Writer of Horror Fiction

Archive for June, 2013

Review of Gregory Solis’ “Rise and Walk: Pathogen”

Rise and Walk: Pathogen is Gregory Solis’s sequel to his 2007 debut novel, Rise and Walk.  The sequel has been a long time coming and I would be lying if I said I remembered all of the details from the original novel Mr. Solis put out six and a half years ago.  Thankfully, a refresher of my review of the first book and jumping right into this new tale brought me up to speed.  In Rise and Walk we are introduced to Tony and Mason, two members of a paint ball team who have arrived in the mountains for a tournament.  Not so far away, parts of a strange meteor have landed, causing a pathogen to infect the living, turning them into the undead.  As things go south and the dead begin devouring the living wholesale, the two men join up with two young women who work at the local general store at the lake where the tournament is supposed to take place.  Together, they flee into the mountains and must cope with the onslaught of the undead while also dealing with the even more dangerous living.

The original novel, as I had described it in my review, was entertaining zombie fare, though the author’s writing was a bit rough, as is often the case with a debut novel.  There was a lot of enthusiasm for the material and the story was fun, if perhaps lacking in emotional depth.  This was a simple adventure novel for the zombie enthusiast to enjoy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  The book was fun-a quick and easy read.  I say all this not to disparage this original story, but more as a way to point out the differences between it and this new book.  Rise and Walk: Pathogen is a distinctly different novel from the first.  Not the story itself.  It starts off where the last book ended, and follows our four survivors on day two of their efforts to avoid getting devoured.  Mason wants to return to Berkley, where he and Tony are from, to make sure his family is safe, while Tony is more inclined to help Nikki and her quest to find her own parents in the small town of Whisper where this story takes place.  Where things differ between the two books, by my estimation, is in the character development and the polish the author shows in his writing.  The tension and dialog between the characters feels more real, this story has a broader scope (with a villain that is both far more menacing and yet far more subtle than in the first book), and the author caused me to care about what happens to these people.  Even his secondary characters are far more intriguing, especially Margaret, whose story is quite touching.  There are a few typos here and there, but nothing too noticeable.  Overall, this is a far more well-crafted effort.

It has been a long time coming since Mr. Solis wrote his debut novel, but the sequel was worth the wait and was a very pleasant surprise.  My hope is that the third book in the saga takes a few years less than the six to get published, because I am definitely looking forward to what I presume is the climax of this zombie saga.

Rise and Walk: Pathogen can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00D1WXA2O/ref=cm_cr_thx_view

Review of Bryon Morrigan’s “The Desert”

The Desert is author Bryon Morrigan’s debut novel and tells the tale of a mysterious abandoned village buried deep in the Iraqi Desert found not once, but twice by the U.S. military.  The main story takes place in 2009 and introduces the reader to Specialist Densler and the Captain he is carting around in a Humvee on the hunt to find WMD’s.  They stumble onto an area where GPS doesn’t work and come across the body of a soldier and his journal.  It becomes immediately clear that the solider went missing six years earlier along with the rest of “Eight Up Platoon” near the beginning of the invasion of Iraq.  The Captain is excited to find the journal and possible clues as to what happened to the rest of the men, but when reading the journal it becomes clear that something strange is at work in the small village.  Green mist flows out from the ground at night and there are hints of shadowy creatures wandering about.  Plus they can’t find anyone else’s body.

This is a fast moving horror story that reads easy and keeps the energy up throughout.  Short chapters give the story a sense of urgency, and flashbacks to the old journal entries sparked my curiosity about what was really going on.  Densler’s thoughts about his Captain get a little bit repetitive-the Captain is an incompetent coward in Densler’s eyes and nothing that happens in the story disputes that belief.  This served as a bit of a distraction for me, but I enjoyed this story despite this minor irritation.  The author comes up with a creative batch of monsters rising up from the bowels of the earth through a dark pit in the ground, and even some pretty interesting theories about where they came from, which kept me tuned in the whole way.

I previously read the author’s follow up novel, Archeron, so I sort of got things backward.  While it would have been best to read this book first, Archeron does a solid job of standing on its own, as does The Desert.  I have to admit I enjoyed this, the author’s first effort, more than his second.  My review of Archeron details my issues with that story, which definitely has its merits and was a fun read in its own right.  The Desert was a more intriguing and provides more of an introduction to this strange new world that intrigued me.  I am gathering there will be a sequel to Archeron.  It is clear there is more story to tell.

Much like I stated in my other review, I give high praise to the author for crafting an intriguing mythology that give his book a unique flavor.  He has an excellent knowledge of the military and that shows in his work as well, though his disdain for commissioned officers is hard to miss and is somewhat distracting.  The Desert is a fun read, and while Archeron is, in my view, not quite as good, it is still an entertaining continuation of this saga, and gives me plenty of reason to want to check out the author’s third act when it comes out.

The Desert can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004XJKYKU/ref=cm_cr_thx_view

Review of Gareth Wood’s “Age of the Dead”

Age of the Dead is the sequel to Gareth Wood’s Rise, which was released by Permuted Press last year, but was originally created in a serial blog format several years back.  The first story tells the tale of Brian and his experiences during the weeks and months following the rise of the undead.  It provides us with his efforts to survive with his sister and the woman he meets who eventually becomes his wife.  It ends with him the leader of a scavenging team sent out from Cold Lake, where the military has created a safe haven for most of the survivors in Western Canada.  Age of the Dead continues where Rise left off, with Brian and his crew going on missions to either retrieve much needed supplies out in the wastelands or to find more survivors.

Both books were written in first person, with the first book being done in journal format.  Everything is told from Brian’s perspective with all the limitations and advantages that format yields.  The author changed things up a bit with Age of the Dead, and while the story is told in first person once again from Brian’s perspective, it is no longer in journal format.  There is dialog and there isn’t that sense of premonition you get from a journal where the author hints at the action to come at the beginning of every journal entry.  A journal is like reading a newspaper article about something that happened the day before, whereas the new format the author uses in his second book puts the reader right into the action.

The writing here is smooth and the story flows well, though there really isn’t any specific direction the author seems to be taking with the story.  I had mentioned in my review of Rise that the book could have cut off earlier-when Brian and company find their way to the safety of Cold Lake, but carried on with his first missions doing salvage.  This story, much like the last part of the previous book, carries on with that theme.  The action is more intense and there is a willingness here to let some of the characters die, which was a change from the first book.  The adventures Brian and company have were enjoyable to read about, but I was often left wondering where things were headed.  There are hints toward the end of the book that the story might get more focused in the third installment, which shows good promise.

Overall, the quality of this installment is good and the writing format is more satisfying than the first book.  There is more emotional heft to Brian here-the stakes are higher than before.  At the same time, I would like to see the story take a more specific direction.  The missions Brian takes on with his crew could go on indefinitely.  But as I already alluded to, there are indications that the third book will have a more specific direction and a more defined objective in mind.  I look forward to seeing what the author does with this tale going forward.

Age of the Dead can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1618680501/ref=cm_cr_thx_view

Review of Tim Curran’s “Cannibal Corpse, M/C”

Tim Curran’s Cannibal Corpse, M/C is a wild ride into a post-apocalyptic wasteland with John Slaughter, Pittsburgh Chapter President of the Devil’s Disciples, leading the way.  He is the last of the free members of his motorcycle club, one of the 1%ers that commits everything they have and everything they will ever be to the patch they wear on their sleeve and what it represents.  The world has ended, or so it seems, and the dead have risen from the grave.  Strange rains filled with mysterious red worms have infected much of the population, turning them into something that resembles zombies, though this crop of the undead are pretty unique.  They crave human flesh, but they continue to have some semblance of the minds they once had.  They are evil, semi-demonic puppets that not only devour but gleefully torture the living.  The western half of the U.S. is a wasteland of the dead now, with what remains of the country under government control a sliver of what it once was.  The dead rule, along with the barbaric living militias like the Red Hand and the mutants that were created after nukes were dropped to stem the tide of the dead.  Into this wasteland heads John, who has too many people chasing him and too much desire for the freedom of the open road to remain in civilized territories.  At least until members of the military catch up with him and put him on a mission he can’t refuse.  They’ll free some members of his club that are in prison to ride with him into the wastelands where they need to save a biologist who may have a cure for the plague that has caused the rain of worms to fall. 

Cannibal Corpse, M/C is definitely not your typical apocalyptic zombie tale.  The author seems to know quite a bit about biking culture and John’s rough demeanor and loyalty to his friends kept this one entertaining from start to finish.  John is almost fearless, almost ruthless, almost like his club’s name would hint at: a disciple of the devil.  He kills without remorse, he is brutal, and he is vicious, but there are hints of his humanity as well that sneak through during this story that made him an interesting character and someone who you can find just palatable enough to root for when he is dealing with the hell on earth that surrounds him.  While the story starts out as more or less an adventure tale that takes place on the open road, it becomes something more dark and sinister with every page.  I didn’t expect the twists and turns that came about, especially in the second half of the story, but found them intriguing nonetheless. 

Where things bogged down for me with this saga was in the hyperbole the author uses to describe things, especially in the latter half of the book.  Not only is the gore in Technicolor 3D, which is in and of itself not a bad thing (in fact, for the gore hounds out there it is probably a big plus), but many of the details of the story are over described in lurid detail, distracting from the narrative in some ways.  I don’t consider this to be a major issue with the story, because it still read fast and easy and I was compelled to finish this intriguing story, it just felt like the descriptions went further than necessary in several instances. 

Despite this minor gripe, this was a fun, entertaining apocalyptic tale.  If you like your zombies traditional, this one probably is probably going to be hard to swallow, but it is worth checking out even for the zombie “purists” out there, because Slaughter is a fascinating and entertaining anti-hero and a one bad mutha.   

Cannibal Corpse, M/C can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1618680587/ref=cm_cr_thx_view

Review of Michael S. Gardners “Death in the Times of Madness”

Death In The Times of Madness is Michael S Gardner’s compendium of short stories, many of which have a zombie slant to them, as that is his first passion in writing.  He’s also published a novella and novel that are zombie-centric too.  There are some stories here that diverge from that path though, giving the reader a bit of diversity, though the author ‘sticks with the scrip’ and doesn’t move too far off from what a zombie fan will enjoy.  From tales of personal woe to stories that are far grander is scope, the author explores some interesting topics and provides the reader with some moments that really resonate.

Of course, not every story packs the same punch and not all of them were hits in my opinion, but overall, this collection showcases an author who has grown as a writer over the past few years, with his ability to craft characters and stories getting sharper and stronger with time.  Some of the tales have no message, just provide simple entertainment, while others pack more emotional heft and lingered in my mind after their completion.  Overall, this is a fun, easy-to-read collection of mostly zombie tales that shows the talents of an independent author who continues to get better with every story he writes.

Death In The Times of Madness can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1481228196/ref=cm_cr_thx_view

Review of Iain McKinnon’s “From The Torment of Dreams”

Iain McKinnon, known for his apocalyptic zombie novels Domain of The Dead and Remains of The Dead moves into the realm of science fiction with From The Torment of Dreams, which has absolutely nothing to do with zombies.  In deep space, a war is being waged between the Terrain Alliance and one of their subjugated colonies, Neotra.  The author doesn’t provide the reader with an in depth political explanation of why the Neotrans have fought to separate themselves from Earth and its allies at the start of this tale, instead choosing to thrust us right in the middle of a battle in space, or to be more exact, a rebellion ambush of a ship filled with ground troops being brought in to fortify the Alliance’s positions.  The only survivor of a devastating attack on the ship is Lan, a young man who joined the military to get away from a lost love.  Unfortunately for Lan, his cryogenically induced deep space dreams are filled with visions of Nicola, his former love, playing in his head like a broken record.  Even as he awakens to make his way to an escape pod as the ship is breaking up, visions of the woman he loved and who dumped him plague him relentlessly.

We are also introduced to Captain Jackson, one of the rebel leaders of the assault on Lan’s ship, who crosses paths with the injured soldier as the battle rages on aboard ship.  Mistaken for another rebel when Terrain reinforcements arrive, Lan is imprisoned along with Jackson and his crew.

At the same time, we are introduced to Zinner, who is a Bavashee, a part of the Terrain military Special Forces who are genetically grown to be the perfect warriors.  Only a few remain in the galaxy (they were plentiful during the Apocalypse Wars in the ancient past), and Zinner is one of the best still around.  In his efforts to infiltrate Neotran on a secret mission, he comes across and wipes out a small, somewhat primitive village far away from the main civilized outposts of the colony, in an effort to maintain secrecy.  He kills them all out except for Nasim, who was away from the village at the time, returning to discover the horror Zinner and his team have left behind.  Nasim, who has some intriguing talents of his own, chooses to pursue the Special Forces leader in an effort to get revenge.

The author pulls together a great many ‘smaller’ and ‘bigger’ subplots while the threads of the main story get weaved together with the others at a steady pace.  The author leaves the main path a time or two, but always returns to it in time.  With these diversions we get to see the war in a bigger picture format-from the Terrain General discussing strategy with his right hand man to one of the men plotting to assassinate a key political figure.  The plot does meander a bit, but the stories kept my interest throughout.

The writing here is solid, and Iain has a strong concept of military tactics and makes the science fiction plausible-allowing the tale to not get gummed up with over the top details that would have been a distraction.  The characters make sense and fit well into their environments-with enough background details to enlighten but not smother.  Zimmer is understandably brutal and vicious, while Lan is tortured but transformed by both his military training and the torture of his body while imprisoned and by the dreams that endlessly haunt him.

I thought it interesting that the author was able to deftly steer me away from rooting for either side in this war (or so it seemed).  Sure, there were reasons for believing that the Neotrans deserved their freedom, but it was the characters major and minor, including the Terrain General who plots and plans both the attacks and defense of his forces, that really mattered here.  Iain McKinnon has a knack for crafting characters that you feel an emotional attachment to-whether you love them or hate them, they get under your skin and stay there for a while.

Overall, this is a fun sci fi tale of rollicking space battles and the soldiers who fight in them.  But this story told could take place in space, on earth, in the future or in the far flung past and it would still make sense.  It is a saga of men and the wars they wage, which is a timeless concept, and one that is endlessly intriguing.

From The Torment of Dreams can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00D4DVCHU/ref=cm_cr_thx_view