a rich history in horror literature that includes The Rats by the late James Herbert (1974), Killer Crabs by Guy N. Smith (1978), The Portent by Marilyn Harris (1980),  and – more recently – The Ruins by Scott Smith (2006) and Fragment by Warren Fahy (2009).  In Seeders, the New Jersey native’s sophomore effort, Colucci calls to mind films like The Day of the Triffids and The Ruins with a thoroughly engrossing tale of botanical terror. Imagine M. Night Shyamalan’s atrociously misguided The Happening done right.

Upon the death of her botanist father, Isabelle Maguire travels to a remote Canadian island with her two young sons and a troubled teenage girl under her supervision for the reading of her late father’s will. Along for the ride to Sparrow Island are two other heirs to his estate: Dr. Jules Beecher, a plant neurobiologist and former protégé of the late scientist, and Ginny Shufflebottom, an elderly curmudgeon who was the deceased’s paramour and island companion for the last decade. When the reading of the will is dispensed with, it’s clear the three beneficiaries have separate agendas: One wants to re-create the late scientist’s botanical experiments, one wants to find a hidden diamond bequeathed to her amidst a riddle, and one wants to uncover the truth behind her father’s death. Two of these concurrent story arcs eventually thread their way to a satisfying conclusion; while the third feels tacked on to pad the body count. 

Seeders is a decidedly ambitious horror/science fiction hybrid that reads like a Crichton-esque eco-thriller adorned with English cozy accoutrement. There’s a decidedly Agatha Christie vibe that resonates throughout, but instead of bodies piling up in the library, they’re scattered everywhere across Colucci’s fictional, fungus-infested island. And instead of a butler or mistress holding a smoking gun, it’s misunderstood plants doing everybody in with hallucinogenic, mind-controlling mold spores. Hell, there’s even a literary wink to Christie’s beloved red herring device, here in the form of homemade biscuits and a sunken wooden box.

Colucci wisely grounds the novel’s central concept – plant communication with humans – in some accessible real-life scientific theory. It’s this scientific realism that helps the reader excuse the author her convenient genre contrivances – the isolated island setting, the expedient weather event, the self-serving diaries of the deceased mad scientist, a solitary source of communication with the mainland that’s waylaid early on. Even when the reader’s attention is pulled from Colucci’s fast-moving narrative by the occasional heavy-handed environmental sermonizing or the gawky teen love story wedged in here, it’s easy to forgive the author.

Less forgivable is the extraneous character of Ginny Shufflebottom. From the incongruous whimsicality of the character’s surname to her lack of narrative purpose, the elderly Brit seems to be played for either comedic effect or a not-so-subtle homage to Christie’s Miss Marple that – on both counts, unfortunately – miss the mark. As annoying as when she’s on the canvas, it’s even more irritating when she disappears for what feels like chapters at a time. She’s ultimately a character that feels inexplicably appended without function to the cast or larger story.   

Fortunately for Colucci – and her readers – these shortcomings don’t eclipse the nail-biting tension generated in this clever cautionary fable in which human egotism is blindsided by ecological rebellion. Horror aficionados will bask in the gory set pieces while devotees of the thriller format will find much to appreciate in Colucci’s breakneck pacing.

With Seeders, A.J. Colucci reaches into the nature-run-amok arena to craft an imaginative, breathlessly-plotted genre mash-up that thrills, chills, and may just have you taking a kinder, gentler approach with your own houseplants.

Purchase Seeders by A.J. Colucci.

Posted on Wednesday, September 3, 2014 at 11:50AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend