I read, and reviewed, Cesare’s excellent Video Night, and, as that was a humdinger, here we are with Exponential, selected next in his catalog because… eh, I don’t remember (and you don’t care).
He wrote a book, and I read it. Next!
The action wastes no time. Cesare tears through this book, as I did, and at times he uses what I will call horror shorthand. No need for six chapters of exposition: we have a slow-witted custodian with his heart in the right place (well, for a while, har har). Lenny the mopper sees, and eventually can’t abide, the cruelty of scientists working on fluffy white laboratory test animals and…
I mean, I can stop now, right? You saw that fish-sex movie, The Shape of Water? So it’s like that, except that entire slow, sprawling two-hour movie is… chapter one here?
White mice die in their thousands in the real world, and Adam Cesare is here to tell you why this murine torture is both beneficial and necessary! Right off the bat, you have a lab rat hitching a ride in Lenny’s lunchbox, things go quickly downhill… and great, it’s monster time. Never be kind to helpless animals, being the takeaway. Maybe. I could be projecting.
Either way, it’s like camping in the woods: I don’t need to go on about the plot, because you know the outlines already.
The only real complaint that withstood my usual self-doubt and heavy drinking was this: the primary weakness of this book is the lack of exactly that (a weakness) in its monster. That’s not quite accurate, it turns out, but (in homage to The Blob) the monster grows and grows, gets smarter, and (remember the title?) is eventually hard to imagine anyone (i.e., the established characters) destroying.
Not that this ruined anything for me, because: lifelong Godzilla fan. But in the overall narrative, if it misfires anywhere, it’s in making the monster a bit too overpowered. The only reason this matters, however, is because Cesare draws such exceptionally fun and diverse characters that it would be (is?) really awful to see one go (and, I mean, no spoilers, but it’s a horror novel, you know, so, yeah).
I could try to summarize the characters for you, but just trust that you will find one or more to root for and against. And despite being overpowered, not all hope is lost thanks to the monster’s revealed semi-weakness.
Observation: one-chapter characters are so well-drawn, their mini-arcs are addicting. Which is to say, if they buy the farm, it hurts: from introduced to horribly juiced, all in one chapter. Kudos. The characters who go the distance, or closer to it, are “exponentially” fantastic, and there are several. Adding to the tension and backstory are a number of character POV chapter(s) which is superbly handled.
Because the characters are so great, a few details might stick-out. The laboratory (government?) response, for example, is woefully insufficient. It completely fits the genre, and while “send us a guy; yup, just one guy” sounds typical for a pulp movie, it’s not very realistic, and thus is not good enough to mesh with the high level of quality Cesare slaps on everything else.
Similarly, the ending is slightly rushed, or I felt it to be. Another chapter or two would have been welcome.
At the end of the day, though, this is a whirlwind of fun, creature-feature reading elevated by excellent characterization, tight execution, and just a squeeze of “cruel, mean” that was not as evident in Video Night.
This is entirely entertaining, top-shelf horror, and Exponential cements Adam Cesare as not just one to watch, but one who is already here (and should be purchased and read robotically by fans of the genre).