Poetry Review: “From Every Moment a Second” by Robert Okaji

From Every Moment a SecondFrom Every Moment a Second by Robert Okaji
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the poet/author of the stunningly sublime If Your Matter Could Reform comes this new chapbook in pre-order until October 2017.

This collection of 20 poems is a study in the ephemeral and the elusive, in the little things like mayflies and beetles, but also in the delicate flicker of shadows. Mostly it aims to express the intangible and barely accessible, such as Grief which permeates the collection:

[from “Every Wind”]

Grief ages one thread at a time,

lurking like an odor
among the lost
things,

or your breath,
still out there,

drifting.

The speaker finds the world around him reflecting his grief, longing, and desperation. From quick observations like the lines “The house finch sings as if / all air will expire at the song’s end” [from “If Ahead I See”] to the extended association of “Firewood”:

For two years the oak
loomed, leafless.
We had aged
together, but somehow
I survived the drought
and ice storms, the
regret and wilt,
the explosions within,
and it did not.
I do not know
the rituals of trees,
how they mourn
a passing, or if
the sighs I hear
betray only my own
frailties, but even
as I fuel the saw and
tighten the chain,
I look carefully
for new growth.

A couple strong poems find inspiration in art. One from Hokusai’s wood print “Two Cranes on a Snowy Pine”
and the other from the jazz riffs of Miles Davis and Johnny Coltrane. The latter reflects both the improvisational jazz licks and the cadences of previously likewise-inspired poets such as Allen Ginsberg.

[from “The Resonance of No”]
. . . while standing with hands in soapy water, thoughts
skipping from Miles Davis’s languid notes to the spider
ascending to safe shelter under the sill (after I blow
on her to amuse myself), washing my favorite knife . . .

. . . And if I linger at the plates, even the chipped one,
admiring their gleam after hot water rinses away
the soap residue, who could question the gulp
of ale or the shuffle of an almost but not quite
dance step or stumble while arranging them on the
ribbed rack, back-to-back, in time to Coltrane’s
solo. Then the forgotten food processor’s blade
bites my palm . . .

I received my copy of this collection directly from the poet.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Saxophone” by Nicholas Royle

4 of 5 stars.

In an interesting twist of alt-history, this tale depicts a ravaged Iron Curtain separating Communist Soviet Union’s sphere of influence from that of NATO’s. The tense border between East and West Germany led to shots fired, war escalating, and eventually biological warfare. Hungary and Yugoslavia are the worst ravaged, with most of the population turned to zombies and a dark trade in live organ harvestings. Harvested American military organs bring an especially hefty price on the black market . . .

The metaphor of zombies as denizens of warzones is both unique and particularly apt. It is a tense and joyless existence. The fully cognizant zombies try to keep their heads together [literally] to keep on going, even after the loss of their “lives”. Memories of better times, ie living times, are bittersweet.

Hasek, the main zombie POV, played jazz saxophone when living, now he doesn’t have the breath for it. Nor the instrument. That doesn’t stop him from fingering his air-sax out of habit as he tries to bring a little imagined joy into his music-less reality.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Eat Me” by Robert R. McCammon

3 of 5 stars.

While this short tale centers on zombies, it’s less a zombie tale and more an allegory. About love. Especially about finding love in the later stages of life. And in that, it’s sweet. If not a little gory.

Jim is a zombie. But then again, everybody is a zombie these days. But Jim is a particularly lonely zombie. In his prime, that would be when he was still living, he had his work to keep him feeling fulfilled and set to a comforting routine. But in death, the busywork doesn’t even matter. Nor does his timeliness. So Jim is left to his thoughts and he thinks about the one thing that he thinks matters–love. And he wanders the streets mindless of where he’s going, as he dwells on the elusive subject of love.

All around him, Jim sees other zombies shuffling along in their various states of decay looking all the worse for it. None look particularly happy; they all seem lonely. He stumbles upon a nightclub with its harsh music and skeletons grinding up against each other in some sort of bizarre courting ritual. The entire scene is so far from his comfortable Brahms music in his calm house. In one corner he sees a beautiful, well she would have been beautiful in her prime before she lost her nose and a few fingers . . ., he sees a beautiful female who also looks uncomfortable being in the nigthclub . . .

This sweet tale shows that it’s never too late to find love and to accept love. It’s never too late to change one’s habits. And when one finds love, to allow it to completely consume you. Yes, consume, because that’s what zombies do. And it’s beautiful.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Deep End” which I highly liked.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Alpha Plague 6 by Michael Robertson

The Alpha Plague 6: A Post-Apocalyptic Action ThrillerThe Alpha Plague 6: A Post-Apocalyptic Action Thriller by Michael Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading and recommending this series as an apocalyptic guilty pleasure. Whereas the opening trilogy brilliantly details the first couple of days in a British-style rage zombie apocalypse, this installment completes the second trilogy which follows a couple of the characters from the beginning of the series as they wander out into the apocalyptic zombie-infested landscape ten years into the pandemic.

A community called “Home” stands as its own character in this trilogy. For fans of the Walking Dead, they know to be wary of innocently named survival groups and locations: Terminus, Sanctuary. In book 4, Home was an alluring destination calling out over the radio waves. Book 5 saw the shortcomings of the Utopian Home with its electricity and contained farms away from the undead. It also showed the uneasy truce with the sadistically led neighboring group.

This book culminates with a war between the groups. Moira, leader of the neighboring group, wants Home for herself. She steps up the torturing and murdering of innocents teasing everyone to war. Vicky, a major player throughout the series, rallies the Home troops, but she’s not without her enemies. In a reflection of partisan politics, a few naysayers with their heads in the sand want to believe that every bad thing developing boils down to Vicky . . .

There have only been a few truly shocking moments in this series. One comes early in the 4th book when the quartet of main characters is thinned. The second comes at the end of this book. One must read it to the last page. Where the series goes from here, I don’t know. But it does go on . . . This series is recommended.

I’ve previously read this author’s:
     The Alpha Plague–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 5–4 stars
     “The Arena” (The Shadow Order)–5 stars
     The Black Hole (The Shadow Order, #1)–2 stars
     Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
     New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
     New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
     New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Less Than Zombie” by Douglas E. Winter

Less Than ZombieLess Than Zombie by Douglas E. Winter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This tale responds to the Post-Modern classic, Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel. Perhaps it makes this tale too narrowly aimed for the literary critic. Reading Ellis’ novel first isn’t necessary, but recognizing where it’s coming from helps.

Ellis’ novel incorporates all of the depraved and callous decadence of works like William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch which depicts the sexually loose and drug infused world of the fringe beats drifting between Europe and North Africa in the 1960s and applies it to the 1980s teen culture of urban and suburban upper middle class America which saw heroin epidemics around Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Both novels offered POVs through the lens of shifting drug hazes, loose fluid graphic sex and sexuality, prostitution, rape, snuff films and dead bodies. Both were received incredulously by those who couldn’t fathom what could bring society to this lowered state.

An answer is provided in this short tale, in which the speaker and his social circle are beyond jaded one year into a zombie apocalypse. Written in the style of Ellis’ novel, scenes are lifted from the novel and overlaid with undead, albeit without the tongue-in-cheek of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies turn on Jane Austen’s more famous novel.

Does this take somehow lessen Ellis’ work? Yes and no. Yes, in that it provides a more palatable reason [zombies] for the decadence than the practically “no reason at all” in the original. The original is so shocking that it isn’t believed by many to be possible. But I vote, “No.” This doesn’t lessen Ellis’ work. It shows the door that would send much of society down this very route. Zombies as a genre have evolved from tales of ghouls without social implications into complex social commentaries showing the tenuous hold on civility that actually exists. One hurricane, one riot, and an entire social structure can crumble. Humanity has shown this repeatedly.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Original Poetry: Aubade

Spritely glimmers play
in the shadows of Venetian blinds
        cast upon the far wall.
        Duvet-draped,
I’m too awake and all elbows
and angles – perpendicular
to still slumbering you.

I wish to fold into myself
as a pocket, as sea anemones
        do in their dappled world.
        Or better, to collapse in as a cat –
dismissing this early hour
          with half-closed eyes,
          my body retracing your thigh.
 
 
 
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “The Good Parts” by Les Daniels

2 of 5 stars.

Reading like a modern day folktale, this tale focuses on a zombie’s perspective after most of society has fallen. Like most folktales, it defies logic–offering little in the development of zombie lore. Interestingly, zombies carry residual memory which they at times act upon, though that, too, is treated inconsistently.

“He” is a lumbering, nearly 500 lb. zombie. Not good at actually catching live human prey, he uses his weight to push into any kill site to get to what he considers the good parts of the prey. A virgin in life, he likes to gorge on the genitals and groin region of slain humans. He also tends to loiter at the porn store he patronized while living.

One day he meets a female zombie and they nest together. They even have zombie sex, though it ends badly when his decaying parts rot off inside his new partner. Residual memory on her part pays off when she remembers how to use a can opener. She feeds from scavenged canned goods for the next 9 months while their lovechild develops . . .

The tale bounces from puerile to merely logically and biologically inconsistent. The passing of time is also problematic as living humans mature at a known rate. Decomposition, too, has a rate of progression. The two work on completely different scales that cannot be aligned as they are here.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]