Review of Michael S. Gardner’s “Betrayal”
Betrayal is one of those quick getaways that doesn’t require a lot of time but packs a nice little punch. A novella that is a very easy read, this is a zombie tale that perhaps might not give you as much time to get emotionally invested in the characters as a full blown novel, but it’s more than just a tidbit you get from a short story that might elicit a smirk or a gasp of revulsion, but not much else.
The story is pretty simple. A group of survivors have built walls around a farm to keep the undead at bay and a few select members of the group go out via helicopter to collect whatever supplies they can gather on a weekly basis-into a city that is filled with zombies and less and less supplies each trip they take. The author adds the twist that people are dying-not just from whatever turns people into the undead, but from a variety of regular ailments that are much more difficult to deal with the lack of modern medicine at everyone’s finger tips. So the desperation of the survivors is even greater.
A supply run goes wrong, as have others before, and this time a couple of marines are left behind when the helicopter pilot, an unrepentant self-absorbed jerk, decides that they are taking too long to get back to the meeting place where he set down. Despite his urge to take off and abandon the camp, he returns and goes on another mission later, where he discovers the cost of his betrayal.
Betrayal is a quick, brutal trip to hell-a rip-the-band aid-off type of story that I would say goes down smooth because it is such an easy read, but the ride is a bit bumpier than that-with a few twists put into play for those who like to mix things up with their undead.
Betrayal can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00C0BVS1C/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Review of Michael Ivan Lowell’s “The Suns of Liberty: Revolution”
The Suns of Liberty: Revolution is a superhero fable that takes place in an alternate time stream where the Great Recession has turned into a new Great Depression. As a result, power has been handed over to the most potent remaining corporations to run the country. Dubbed the “Freedom Council” they control things while the government remains in control in name only.
Rising up in the aftermath of this transition in power is a superhero dubbed “The Revolution” who is an armored warrior willing to fight to stop the tyranny of this new form of despotic government. Others rise as well; copy-cats who want to be heroes who fight crime and give the people hope. Some have legitimate talents, like Paul Ward, who has crafted an armored flight suit and can fire darts that knock his enemies out, while others are less impressive. Some, like Lithium, are state sanctioned and fight crimes that are set-ups made for the TV audience-they support the new government and while they have real superpowers, they are more-or-less at war with The Revolution and those who would oppose this new form of government.
The main character of this tale, for all intents and purposes, is Paul, who has been dubbed the “Spider Wasp” after a confrontation with a gang of bank robbers. He is seeking revenge for the death of his son at the hands of thugs, which also caused his wife to commit suicide. He is a doctor and a former Harvard Professor who is fascinated with The Revolution and the mythology surrounding the rebellious hero. This tale follows Paul’s experiences with The Revolution and the group of underground heroes that work with him fomenting a new American Revolution.
Michael Ivan Lowell has written an intriguing tale of new superheroes for a world where corporate power has gotten out of control-with a shimmer of our reality mirrored on its pages. Taking place mainly in Boston, the reflections of the original Revolutionary War are easily recognized within the story. The author has crafted a set of heroes that mostly utilize technology rather than having any innate superpowers, except in one particular case. In some ways, this story reminds me Watchmen with its alternate history (though this takes place in the near future rather than in the near past). Superheroes that aren’t quite immaculate in how they operate and how they function-while they may wish to do well, they are far from perfect.
The story is fun and the creation of a set of heroes is creative-while there are similarities to other superheroes the reader already know and recognize, they do have their own unique flavor and take on things, especially in a world where the United States has essentially turned into a dictatorship. It is easy to see where this saga could carry forward with several additional volumes by the author. It will be interesting to see what new characters (both good and evil) he can craft to carry the story forward beyond this tome.
As I always attempt to do, I try to point out any issues or concerns I had with a book, and with The Suns of Liberty: Revolution it came down to the fact that the author spends much of the book telling the reader things rather than showing them. The history of many of the characters is revealed not through interactions with them, but by a synopsis of their past and their personality type. This is a bit distracting-I tend to prefer characters being revealed by inches and often not knowing everything about them right away. I realize that with a book that has this many complex characters it would be difficult to really dig deep without the book being twice as long, but as mysterious a character as The Revolution is, the rest of the cast was much more of an open book. Again, it is clear with a book such as this, it is often hard to let the characters do a slow reveal-especially those destined to become superheroes or villains-unless it is an origin story. Instead, we are introduced to what amounts to The Justice League or Avengers in full swing here, so it’s not surprising that a few liberties with the story telling style were taken to get the reader up to speed.
The Suns of Liberty: Revolution provides a solid new world filled with darkness and a new hope for the downtrodden, and was a fun read. It will be interesting to see where the author takes this tale in future volumes.
The Suns of Liberty: Revolution can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00C0HB7DK/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Review of “Tales of the Undead: Hell Whore”
Tales of the Undead-Hell Whore is the first in a series of anthologies, with this one specifically having as its theme devilish women. The overall title “Tales of the Undead” is perhaps a bit inaccurate, since many of these stories have nothing to do with the undead, but the subtitle is certainly more of a description of what is included within its pages. In some stories, this association is obvious, while in others that association to evil women is a lot more subtle.
It is often difficult to provide a review of an anthology because almost without fail, they are a mixed bag. A consistent theme often allows for a more comprehensive overview-each author provides a story to the mix that sticks to a sometimes loose, but understood guideline. TotU-HW does have a theme, but it runs the gambit with stories of vampires, ghosts, demons, witches, Satan, human-animal hybrids, werewolves, ancient gods, sexually voracious women, and even more of a mix of swirling horrors. And that isn’t even mentioning the poems, which are as diverse a lot as the short stories.
There were some gems in this book from my perspective, including “Entre of the Damned” and “Girls are Icky”, both appreciated for entirely different reasons, and of course some stories that did not click, which I will admit is more due to personal preference rather than the quality of the work, at least in most cases. The writing styles here are quite diverse, with everything from the delicately subtle to in your face. I enjoyed “Who F&*ked Up Kelly Yesterday?” because I have a taste for bizarro horror, while I know that there will be plenty of folks who would be repulsed by this story’s audacity. There were a few stories that I felt that the writing was a bit rough, with both the story itself and the way the author telling it making it feel forced and hard to get through, but there those were only a select few out of this bunch. There were some sagas that felt incomplete to me-either telling instead of showing and letting the tale reveal itself, or in one case where the writing style seemed a bit forced and awkward- like the author was providing a summary rather than providing the reader with the story itself.
Anthologies are journeys where the road is both smooth and bumpy at different times. Rarely do you find a short story compendium where every story hits the mark. But finding a short story or poem you really enjoy and that will stick with you makes the journey through the good, the great, and the bad worthwhile. Tales of the Undead-Hell Whore is such an anthology.
Tales of the Undead: Hello Whore can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BLR40A2/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Review of Michael S. Gardner’s “Downfall”
Downfall starts out fast and rarely lets its foot up off the gas pedal throughout. There is plenty of action, blood, guts, and mayhem to keep the zombie fan’s adrenaline pumping. The story introduces us to Matt, the main character, and Cole, his best friend, who have managed to make it through the first few weeks of the zombie apocalypse with a small group of other survivors, including Cole’s girlfriend, in a suburban area of Virginia.
We are also introduced to a wide variety of undead. There is danger not just from the shambling, slow rotters that surround them, but from mutations that cause them to elicit attributes that range from speed, greater predatory instincts, to having unnatural strength and size. Included in this mix are undead dubbed titans. Rarely seen, but virtually unstoppable giants, they hint at an ongoing cycle of mutations among the undead.
Matt and Cole are making due as best they can out in the wastelands, saving who they can while realizing that survival means that they sometimes have to be ruthless, not only with the undead but even with the bitten that have yet to die and turn. Naturally, there are human predators as well who pose a threat to others who wish to survive. The world, as it has always been, is filled with dangers both inhuman and human alike.
Among the survivors they come across is a scientist who claims to know where there is a safe haven-a research facility turned military base down in North Carolina. Though skeptical, the survivors continue to work at protecting themselves out in the wilds while the lure of this promised sanctuary weighs on each of them, especially as the loss of life piles up.
The relationship between Matt and Cole drives this story. While they have suffered at points they seem to be enjoying the apocalypse with their penchant for weapons and weed going hand in hand. We often see characters that are endlessly distraught or seem to be near-superheroes in the face of a zombie onslaught. Rarely have I read a story where the characters seem to be more like the fans of zombie fiction, or least how many of us who are fans of the genre picture ourselves. There is a bit of a devilish delight in being able to let loose and lash out at the world at large with no moral repercussions. Don’t get me wrong, the boys aren’t impervious to the despair this new world causes them and the tough decisions it forces them to make, but they seem to appreciate finding new ways to kill the creatures that destroyed their lives. In a world getting flushed down the toilet, they’ve found a way to gain some enjoyment on the trip down.
I read a version of this tale a couple of years ago, after the author’s first draft was completed. He did modify it somewhat, with some new and interesting elements. As this is his first novel, he also did some polishing to the tale that gives his characters some added emotional heft. The fun Matt and Cole have in crafting plans to keep their people safe and to gather supplies in a dangerous, dead world remains, while the depth of their emotions has grown. Still, it avoids getting bogged down in the melancholia that can often plague apocalyptic tales. The pacing is solid, and while the story tends to meander a bit, with minimal direction for the characters to take, the action remains fast and furious, with a lot of entertaining splatter and action for the zombie fan to sink their teeth into.
Downfall can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CS94UL6/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Review of Vincenzo Bilof’s Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension Book 1
Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension Book One starts out introducing us to Bob, a mercenary for hire who is looking for a serial killer named Traverse, a former Special Forces operative. Traverse is wanted alive despite the gruesome crimes he’s committed over many years of being on the run. When he finds Traverse, the madman speaks of a gate being open that will cause the end of the world. Captured, he is committed to an insane asylum in Detroit.
Three years later, Bob is called upon again, this time with two of his best mercenaries-Miles and Vega- in tow. He has to capture Traverse again, pulling him out of the same insane asylum he was put in for his crimes. The only problem: Detroit is in the throws of a brutal riot, with the city tearing itself apart piece by piece. It is fast becoming clear that this is not your normal riot because the rioters are eating one another.
The story follows Bob’s mission, but also introduces the reader to several other citizens of Detroit who are coming to grips with the situation they’ve found themselves in, including a lawyer, his drug-addled brother, a gang banger, an ex-cop pornographer and his former girlfriend, and a porn starlet currently residing in the same insane asylum as Traverse because she has a penchant for cannibalism.
While Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension does share similarities with many other tales focused on the initial hours and days that the dead rise, with plenty of panic, gore, and horrific frights, it is how the dead rise and the characters that inhabit this story that make it unique. Detroit has a reputation for being a rough city and it makes for a gritty urban setting for this story. The ensemble cast is headed up by Vega, the female mercenary, Traverse, an insane prophet and murderous madman, and Griggs, the ex-cop who wants to keep on making porn movies while the world unravels around him. This is a very interesting story with Traverse and Mina meeting up at the asylum on the day the undead rise taking center stage. Mina is Griggs former girlfriend and star of his porn movies, at least until she ate the last actor she worked with. Traverse has plans for Mina, and knows that she is more than just another run of the mill psychopath.
The pacing is fast and the action steady in this tale, while the characters are a mixed bag of oddities. They definitely kept me guessing from start to finish, with some of the deaths being rather surprising, and their actions even being more surprising. It’s hard to argue about realism when the characters are so strange and different than the norm.
There is a bigger picture here. The rise of the dead is not through the traditional means readers of zombie fiction are used to, and it is clear by the title that the author intends to reveal all that is kept secret in this book over the course of a likely trilogy.
The author took on a sizable cast of characters and did an admirable job of allowing the reader to see the world through many of their eyes. The characters of Traverse, Vega, and Griggs were intriguing to me. Some of the other characters, such as the lawyer and junkie who were brothers, didn’t resonate. The author makes a game effort to give their story emotional heft, but their story felt hollow to me. And while I didn’t necessarily like most of the characters in this book, I don’t consider that a negative. They kept me intrigued, even if I wasn’t necessarily rooting for any of them. Some of them grew on me in small amounts, and it will be interesting to see how the characters that remain at the end of the book grow and transform through the rest of this series.
Overall, Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension Book One, has way too long of a title, but is a very interesting contribution to the zombie genre. This isn’t your workaday saga about average people trying to make due in a world gone mad, but is about a bunch of mad people living in the eye of the undead storm. Mr. Bilof has me intrigued enough that I feel compelled to check out the next book in this series when it becomes available.
Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension Book One can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/098747653X/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Beyond The Dark is available in all formats!
Permuted Press has completed the release process for Beyond The Dark with paper, ebook, and audio versions all now available. This finishes off the new version of the trilogy, and as I mentioned when the ebook version was released, this version of Beyond The Dark has the Dark Stories that were included in the original ebook trilogy release, plus some new additions, including a short story originally seen in “Eyewitness: Zombie”, an anthology produced by May December Publications. This is a tale of a National Guardsman told in first person which takes place in the early days of battle to fight the undead plague. There is also a brief appearance by two of the characters that appear in the trilogy toward the end of the story and hints at their future plans. A brand new Dark story makes its debut in this novel. Lydia, one of the characters introduced in Into The Dark was one of the few key secondary characters who didn’t get the flashback treatment. One of the reviewers of the original Dark Stories was disappointed she didn’t get the same treatment as everyone else did. I agreed, and since I always knew what Lydia’s history, I was able to craft her story for the release of this book in short order. I have a great fondness of Lydia and I hope that you enjoy the tale of her first exposure to having her world turned upside down by the undead plague. When people ask me what my favorite book of the trilogy is, its sort of like being asked to to choose between your children. I sort of feel awkward answering that question. But, since I have always thought of the trilogy as one saga, I do feel that Beyond The Dark does comprise the parts of the tale that are the most compelling, the ones that wrung the most emotions out of me in writing it. It is also the book that gets the highest praise-a lot of ‘he saved the best for last’. There is more stories to be told in this world and I plan on revisiting it, but the Dark Trilogy stands on its own, and Beyond The Dark is my favorite part of the trilogy. There, I said it. I still love Comes The Dark and Into The Dark, but this is the piece of the puzzle I’m most proud of…and I hope you enjoy it. Just click on the cover and you’ll be taken to a page that lets you choose which version of the book you want. Thanks!