Peter Clines is fast becoming one of my favorite new writing talents out there. He has written two of the best cross genre zombie tales and his Junkie Quatrain is the zombie story Quentin Tarantino should direct if he ever wants to take a swipe at the undead. 14 takes a different turn, leaving the undead behind and providing the reader with a mystery-thriller that is like a gift wrapped in countless layers of paper that you have to dig through with relentless determination to reveal the truth underneath.
Nate is a working class stiff living near Hollywood who is getting by on data processing temp work that barely pays the bills when his roommates decide to head off in different directions, leaving him searching for a new home with barely the funds necessary to get an apartment. A minor acquaintance suggests a place near Hollywood that has dirt cheap rent and covers the utilities. It seems almost too good to be true, but as Nate settles in and meets several of his neighbors, he begins to notice several strange things about the place. Certain light fixtures don’t work the way they should, apartments are locked up tight with no one living in them for ages, there is an elevator that has never worked, and a storeroom in the basement that is sealed up tight as a drum. Strange cockroaches scrabble across the floor, each apartment has a different floor plan, and it doesn’t appear as if any power lines are coming into the building. On top of it all is a building manager who urges everyone to avoid asking questions and just be grateful for the cheap place to live, which adds even more fuel to the fire and causes Nate and his new found friends to begin investigating everything strange about the place.
Finding out everything he can about the Kavach building becomes Nate’s overriding obsession and he leads what amounts to a Scooby Doo mystery squad of other neighbors on the hunt for the truth. And the truth, slowly revealed in bits and pieces until the whole mystery begins to unravel in faster and faster chunks kept me intrigued throughout. I liked how the story ties in alternative literature, supernatural elements and historical tidbits that gave the story plenty of heft. It is a grand, wide-spanning tale that makes Nate’s obsession make sense and kept me guessing every step of the way, especially as more and more is uncovered about the strange old place. There were plenty of twists and turns and the reveals as the story goes along that were quite satisfying.
Peter Clines has stepped away from the undead and superheroes to provide his audience with something new and fun that I enjoyed a great deal. The characters all had depth that made them feel genuine and real, Nate was a likeable lead and the way he connects with everyone else in the apartment complex was natural and their relationships believable. The creepy elements of the story were well thought out each one is approached with style and wit. A good read for anyone who likes mysteries with a supernatural bent to them. 14 is a blast.
Dead Tropics starts out on a typical morning in Cairns, Australia, except for the fact that several miners have been reported with cases of encephalitis and are being sent to local hospital. They had been given consent to mine in the area of the Cape Tribulation Rain Forest, to the north of Cairns. Lori Nelson is a nurse and mother of three who has to report to her job at the hospital after dropping her kids off for the day.
We soon discover that whatever infection these miners suffered from is something that has been likely buried in this previously untouched rainforest and it brings the dead back to life. Suddenly the world is turned upside down as Lori must join forces with several other members of the hospital staff to fight their way out of the ever increasing circle of danger and death that engulfs the hospital and the downtown area of the city. Within a few brief hours of infection, the miners have died, risen up, and infected everyone around them. Lori’s small crew race ahead of the growing outbreak and try to safely collect those they can save, including Lori’s kids and her sister’s family as well, with the hopes of escaping the city before it’s too late.
This is a zombie tale that definitely speeds along at a rapid pace. Many undead stories that focus on the outbreak itself try to keep the energy level up throughout the story but tend to slow the tempo down at one point or another. Such is not the case here, where the energy level remains high throughout, with barely any time for the reader to breath. Of course, the somewhat unique angle played here is that Lori is a mother, and a fairly normal one at that. She isn’t a superhero or has any special skills outside of the fact that she is a nurse, which does come in handy when an attempt is made to stop infection from spreading from a bite suffered by a loved one. Other than that, the only thing that Lori seems to possess out of the ordinary is a stubborn determination to protect her family and to be a leader who takes charge of every situation they confront. All in all, she is a realistic character that does her best, failing and succeeding in making good choices along the way, like most of us would do under the same circumstances.
It appears that an editing error pointed out by some other reviewers has been taken care of in this electronic version of the book. The only glitch in the story that I noticed was the death and repeat death of a minor character within a couple of pages fairly early in the story. The character is so minor he doesn’t even have a name, just a designation: B2. Even with this, the writing is crisp and keeps things moving along, with little in the way of editing complaints to nag about.
There is a bit of romance in this story, though it doesn’t necessarily distract from the story as it can in some zompoc tales. Lori’s blossoming relationship with Mike is front and center at a few select points in the story, but it remains subtle and in the background the rest of the time as they race from one danger to the next. The important thing, in my mind, is that it didn’t feel forced or overdone. Instead, it was a done with a deft hand and made sense based on the intensity of the experiences the characters were coping with.
As I always try to do, I point out issues that I have with a story. Overall, Dead Tropics is a solid work with a voice not often heard in zombie fiction: that of a mother protecting her family. I did take issue with the fact that while the spread of the virus from the hospital seems to be a uniform process of it going street by street, and inch by inch, it jumps well past its outer range at one point to create a convenient situation for the main character, forcing her to deal with ‘taking care’ of a couple of infected people she knows and who are very important to another key character. The area where this takes place is otherwise still clear of infection-so much so that the next door neighbors seem oblivious to anything impending doom. It is possible and I’m sure there would be an explanation, but it still seemed like a convenient plot development. Still it, like the dual deaths of the insignificant character I mentioned earlier, are minor things, but worth pointing out.
While Dead Tropics is a fairly traditional zombie tale, with Romero type zombies and plenty of gore, mayhem, and bloody action, what makes it really stand out is its main character. There certainly have been other female leads in this genre, but not many (or any that I can think of at the moment) whose focus was on protecting her young children and doing everything she could to keep them alive. There have been those who have lost their children and those who are not the main focus of the tale, but this story zeroes in on her particular experiences and does a good job with it. The author gives us a strong, appealing character with emotional depth and passion without sacrificing anything that the gore hounds and action fans want, which makes this a fun, solid zombie apocalypse read.
Dead Tropics can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Tropics-Sue-Edge/dp/1618680366/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1343572750&sr=1-1&keywords=dead+tropics
Last Stand On Zombie Island briefly provides the reader with an understanding of the virus that causes the zombie apocalypse when it touches down in Los Angeles and rapidly spreads from there, in the first chapter, though this is just a very brief introduction to the inevitable tale any fan of apocalyptic fiction knows extremely well. The author shifts gears in chapter two and from there on out we are focused on Gulf Shores, Alabama, where we are introduced to Billy, a fishing boat captain, as well as the rest of the residents of this popular tourist destination.
The island setting is thrust into the zombie apocalypse with the arrival of the virus through several different sources, including several children who were infected elsewhere and have returned to their schools on the island. In the meantime, there is rumor that the world is either at war or on the brink of it, with nuclear weapons supposedly being launched across the globe while infection rages everywhere. Things break down rapidly on the island too, with Billy desperately scrambling to find his teenage daughter and younger son at their schools while the small army presence and police force try to hold things together, though they face a daunting, uphill battle against a growing number of the infected revealing themselves on the island as well as those looking to charge cross the one still standing bridge from the mainland. At the same time, the reader is also introduced to the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Fishhawk, which joins in the effort to save the island as the world around it crumbles.
Last Stand On Zombie Island does not bring anything new to the table with the undead, which is, as I have said in my past reviews, fine by me. These are traditional Romero zombies for the most part, though it is of note that in addition to their lust for flesh, there are hints at other basic lusts on their part as well, though this is only minimally detailed here and isn’t a factor in the story. We are treated to an ensemble cast, with Billy loosely playing the role of the main character, though the spotlight is shared by several others as well, predominantly military personnel. They are leaders from the army, coast guard, and air force who have come together in their efforts to keep the undead across the bridge and to find other survivor outposts in the surrounding communities and elsewhere. The characters are well detailed and it was easy for me to accept them as genuine. And while there is plenty of action and zombie gore, the characters and their stories are the primary focus here.
What sets this story apart from most other zombie apocalypse sagas is the depth of technical detail with which the author provides us with in regards to the military and virtually every other aspect of survival and experimentation done by the island dwellers in their efforts to not only to stay alive but to thrive under duress. Most importantly, the author did this without bogging the reader down in the minutia that some writers seem quite fond of when they describe weapons, tactics, and combat scenarios in particular. The author never resorts to providing us with laundry list of weapons or regales us with microscopic details that distract from the human element of the saga.
Overall, this book is a solid entry into the zombie subgenre, in particular because of its depth of detail that enhanced, rather than distracted from main story. Things do drag in the middle section of the book, when the initial shock and awe of the zombie onslaught has passed and everyone is doing their best to make due on an island cut off from the mainland while small expeditions are mounted to see if there are other survivors elsewhere. The tale is looser and slower moving at this point, building toward the inevitable storm that is coming, and allows for more character development. It also reveals what is perhaps my only area of significant criticism with this tale, and that is that there is little in the way of human antagonists to be found on its pages. There are a couple of shady characters, but they play a minor role at best in the overall story and add little in the way of conflict into the plot. I guess I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for human weakness and frailties causing even more mayhem than a zombie could possibly dream of creating.
While I would have liked to have seen the pot stirred up a bit with more human machinations, this is a very solid entry into the zombie subgenre that gives us a realistic scenario and tactics that might be used under such dire circumstances. It seems clear from how things end and the fact that there were a few loose ends not tied up by the story’s completion that a sequel is likely in the works, though this book most assuredly can stand on its own. Well thought out with solid action and believable characters, Last Stand on Zombie Island is definitely worth checking out.
Last Stand on Zombie Island can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Last-Stand-Zombie-Island-Christopher/dp/1475210531/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342973474&sr=8-1&keywords=last+stand+on+zombie+island
Mad Mannequins From Hell tells the story of Burton Vilmos, an former movie special effects makeup artist who makes his living these day murdering people for his website. They pay him to do it, and of course, it isn’t them actually getting killed, it is all just gory fun. But when he runs through one of the scripts he came up with for his son, and takes a book his close friend got from a mysterious shop owner to do a séance-like ritual for the scene, all hell breaks loose. In particular, Beelzebub rises up along with a slew of mannequin-possessing demons that terrorize Portland at Christmas time. Max, Burton’s son, disappears and Burton makes it his mission to find him and put a stop to the mess he’s created. Along the way he finds three unlikely allies in a trio of battle nuns, has to avoid a couple of odd-ball cops (one of which is a midget in a Mexican wrestling mask), and of course, a ton of mad mannequins, who are skewering and draining the essence of everyone they come into contact with.
This is a bizarro tale, with plenty of wild, otherworldly elements and it works quite well as a snarky, humorous horror story with some unlikely heroes and villains instead of the more traditional stereotypical character types. The pace is brisk and it was a breeze to get through, with a lot of twisted and devious forms of mayhem being perpetrated by the demon-possessed mannequins, which had me smiling. A great deal of the story reads like a laundry-list of scenes of mayhem not directly attached to the main character. For a time, after the mannequins rise, we get scene after scene of destruction. Some of them work, some don’t, but my real complaint is that it leaves less room for the battle nuns in the book, who were by far my favorite characters. Perhaps that comes from my Catholic upbringing and schooling. I knew plenty of nuns in my youth and while most of them scared me (and intrigued me), very few had the allure of these three demon-slayers. Their weapons and … assets were quite impressive. I would have liked to see more of them in action, and perhaps there is another story the author might share that reveals their saga in greater detail.
Despite these minor grumps, this was a fun, entertaining read. It brought both smiles and grimaces to my face in equal measure, which is always a good thing.
Mad Mannequins From Hell can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Mannequins-Uncanny-Valley-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B0089RDMY2/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342363717&sr=1-1&keywords=mad+mannequins+from+hell
The Reawakening begins with the narrator, Thom Swiftley, a famous novelist, taking his seventeen year old daughter, Dar, up from their Boston home to his brother’s farm in northern Maine. Rick, his brother, was a highly respected geneticist who decided to leave his prestigious career behind to get away from the rat race to grow crops and milk cows, or so it seems. Dar has suffered from numerous mental issues in her life, and has been suicidal throughout much of her teenage years. Thom thinks it would be a good idea for her to see her uncle and favorite aunt before she goes off to college.
Almost immediately things start going wrong on the farm. The cows are acting strange, and so are the birds. Fearing Mad Cow Disease, Rick puts the cows down with his rifle, only to find them back up and trying to kick their way out of their stalls. Rick’s dog has gone mad as well, and so have the pigs. When Rick’s wife gets bitten by one of the cows, she gets a fever, dies, and transforms into some sort of hybrid creature. But before she does that, right after she dies, she speaks of an afterlife and the goal of finding the chosen ones.
More mayhem ensues and when Thom and Dar try to leave the farm, things go even worse for them when she is assaulted at a general store ten minutes from the farm and they have to return. By now, they realize that people are turning into flesh eating monsters (those that are bitten by animals take on some genetic characteristics of the animals that bit them, while those who die in a ‘normal’ fashion become the more traditional slow moving zombies). Rick dives into the mystery of how this happens with scientific zeal as they stay tucked away, safe on the barricaded farm. They are joined by others: one of Rick’s neighbor’s family and a passing biker named Thorn.
The sudden and abrupt changes happening to everything around them transforms Dar dramatically. In particular, the assault she is forced to endure at the general store is the seeming catalyst to a total mutation in personality. It almost seemed as if everyone who has been bitten or dies has reawakened into something different, but even though she hasn’t been bitten, she has been altered as well: into a hate machine. She not only hates the reawakened monsters, but everyone and everything, including her father, who she blames for her life up to this point.
This tale is an intriguing variation on the traditional zombie apocalypse storyline, with the transformed becoming something significantly different than the zombies we have come to know and fear. I am always up for a different approach to the formula, and this one certainly veers in a different direction than you might expect. The mystery here is whether this transformation is genetic, which Rick adheres to or if the transformation is more of a supernatural process, given how the undead initially react before becoming ravenous flesh eaters, as Thom suspects. The brother’s clash on this subject endlessly, as well as on other topics.
Fair warning: this book does not provide the reader with much in the way of characters to identify with or root for. I found it difficult to have much sympathy for anyone but a couple of secondary characters given how everyone seems to transform into loathsome people as things got worse around them. This applies in particular to Dar, whose transformation into a kick-butt undead slayer brought with it a lot of hate, spite, and anger. Essentially, a suicidal teenager unleashes the hatred she had for herself onto the entire world. Not just on those who have been reawakened, but everyone who is still alive. And somehow everyone seems to willingly accept her abuse without question and meekly follow her lead. That her father falls in line with how she acts and Rick, his brother, seems to encourage her ravenous lust for destruction of the undead, are only part of the reasons why I found both of those characters repugnant. Thom is a wimp and Rick has plenty of even more despicable traits.
While this commentary may seem like harsh criticism of the book, it isn’t. Loathsome characters are often some of the most interesting ones in literature. I did feel that Dar’s transformation seemed a bit over the top, thought it becomes more plausible given the environment she resides in throughout the book: with a bunch of people unwilling to say or do anything to stop her-especially her father. Given how much of a spineless cur he was, it made what she became a bit more believable. Still, her transformation seemed extreme, especially given the fact that everyone seemed more than willing to follow this eighteen-year-old’s lead into danger.
Overall, this was an intriguing tale, with a wild new slant on the undead apocalypse. There are some interesting twists and turns and since this is only the first of a planned trilogy, there are naturally quite a few loose ends left unraveled. It will be interesting to see where things go from here for Thom, Dar, and the survivors.
Ravenous: Through the Eyes of Bigfoot is a short story that gives us a brief insight into what the life of a Bigfoot creature may be like. Terrill goes by that name only because it is the sound his mother made before abandoning him. He is a lone hunter, wandering the wilderness facing off again bears and smaller prey, but has crossed paths with men before. He does not fear them-he does not fear anything. They appear to be weak and like him, are not animals. Terrill has created his own goes in lieu of having any guidance from any other Bigfoots, and sacrifices to them.
The story covers his experience with mankind, learning that while they are weaker in many ways, being much smaller and soft, but have weapons and don’t act like the animals, who flee and never return when one of them gets attacked. Humans are willing to hunt him and try to destroy him before he wipes them all out.
Again, this is a short story, but it still provides the reader with a good understanding of both the violent and somewhat sad existence of this solitary hunter. The best story I’ve read from Keith so far, and this certainly has the potential to be expanding into a larger tale.
Raveous: Through The Eyes of Bigfoot can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Ravenous-Through-Keith-Adam-Luethke/dp/1475221681/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1342284182&sr=1-1&keywords=ravenous%3A+through
Rotter World starts out in the post apocalyptic environs of Maine, where a group of survivors that have set up a safe haven and are asked to go after a small group trapped and surrounded by zombies out in the wastelands by their leader, which is a far more dangerous undertaking than normal. But they soon discover why they’ve been asked to take such a risk when they conduct the rescue and recover a doctor who claims to have created a vaccination for the undead virus. This virus was created by the government but was never intended to be used as a weapon…at least not until vampires stole it and unleashed it upon the human world with the hopes of preventing the living from wiping them out for good.
Among these survivors is a small band of vampires who have made a truce with the humans. Their race did unleashed the virus, not realizing that the zombies created with the plague would crave vampire flesh as much as human and proceed to find root out the vamps when they were at their most vulnerable-during daylight hours while they sleep. Now the few that remain must work side by side with those they once considered to be cattle to avoid going extinct.
The rescued doctor proposes a mission for the survivors. He needs to get to his government lab in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to retrieve his research and craft the initial doses of the vaccine. They survivors will serve as his escort through rotter infested lands. They agree but insist that most of the vamps go along with them despite the fact that the doctor, along with his military escort, despise the vampire race and would like nothing more than to see them all wiped out for the curse they unleashed on humanity.
Rotter World starts out at a slow pace, with plenty of flashbacks to get the reader up to speed with most of the characters, then picks up speed as the mission to Gettysburg gets underway. The action is intense and the gore graphic enough to satisfy most zompoc fans. The conflicts between the humans and vamps are interesting, but I wished they had been explored in great depth. The vamps in this story are, for lack of a better word, honorable. They avoid causing conflicts with the humans and tend to avoid getting near anyone who don’t trust them or even hates them. It would have been interesting to see more of the dark side of the blood suckers, even though there is plenty of human drama to deal with in this tale. As is the case with most quality zombie tales, the flesh eaters are a nightmarish menace but they are nothing compared to the few devious humans who tend to cause far more trouble than the undead ever could for the rest of the survivors.
I enjoyed this story, especially toward the end when things got quite intense and the danger everyone was facing felt tangible and made my heart race. The author offers up a creative new twist on the traditional zombie tale with the introduction of another undead race. Plenty of the human and vampire characters were well developed and gave me someone to root for (and to root against). The story can certainly stand on its own though I suspect the author will be crafting a sequel, which won’t elicit any complaints from me-I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next with those who made it through to the last page of Rotter World.
Tall Tales With Small Cocks is an anthology from Bizarro Press. It is a series of short stories (along with one poem) that range from bizarro to straight up horror tales. A brief overview of the tales in this compendium:
In The Flesh by John McNee is a mix of steampunk and bizarro, with a mechanical detective on the hunt for a flesh covered woman hiding out at a living, breathing flesh hotel.
Help! My Ass Has Rabies! By Adam Millard tells the story of a fast food employee and an attack of a virus with some teeth to it that rampages through the restaurant where he works.
Zeitgeist by Arthur Graham gives us a parody of the trials and tribulations that come along with trying to get a new TV show produced.
The Zombies of Killimanjaro by Jon Konrath is about a man waiting for the zombie infection to take hold of him after he’s scratch while he sits on Killimanjaro reflecting on his past.
I am a Whale by Robin Wyatt Dunn is a brash poem about the grandeur of a whale and how humans suck by comparison.
Yappy the Happy Squirrel by Dominic O’Reilly regales us with a battle between man and squirrel kind and the god-like melon that would save us all.
MouseTrap by Wol-vriey reads like a bizarro fairy tale with a wind up mouse, an obese house wife and the ungrateful men in her life.
Regressive by Nathan J.D.L. Rowark is a horror story about the elderly taking a miracle drug that ends up turning them into monsters.
The Night of the Walrus by Gabino Inglesias dives into a seedy underworld filled with desperate Walruses, midget gangsters and toasters possessed by the elder gods.
Someone who enjoys both horror and bizarro should find something to enjoy among these tales, though as is the case with every anthology, not all tales resonate equally. Special mention go to In The Flesh, Zeitgeist, and MouseTrap, all three of these stories had their own distinct bizarro flare that brought a twisted smile to my face as I read them. A couple of stories didn’t have any bizarro elements to them and were more pure horror, but that was okay for me as a fan of both genres. There weren’t any duds here, though a couple of the stories didn’t leave me with any lasting memory of them. A few others did leave an aftertaste…and that to me is what is best about short stories-if they have the power to stick with you long after you read them. You’ll get a few of those here.
Tall Tales with Small Cocks can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Tall-Tales-Short-Cocks-Anthology/dp/0615635474/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341170946&sr=1-1&keywords=tall+tales+and+short+cocks