Writer of Horror Fiction

Archive for April, 2015

Review of Rachel Aukes’ “Deadlands Rising”

Deadlands Rising wraps up the Deadland’s trilogy.  Cash, Clutch, and the diminished group of close nit survivors that they call family are working on making it to the promised safe haven in New Eden, to the west of where they have been fighting to survive in Iowa for the bulk of the first two books.  New Eden is a fenced in community in Nebraska surrounding an old abandoned missile silo.  Marco, last of the squad from New Eden sent out to find survivors, promises to lead the group to safety behind its walls.

The first two novels of the trilogy followed the path of most zombie sagas with an equal mix of catastrophe and despair served up on almost every page.  This novel follows a slightly different track.  The author has modeled all three works after Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, with the first representing hell, the second purgatory, and this, the third book, heaven, or paradise.  The seven virtues laid out in Paradiso are laid out as section headings of this book, with the flavor of the third act is distinctly different from the first two.  Paradise is more of a wish than reality for the survivors, with the threat of the undead diminished, but never too far away.  The zombies have either migrated with the hordes to the south where it is warmer or have started to freeze solid in the bitterly cold Midwestern winter.  They are less of a threat and have been replaced with new dangers that are perhaps even more dire for the few living humans who remain.  I gave the author credit for crafting massive, almost unfathomable hordes of the undead churning up everything in their path in the previous book.  A slow moving, undeniable destroyer of all in its path was a concept I’d not seen used to effect in other zombie novels.  In the third book, she takes another intriguing result of a world ravaging plague and squeezes as much potential terror out of it as possible.  Wild packs of dogs, abandoned by their owners, have managed to survive by feasting on the dead-devouring the undead they could cull from the herd.  Infected with a variation of the plague, they do not turn but have the equivalent of rabies.  With as fervent a hunger as the undead and a bite that is equally lethal, they serve as both symbols of fear and tragedy.  Innocent, those not destroyed and devoured alongside their masters get to suffer a fate far worse than death, through no fault of their own.

Of course, rabid animals are not the only threat in the conclusion to this saga.  Facing a brave, or terrifying, new world in the aftermath of the plague is one of the biggest struggles the characters face.  What will happen and who will be guiding humanity’s attempts to rebuild are the daunting questions they must face, along with the consequences of the paths those who lead decide to follow.

The author does an excellent job of bring this story to a conclusion which should satisfy most readers…especially those who have likely grown weary of what I would dub the ‘never ending story syndrome’ that is rife in apocalyptic fiction and in other genres as well.  Authors who insist on leaving plotlines open and loose ends loose so more of the story can be told in either another trilogy or another book with no promise of completion.  Rachel Aukes wraps things up nicely here, with no loose ends.  While the author pulled no punches when it comes to how grim things got for the main characters, a spark of hope remained throughout the story, even when it threatened to be snuffed out for good on numerous occasions.

The connection to The Divine Comedy is, for the most part, in the background enough that someone unfamiliar with Dante’s masterpiece will not get distracted by it, though those who are familiar with it should appreciate the author’s efforts at sharing the zombified version of a journey through hell, purgatory, and the attempt to rise up into paradise.

Deadlands Rising can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Deadland-Rising-Saga-Volume/dp/1508583064/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

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At Hell’s Gates Anthology Book Trailer

Not so long ago, I had the privilege of submitting a short story to the upcoming third installment in the ongoing series of horror anthologies called At Hell’s Gates.  I have reviewed the first two books, At Hell’s Gates: Existing Worlds and At Hell’s Gates: Origins of Evil (both reviews can be found here, on my blog).  I had a short story that I felt fit the theme of book three, At Hell’s Gates: Bound By Blood.  It’s a devious little short I entitled Little Lost Lamb.  Fortunately, it was accepted, and now I have the privilege of being a part of this charity project.

The proceeds from the sales of these books go to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  You can find out more about this worthy cause over on the At Hell’s Gates website: http://athellsgates.com/our-cause/ and donate directly to the cause.  Of course, the hope is that you’ll also buy a few copies of these anthologies.  If you are a fan of horror, they are worth checking out, plus you can feel good for contributing to a great cause as you read a series of twisted and disturbing stories.  And fear not, after the third volume is released, others will be coming, including future themes Fall of Madness and A History of Violence.  

More to come on Volume 3 once it is released-where you can get it, the finalized cover, etc.  But for now, I wanted to share with you a really killer book trailer covering the first three installments in this series.  I would expound further on how killer it is, but instead, I thought I would just share the link so you can go check it out on youtube without further ado: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6XbRnX1gvQ&feature=youtu.be


Review of “At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two-Origins of Evil”

At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two focuses on the theme of ‘Origins of Evil’.  The first volume was an anthology that served in many ways as an introduction to the world’s the contributing authors had created in their various novel-length horror series.  Many of the stories served as add-ons or addendums to those tales-they were short stories with a very large shadow looming behind them.  Volume Two has mainly standalone offerings from each contributor.

While I appreciate stories that add to a bigger world, there is something about the stand alone tale, especially in the horror genre, that makes it compelling.  Sometimes the smaller slices of hell are the most dark and make you despair the most.  That is why this volume has stepped up its game over the first volume.  So many of these stories sucked me in, chewed me up, and spit me back out.  Brutal like an assault in a back alley, they leave you dazed and curled up in the fetal position, whimpering and shivering in fear.

If purchasing this anthology was nothing more than an excuse to donate to a worthy cause, I’d have been happy to chip in.  The cause is an excellent one: The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  But this anthology is also worth the price of admission because the stories on its pages are worthy of the investment, charity or no charity involved.

Here is a quick synopsis of each tale included in this work.

Pulse by Mark Tufo: A scientist builds a better mousetrap.  Well, a better way to kill bugs.  Unfortunately, it has an affinity for killing other living beings as well.

Cookies for the Gentleman by C.T. Phillips: A tale madness and desperation that spirals into a very dark, grim place for narrator…a place that threatens to suck the reader in along with him.

By Any Means Necessary by Evin Ager: An army grunt guarding terrorists at a secret military prison discovers the inmates are being used for some very unscrupulous supernatural testing.

History’s End by Frank Tayell:  The best intentions to save mankind from itself can have the most drastic, unforeseen consequences.

A Mother’s Nightmare by J. Rudolph:  Could you cope with the loss of all you hold dear?  What would you do if you were faced with crushing despair that comes with the destruction of all that you love?

Patient 63 by Stevie Kopas:  Infection transforms most of the world into subhuman monsters.  Humanity fights back, discovering a cure.  The question then becomes whether the infection is the villain or humanity itself?

Tyrannical Ascension by Shana Festa: We return to the author’s Time of Death zombie apocalypse series and are introduced to the man who would be king, or at least someone who has designs on such status in a world overrun by the undead.

Ink by James Crawford:  The world’s most elite tattoo artist creates his masterpiece on a living canvas.  The man blessed with this art is also cursed with an unquenchable desire to find the hidden meaning behind its dark beauty, to the everlasting despair of anyone who crosses his path.

The Man with Four Scars by Stephen Kozeniewski: Assures the reader that the undead have been with us long before Romero introduced them.  A caveman discovers a recently crashed meteorite and the strange effects it has on his tribe.

Daddy’s Girl by Ian McClellan: Reiterates the sage advice that it is best not to judge thy neighbor for their sins when you yourself are a sinner…even if your neighbor might be a malevolent supernatural being.

Operation Devil Walk by David Mickolas: That the Nazis sought out supernatural assistance to give them more power to defeat their enemies is well established.  Their hatred for Jews is undisputed.  The idea of combining those two things is horrific.

The Infected by S.G. Lee: A naïve young doctor falls for the manipulations of an ultra-competitive and ultra-sleazy coworker while working on experimental medical treatments that could extend the viability of organs used in transplants.

Forget Me Never by Sharon Stevenson: Fame is never everlasting.  Or is it?  Some are willing to kill for it and to even keep killing to maintain it.

Mirage by Sean T. Smith: A twisty, tragic sci-fi tale of giving up and giving in…when your goal is tantalizingly just out of reach…or is that perhaps just a mirage?

The Millstone by Lesa Kinney Anders: We all have our burdens.  It’s said that if you save someone’s life, you are responsible for them for them forever.  Is the same true if you destroy their life?

Genesis by Kit Power: How far would you be willing to go to show God how cheated you feel when you beg, plead, and pray for intervention, only get ignored time and again?

Lockdown by TM Caldwell: What’s a teacher to do when the dead have risen and are roaming the halls of the school?  Especially if you are on lockdown and you have a room full of panicked grade-schoolers to look after?

Collection Night by Curran Geist: How far would you go to protect your wife and child?  How dark could the nightmare become before you lost your nerve?

The Cold by Devan Sagliani: Life can suck.  Whether by your own doing or if you choose to blame everyone else for your failures, it can always suck just a little bit more…especially if you accidentally dabble with the supernatural.

A Different Cocktail by Claire C. Riley: Sure, I’d be skeptical too about a ritual that promises to bring forth a vampire master, but if you want to get lucky with a goth girl, why not partake in the ‘blood’ you’ve been offered that is supposed to summon him?  What’s the worst that could happen?

A Song to Sing in Babylon by Bobbie Metevier & Matthew Baugh: The old world is dying and change is painful…not only for the human race but those who have hidden in the shadows for generations.  Humans believe that God is punishing us while the others believe they are being rewarded with a world transformed into something more accommodating.  But what if they’re both wrong?

The Gouger by Paul Mannering: Somewhat reminiscent of the Stephen King short story, “The Mangler”, the Gouger is a grinder used to liquefy fish guts and anything else fishermen bring to the Makula Bay Fishing Co-op.  It’s also Tommy Malone’s favorite machine.  He loves to watch it consume and dreams of it consuming the world.

Overall, horror anthologies tend to be a mixed bag.  I tend to rate them on overall experience, though it often takes only one story that leaves me squirming in discomfort to satisfy me.  Naturally, not every story resonates with every reader, and for me this anthology was no exception.  A few stories just didn’t hit the mark for me.  With that said, the majority did, and I’m happy (or perhaps disconcerted?) to say that several left me squirming.  So this book is a double whammy: the proceeds are going to a very worthy charity and the book itself is a worthy read.

At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/At-Hells-Gates-Volume-Two/dp/1508448833/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8