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Literature / The Brain Eaters

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A 1985 science fictior/horror novel written by Gary Brandner, who also wrote The Howling. People in Milwaukee begin experiencing a bizarre skin affliction, causing them to be covered in shiny, boil-like pustules; worse, they begin exhibiting homicidal urges. Workman Hank Stransky goes insane in a bar and kills several people. An afflicted taxi driver runs pedestrians over. A woman murders her husband before leaping to her death through a window. Intrepid Reporter Corey Macklin of the Milwaukee Herald is on the case!

Investigating Biotron Laboratory in Appleton, Macklin discovers that there has apparently been some kind of mixup. Helicopter pilots were supposed to spray crops with an experimental pesticide, but the canister they used contained instead a Bioweapon consisting of wormlike parasites that devour their victims' brains and turn them into homicidal maniacs. But was it really an accident that the pilots grabbed the wrong canister? Despite being pressured by his editor at the Herald to kill the story, Macklin is determined to get to the bottom of things before it's too late.

No connection to the 1958 Roger Corman film of the same name. And definitely not to be confused with the sci-fi fandom term "The Brain Eater".


Tropes used in this novel:

  • All for Nothing: Zachry risks - and gives - his life to save Roanne Tesla from the vengeful Eddie Gault, only for Roanne to end up being infected with the parasites without knowing it. Due to her hatred and distrust of modern science, she then avoids allowing herself to be sprayed with the cure, and the end implies she dies a horrible death.
  • Asshole Victim: Norman Hastings, who is a racist and a homophobe. The parasites exacerbate this and turn it up to eleven. He isn't exactly missed when he gets himself sucked out of a jet plane in midair.
  • Ate His Gun: Corey's best friend Doc shoots himself after realizing he's infected.
  • The Atoner: Two. First there's Eddie Gault, who feels guilty for his part in unleashing the plague (not to mention angry that Roanne used him). He tries and fails to make good by killing Roanne, the mastermind of the outbreak. Then there's Kuryakin. A Russian scientist, he developed something similar to what Biotron accidentally created and feels as though he owes it to the Americans to help them. Unlike Eddie, he actually succeeds and survives the story.
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  • Bar Brawl: As a result of the infected Stransky going full-blown spree killer while having a brewskie after work.
  • Bioweapon: The parasites are a Synthetic Plague version of this. In a subversion, they were created accidentally, although their release into the environment was no accident, but part of an ecto-terrorism plot.
  • Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: One of the infected people turned into a killer is a woman who kills the groom at her own wedding.
  • Body Horror: In addition to driving their victims insane, the parasites also cause them to break out in hideous boils and pustules all over their bodies.
  • Brain Food: As the title implies, the parasites (at least partially) consume the brains of the people they infect.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: The overall demeanor of the infected people, courtesy of the Puppeteer Parasites in their brains.
  • Car Fu: An infected taxi driver in New York kills and injures several people by running them over with his car.
  • Da Editor: Eichorn, the owner of the newspaper, who wants the story about the parasites quashed. At least at first.
  • Destination Defenestration: The woman who murders her husband at their wedding does a Super Window Jump to her death.
  • The Determinator: Eddie. After realizing he's infected and that Roanne used him to start the whole thing, he wills himself to keep going long enough to kill her with his bare hands before he himself dies. Even being shot multiple times by Zachry's men isn't enough to put him down. He does eventually succumb to the infestation, but only after brutally killing one of Zachry's men and finally Zachry himself.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Visiting Russian scientist Kuryakin is appalled at what has happened. This is because he developed something similar to the parasites back in Russia and knows what they can do. He constantly argues with his companion Raslov about whether they should do something, and eventually goes rogue to get to Biotron to explain that he knows of a cure.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The experimental parasites. They were supposed to be used to control pests that get at crops, but turned out to infect people as well.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Zachry. He may be out to stop the plague, but he is not a nice person. When an obviously infested Eddie Gault turns up at Biotron begging for the cure Kitzmiller has been developing, Zachry has him taken into the woods to be shot. He gets away, however.
  • Herr Doktor: Dr. Kitzmiller, a German scientist who doesn't like Russians because of what the Soviets did to postwar Germany, particularly when they hanged his brother, a soldier in the German army. As it turns out, despite his short temper and lack of people skills, he's actually a very reasonable man and wants to stop the parasites as much as anyone.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: "Doc," who chain smokes and spends nearly every scene he's in hacking up a lung.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Milwaukee Herald reporter Corey Macklin.
  • Mad Scientist: Subverted with Dr. Kitzmiller. Russian scientist Kuryakin is a more straightforward, though benign, example.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Kitzmiller takes his orders from Zachry.
  • Mega-Corp: Biotron.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Steward Mike Endersbee, or as Norman Hastings calls him, a "male stewardess." It's Norman's opinion that any man serving as a flight attendant has to be a homosexual. In reality, Mike is straight and has a girlfriend.
  • The Plague: Although they're brain parasites, the worms behave pretty much like this.
  • Power Born of Madness: The affected people possess superhuman strength. This is due to a mixture of their adrenal glands going nuts and the fact they honestly don't care how much damage their bodies take in their afflicted state. Stu Anderson literally tears himself apart trying to get free from the Biotron orderlies struggling to subdue him, and Norman Hastings is able to wrench open the handle for the emergency exit of the plane he's in despite it being locked in place. Steward Mike Endersbee notes that this shouldn't be possible.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The worms drive people to commit murder and even kill themselves.
  • Save the Villain: Roanne Tesla is the one responsible for the parasites getting out, as she persuaded Eddie Gault to switch the canisters. When a vengeful Eddie tries to kill her, Zachry, for some reason, comes to her rescue. But it's All for Nothing as she ends up getting infected and dying at the end anyway.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Racist airplane passenger Norman Hastings, flipping out, opens the emergency exit door while the plane is in flight, causing himself and several other people to get sucked out to their deaths.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Helicopter pilots Stu Anderson and Lloyd Bratz. As far as they knew, they were just releasing some dye as part of a dispersal test, only to realize too late that the canister containing the dye had been switched with one containing the parasites in an aerosol form, starting the whole thing.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: And the bride widows herself!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Lloyd Bratz. Unlike his co-pilot Stu Anderson, he wasn't afflicted by the parasites, but he's never seen or mentioned again after being detained by Biotron security.