Listen – the first thing you need to understand about paperback science fiction and horror novels of the 1990s is that they were all desperately horny. Depressingly horny. Horny in a way that made me ashamed to be a boy going through puberty. And I wasn’t going through it gracefully – I was shambling into my teenage years like a sex werewolf. Indeed, I suspect most of us make the transition into adulthood in a similar fashion.
But even then, I was more than a little uncomfortable every time I ran boner-first into a clumsily graphic sex scene in my latest Aliens adventure, or was whisked away to a dystopian future in which the men were abstract shapes and the women had enormous breasts that were described in painstaking detail. I quickly learned that genre fiction’s three favorite words to assign to female characters – ample, heaving, and spilling – could also be used to describe WWE Superstar Tugboat at a wine tasting.
I’d be lying if I said the DOOM novel was no different. First of all, merely attempting to turn the experience of DOOM into a novel is the act of a psychopath. Any halfway faithful adaptation would just be a rambling scroll of intense violence, like a list of every sitcom catchphrase written in angel’s blood. It would be the internal monologue of a shark. So the fact that someone managed to wring 250 pages out of that should be cause for alarm – either it will be the worst book ever written, or it will actually open a gate to Hell.
But 1995’s DOOM: Knee-Deep in the Dead by Dafydd ab Hugh and Brad Linaweaver is toweringly unique among creep fiction, a bold piece of art that dares to ask, “What if the hit computer game about a nameless freight train murdering his way through Hell was both upsettingly horny and weirdly Christian?” Like Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Also, I think those phrases are redundant.
The copy I’d purchased way back during the Clinton years had long ago been lost to whatever Bookmobile donation pile I’d abandoned it to, so in order to revisit it for this column, I had to purchase a new copy. And by “new,” I mean “obviously illegal.”
This new version (available on Amazon Dot Com!) has the kind of offset type and blurry cover art that can only be achieved by sending low-resolution PDFs to a print-on-demand service. Indeed, according to the sole line of publication data on the back page, my copy was literally printed the day I ordered it, in Las Vegas. Also, it cost $16, roughly three times as much as the copy I bought 27 years ago. Paperback fiction abides by strict codes, one of which reads, “If a book is taller than normal, it is 300% more expensive.” I can only hope the habit I funded with this purchase is a cool one, like cocaine. Or motocross.
I bring all that up to try and set the worst possible stage for you that I can before we embark on this journey. It’s only fair, because the book itself does the exact same thing when you crack open its throbbing cover and are assaulted by this probable felony:
Now, when I read this back in 1995, I didn’t have a smartphone or the internet, so the only way I was going to crack this nut was if I heaved my ass onto my bicycle and pedaled to the library, and guess what the fuck I wasn’t about to do for the dedication page in the DOOM novel. Consequently, I had no idea what this meant, and just assumed these were two people the authors knew personally. This is not the case.
Camille Paglia is a professor at the University of Arts in Philadelphia, but all you really need to know about her is that in 1993, she voiced her support for NAMBLA, and has written extensively about her belief that “male pedophilia is intricately intertwined with the cardinal moments of Western civilization.” And for some reason, the DOOM novel is dedicated to her with lust. Turgid, anxious lust.
Fred Olen Ray is a film director who, when this novel was published in 1995, had mostly made softcore erotic thrillers. After this book was published, he mostly continued to make softcore erotic thrillers. Dozens of them, in fact.
This is the first fucking page of this book. The first fifteen words are a pledge of allegiance to a sex crime apologist and a Skinemax all-star. Buying it has almost certainly earned me a federal wiretap. Let’s continue wading knee-deep into the dead and see what else lies in wait for us.
We’re introduced to Marine Corporal Flynn “Fly” Taggart, a name invented by an adult in G.I. Joe pajamas. Fly is the main character – the “Doomguy” from the video game. He opens the story by telling us about a recent mission in a fictional Middle Eastern country, which means there’s no excuse for this passage:
The “torn hymen” is not a real place. These two daring authors just decided they wanted to open their book with that image, right after lustily dedicating the story to their favorite NAMBLA booster.
Fly is a classic character – a proud Marine who doesn’t do drugs and practically seethes with friend-zoned boneration at his fellow soldier Arlene Sanders. Fly is such a proud Marine, in fact, that he devotes three paragraphs to a deranged rant about his devotion to the Corps like a kid trying to argue Santa Claus into existence:
… and continues more…
See, now we’re getting close to what a DOOM novel should be, which is “incoherent lip-wiggling.” And there are exactly two moments in this DOOM novel that shine so brilliantly they nearly bathe the sun itself in gold:
That’s some top-shelf gibberhooting. If DOOM: Knee-Deep in the Dead had been 250 pages of this, it would’ve won the Pulitzer Prize and been elected president, and all other books would have been destroyed for their inferiority.
But sadly, it was not to be. Instead, Fly spends most of the book talking about his female squadmates like the goddamn Zodiac killer:
It’s strange that the authors want me to know Arlene is hot, but not too hot. Like they’re trying to convince me that they, personally, have a shot with this make-believe person they’ve created. But don’t worry – although most of Fly’s lurking horniness is focused on Arlene, he does find time to spread it out to the only other woman we meet. Incidentally, she is a corpse, though “still cute,” when we meet her:
With “Dude” Dardier out of the way, Fly can spend the rest of the book leering at Arlene exclusively. He’s a one-woman guy, just like the authors, who were only able to include a second female character if she were stone fucking dead.
The book nearly collapses under its own freewheeling horniness at one point, when Fly briefly pauses in the middle of a medical emergency to drool over Arlene’s tits:
Her amble breasts. The authors have become so horny they have forgotten one of the most important words in the pantheon of horny fiction.
It all leads up to an extremely chaste kiss that was meant to be steamy but comes across as deranged because Fly can’t wrap his mind around having a platonic female friend:
But just in case you thought Fly was some kind of hatchet-faced dweeb, think again, buster. He’s such a glistening fuck horse that Arlene can’t take her eyes off him. And, ok, yes, he is also a dweeb. Such a dweeb that he cannot bear to be seen naked:
You would be forgiven for expecting Fly – the Doomguy himself – to be cool and badass, and not a weirdly repressed ghoul who eye-bangs every woman he encounters while hiding his own shame like a kid who just got pantsed at the bowling alley.
Not only is he a weird, repressed ghoul, but he is technically the most repressed ghoul in the entire galaxy, because this story takes place in space. For instance, the authors thread a subtle anti-drug message throughout the book by casting Fly as a passive aggressive version of McGruff the Crime Dog:
After bragging about getting grease-butter deep in an old-movie orgy, Fly confesses to the time he got hopped up on the magic of Halloween:
He’s so straight edge he even has a problem with demon massacre-enhancing drugs:
Synthetic adrenaline, not even once:
Now, the Doomguy from the video game has eaten so much bath salts that he qualifies as a controlled substance. He doesn’t do drugs because they stopped working on him. Fly, on the other hand, is a nerd who is scared of needles and burns cocaine fields for the CIA. Cool. That’s much better. Having two guys write this book really paid off.
There’s two important reveals in this passage. One, that Fly – and, by extension, the authors – thinks shitty jokes are funny. “Take my name to heart and become a Human Fly”? How dare you. If a child told that joke at a talent show, you would boo that child. You’d have to.
Two, Fly – and, by extension, the authors – hates sicko nightclubs. The tunnel in question in that passage is a normal tunnel, with flickering lights. So the word “sicko” is just describing how Fly feels about nightclubs. Which makes sense, because he – and, by extension, the authors – is a huge nerd.
“The big silly got itself stuck,” says the Hell marine about his 19,721st kill.
Oh, thank fuck. For a second I thought he was serious about the pear tree. What a joke! What a perfectly timed explanation for that joke!
This isn’t really a joke, unless you count the authors’ genuine belief that the word “Indian” is what is problematic about that phrase.
When you’re MADLibbing an alien planet name, you can pick anything. Xorblop, Zantagg IV, whatever. To let your mind wander and have it land directly on the planet “Pornos” is as psychologically revealing as the phrase “Native American giver.”
And just in case you thought jarheads were muscle-bound jocks who think books are a thing you knock out of a dweeb’s hands – which is an experience the authors definitely had, along with several kids who bought this terrible DOOM novel – Fly and Arlene make book jokes. Because they’re strong and cool and they read:
Fly is a genius, instantly and perfectly adopting new vocabulary. “This situation has got eldritch… am I saying that right? Elll-der-itch? Right, all that elstridge is coming out my ass.”
But don’t worry – Fly’s bizarre repression still manages to shine through all these zingers thanks to disturbing acts of borderline sexual violence!
“My eldritch was rock hard, but from excitement, not for his still cute buttless corpse, which making love to would be a cosmic sin. ‘Just say no to sex with this demon, Arlene.’ I told my amble-chested pal. In Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.”
The authors seem to be doing their best to get me to stop reading this book, which is why they thoughtfully throw in a few easter eggs for fans of the game, AKA the only people who would ever purchase a DOOM novel in 1995.
Haha, what a gorm! What a useless, fleshy gorm!
That line is a reference to a cheat code in the game. But you’d probably never be able to tell, because it’s so badass.
There aren’t actually any dick levers in the game. But there should be. And hey! Another opportunity for barely restrained horniness to burst back into the story like a loose circus bear.
At one point, the authors slap the pause button on the action to do some quick swastika rehabilitation:
The marines continue their desperate speculation…
The only people who would include this in a DOOM novel are people trying to convince you it’s okay to own shit with swastikas on it.
This passage also contains the most unexpected reveal of the entire novel – Fly is extremely Christian, and is essentially trying to convert Arlene. In other words, the authors are extremely Christian. Or, at least, they’re pushing an extremely Christian worldview. Also, they notably change the monsters from literal Hell demons to aliens pretending to be Hell demons. Why would aliens pretend to be demons? To scare Earthlings. It’s genius. Also, writing a book about aliens won’t upset Jesus.
Fly constantly mentions going to Catholic school as a kid, and as the novel progresses he begins to slip more and more into it until he is all but quoting scripture. In this novel, Doomguy is a cool youth pastor who is really good at sports and doesn’t do drugs and reads awesome books, and is desperately, ragingly horny inside his mind at all times:
“We might as well play Adam and Eve and… name all the beasts,” is the hardest you can possibly bail on a pickup line. It’s like saying, “We should get out of these wet clothes and… then meet back here from the separate rooms we went to, in Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.”
This is what world-class world-building looks like.
Reminder – this “not huge fan” of morbid jokes fired a machine gun into a monster’s anus and called it a rectal suppository. I suppose if he’d called it a Christ Blast or The Last Suppository, it would’ve been in poor taste.
In the end, Fly’s god-bothering horniness turns Arlene into a believer:
I cannot believe this is the DOOM novel. Two dudes got together and turned DOOM into a bizarre Christian action movie telling kids not to do drugs. It’s like a Left Behind novel dictated by Mr. T, except it sucks.
And it’s weirdly horny, did I mention that? Like, weirdly horny. Kids probably shouldn’t read this. I definitely shouldn’t have.