Writer of Horror Fiction

Archive for August, 2013

Review of Rachel Aukes’ “100 Days in Deadland”

100 Days in Deadland introduces the reader to a young woman living in Des Moines, Iowa who is thrust into the start of the zombie apocalypse within the very first paragraph.  The story starts out with a bang, with Cash (a nickname she is given early on in the story) getting attacked by a woman who has gotten infected in her office.  She narrowly escapes the assault and flees with another co-worker as everyone around them goes mad-either with infection or panic.  While the duo race from the office they realize that the entire world is rapidly being consumed by the living dead and there is little hope that they will find anyplace safe.  Narrowly escaping from another harrowing assault on the highway, Cash manages to hook up with an over-the-road truck driver nicknamed Clutch, who reluctantly takes her out of the city to the farm in the Iowa countryside where he lives.

Despite her efforts to appeal to his sympathetic side, Clutch isn’t too interested in lending long term shelter to Cash, who he believes, like many city dwellers, has very few real survival skills.  She is just another mouth he will have to feed and protect when his main focus should be doing his best to survive on his own.  But Cash is determined to prove to Clutch that she can stand on her own two feet and deal with both the undead and every other hardship that comes her way.

100 Days in Deadland tells the story of Cash’s journey through the nine circles of hell and her efforts to keep her mind and her body intact, no matter how many nightmares this new world throws at her.  The author makes it clear that this tale is her translation of the first poem in Dante’s Divine comedy, as seen through the eyes of a zombie apocalypse survivor.  Though she details the story’s comparable elements in the forward and afterward, and entitles each section of the book with a new circle of hell, the story requires no experience of having read any of Dante’s works to appreciate what is happening to Cash on the book’s pages.

This is not the first zompoc tale that has referenced Dante’s Inferno.  Kim Paffenroth wrote an even more closely aligned tale with the main character being Dante himself in “Valley of the Dead.”  That story tells the tale of how Dante survived a zombie apocalypse in a remote area of Europe which in turn influenced his writing of his master work.  Rachel Aukes takes very different approach, giving the reader a modern bent on her main character’s journey through hell.

This is a fast paced, fly by the seat of your pants type story, with plenty of action to go around for the avid zombie fan.  Cash is a solid main character, and since this story is told in first person, we get to see the world through her eyes as it transforms around her and how it transforms her as well-from someone who has lived a sheltered life to someone bound and determined to build the much needed callouses on her body and soul that will allow her to survive while at the same time doing her best not forgetting what it means to be human.

The zombies here are fairly traditional, with the increasingly popular slant of having them faster the more recent their infection and dependent on the level of damage they’ve absorbed.  The older undead are the more well-known slow and slouching variety.  Despite the tie-in to Dante, the story here is fairly traditional zombie apocalypse centered stuff, with the human menace being more fearsome and terrifying than the undead.  There were some intriguing and devious combat techniques used by the villains that I will not spoil by sharing, but thought was quite creative.

Cash is an underdog character who is admittedly weak and timid at first but comes to accept that the only way she won’t be a burden and will be able to survive and thrive in this new world is to adapt and grow tougher and wiser at the same time.  She learns how to fight and defend herself from Clutch, who is ex-military, and improvises given the fact that she isn’t a burly warrior with a great deal of combat experience.  She also teaches Clutch to have a reason to care for someone else after having resigned himself to a solitary existence filled with nothing more than staving off the living dead.

Overall, this is a solid and entertaining zombie apocalypse book.  Though the author has written this as a variation of Dante’s Inferno, it is not dramatically different than many other zombie apocalypse tales in its delivery or overall storyline.  Still, the characters are accessible and appealing, the action smooth, and the journey of Cash is worth taking with her, even if the ending is a bit abrupt.  I am not one to complain about cliff hanger endings, or endings that sew everything else up nicely, but this ending left me a bit frustrated, puzzled over whether the author has plans on writing her versions of Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise next or if Cash’s story is finished.  Regardless of this minor criticism, this is an entertaining zombie apocalypse read worth checking out.

100 Days in Deadland can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1470188058/ref=cm_cr_thx_view

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Review of Bryan Way’s “Life After: The Arising”

Life After: The Arising tells the story of Jeff Grey and his experiences during the first few days of the zombie apocalypse.  When the dead rise up his hometown suburb of Philadelphia, Jeff seems to be the only person prepared to do what it will take to survive.

Jeff is a college freshman who has returned home to visit his girlfriend who is performing in a high school band competition.  He is a band geek himself as well as a zombie fanatic who has written several stories about the undead and knows about all about the ‘rules’ of dealing with the living dead.  So when corpses start crawling out of a nearby cemetery during the band competition, he is able to react to the threat immediately.  Taking charge, he leads a handful of terrified survivors, including his girlfriend Julia, into a building on campus while the rest of the people at the school are torn to pieces on the football field and in the stands.

Jeff becomes a somewhat reluctant leader when those he has saved look to him for guidance since he seems to know what he is doing.  Jeff does indeed know a lot about zombies, but he isn’t some sort of survivalist, just a freshman college student who’s read a some books and watched a few movies about the undead.  Fortunately for him, an old high school friend who is in the National Guard arrives on the scene a day or so later and takes on a leadership role to help keep the survivors alive.

The story takes place over a period of about ten days with the characters migrating to different hiding spots in their suburban environment in an effort to escape the constant barrage of corpses trying to hunt them down.  The zombies are a mix of fast and slow moving based on how long they have been dead as well as how much damage they’ve suffered.  The story is told in first person present tense, though thankfully not in a journal format, which has been a bit overused in the zompoc genre.

The action in the tale is solid, with the sequences surrounding the attacks by the undead moving at a fast clip.  The gore is effective, though not over the top.  The characters are, for the most part, solidly fleshed out.  Of course, this is a story of one man’s journey above and beyond all else-this is Jeff’s tale, and it is through him that we allowed to understand the other characters and the world in which they must survive.  As such, whether the reader enjoys this tale or not will likely hinge on what they think of Jeff and how he sees the world through his eyes…which see the world as a zombie obsessed fan who knows the drill when it comes to the undead and how to deal with them, or at least so he believes.

Though the pacing of this story is solid when there are zombies on the page, it is a not as even when there are only other humans interacting with Jeff.  He spends a bit more time than necessary elaborating on his loving relationship with Julia.  Though much of the arguments and discussions with other survivors are pertinent and critical to developing a better understanding of the other characters, there are occasions where things drag.  An example is when several of the characters get into a debate about God and religion that felt unnecessary to the plot.

The dialog, for the most part, is snappy and moves things along.  It wasn’t overly dramatic or overbearing and felt natural for the characters who were speaking it.  A minor editing critique was the fact that in a lot of conversations in the book didn’t make it immediately apparent who was speaking what line.  Tossing in a few more ‘I said’ or ‘Julia replied’ would solve that little issue.

Overall, Life After: The Arising is a solid freshman writing entry by Bryan Way.  He shows a great deal of promise as a new voice in the zombie genre and I look forward to checking out the next installment in this saga.

Life After: The Arising can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615851827/ref=cm_cr_thx_view


Review of Brian Moreland’s ‘The Girl From The Blood Coven’ and ‘The Witching House’

The Girl From the Blood Coven gives the reader a short story introduction to Brian Moreland’s novella, The Witching House.  Back in 1972, a slaughter occurred at the old Blevins House in Texas.  A blood drenched girl stumbles into a bar in the nearby small town and the sheriff must go investigate when she tells him “they’re all dead”.  What he finds is both shocking and does a very effective job in setting the stage for the novella that follows.  We are given hints at what supernatural darkness is at work within the old stone house and its gore splattered walls.  They are tantalizing, disturbing hints, but left me intrigued and hungry to find out more.

The Witching House takes us 40 years into the future and we are introduced to Sarah Donovan, a timid girl who recently started dating Dean Stratton, an adventurer who loves exploring old buildings with his friends.  Taking a chance, Sarah agrees to go on a trip with Dean to check out an old haunted house in rural Texas where 25 hippies were murdered 40 years earlier.  Their heads were severed in many cases, and others hung themselves, but in some other instances, the bodies of the victims were never found.

The quartet enter the house with the assistance of a local guide and find that the old stone house isn’t just a creepy old place, but seems to be an almost living, breathing entity that seems bent on their destruction.  Whether it is the house itself or some dark unknown menace it is clear something hungers for their flesh and blood.

I’ve read Brian Moreland’s two previous novels and was impressed by his ability to spin a horror tale.  There is a certain level of dread that builds in his works that is based both on his talent as a researcher who provides his readers with a very detailed and vivid world and a knack for creating suspense with solid pacing.  This story is simpler than the historical horror tales he has crafted previously-a ghost story that still has a depth to it because of the believability of the characters and the underlying secrets that are causing the horror to take place.

If I have a criticism of this tale, it perhaps has to do with the character Otis, who I wanted to understand better, especially given his ominous yet sad existence.  There was more to him-I could feel it, and wish I could have gotten to know him better.  This is a minor quibble though, as this tale is another solid effort from the author that did not disappoint.

The Girl From The Blood Coven can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/The-Girl-Blood-Coven-ebook/dp/B00CI3WCEO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374729375&sr=8-1&keywords=the+girl+from+the+blood+coven

The Witching House can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Witching-House-ebook/dp/B00CJ96E78/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374728045&sr=8-1&keywords=the+witching+house


Review of P.A. Douglas’s “The Old One”

The Old One takes place in the sleepy little town of Top Sail Beach on an island off the coast of North Carolina. Like most little towns, it has its share of secrets and skeletons in the closet.  Unfortunately, one particular bit of darkness from its past has chosen to rise up out of the sea to wreak unholy havoc on the little burg.

We are first introduced to one elderly resident of the town who is out fishing one night while lamenting the passing of his wife when he gets a nibble on his line and either falls into the ocean or perhaps is yanked in and nearly drowns.  Miraculously saved by his neighbor who was passing by the pier his small boat was tied to, he awakens the next day not quite himself.  Something evil is inside him and it isn’t satisfied with possessing just him-it wants much more.

The Old One is a Lovecraft inspired tale that mixes Cthulhu mythology with a new take on the living dead, with interesting results.  The main character is Max, a transplant to Topsail Beach who has become content living in the isolated little community despite knowing he’ll never be considered a local by many of the residents.  He lives with Hanna, his wife, and has a job as a mechanic at one of the local shops.  Shortly after we are introduced to Max his world is turned upside down when he and Hanna are attacked by his neighbors who are maimed and appear to be dead.  As unbelievable as that seems, it isn’t the worst of it.  When he is forced to destroy one of his attackers, vile squid-like creatures burst forth from the ghoul’s stomach and begin the hunt for new flesh to latch on to.

This story is a whirlwind of blood, guts, and nightmarish creatures that get worse at every turn.  At first, Max can’t comprehend what is happening, but as the night wears on and the lashing storm that has engulfed the island grows stronger, more hints as to what is really happening reveal themselves.  There is something far worse at work here than a plague of foul leaches turning humans into cannibalistic puppets.  Because there is something those creatures call mother and it has also risen from the dark depths of the ocean, a true horror to behold.

The Old One is fun and interesting take on the Cthulhu mythos-sort of a side-story to the mythology about a single dark and almost forgotten god whose true purpose is cloaked in mystery.  The author’s enthusiasm for Lovecraftian horror shines through on each page and while this story is not perfect, his exuberance makes up for the fact that it felt like there were a few gaps in the story, or more specifically, the back story.  The yearning to learn more about what came before and what causes the Old One to rise up from the sea remains in me well after reading this tale, but perhaps is how it is meant to be.  The story could use another pass to clean up some of the typos left behind, but overall the writing is sharp and Mr. Douglas continues to impress with the creativity in each of his new tales.  Despite the length of this book, it has the feel of a short story that reads like a surprising slap across the face that leaves you a bit stunned and disconcerted about what just happened…which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to horror.

The Old One can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00E3LZY44/ref=cm_cr_thx_view