Review: “Tomorrow’s Precious Lamb” by Monica Valentinelli

2 of 5 stars.

Included in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this short story is told through the food-deprived haze of Officer Mike Francis who is jittery with the only sustenance he could find–two energy shots. He is working the night shift, which is when the zombies make their daily emergence. The protagonist’s distracting hunger provides an interesting tint to the POV and comparison to the implied hunger of the zombies.

The officer answers an APB about a domestic abuse situation that involves a 12-y.o. zombie that takes him into the privileged neighborhoods where they don’t want for food in these lean times. It is also often the case that the privileged do not want their zombies put down–a turned child may be protected behind a wall of denial and excuses. True to form, the corpulent, arrogant man who answers the door at the McMansion denies that his daughter is a zombie and doesn’t want her harmed despite laws that all zombies are to be put down, burned or blown up.

The story’s premise is handled well, despite the lack of nuance in setting up the contrast between the officer and the unnamed man-of-the house. From there, the story breaks down into a muddle of unanswered implications. The zombie-daughter is said to have volunteered, for what is never made clear. The wife is present and in a state that is never explained. Most confounding is the father. His actions and intentions seem to waver between guiltily implicating himself in the state of his daughter [or the entire zombie apocalypse] and lashing out at Officer Francis. Terms such as necromancer and scientist are thrown about without resolve. Even the officer’s hunger-haze cannot account for the lack of answers provided by the story’s end.
 
 
 
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Review: “Makak” by Edward Lee

2 of 5 stars.

Included in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this short story draws on the voodoo/Obeah view of zombies as priest-controlled, reanimated minions. However, I found the depiction of these zombies, both confused and confusing. Indeed, they are dead with many of their internal organs removed and no need for food or sleep. They also seem not to feel pain, as one inadvertently burns its fingers with a cigarette without noticing. However, they feel sexual pleasure, or derive pleasure from the memory of past sexual experiences as they go through the motions of sex. They also have memories and independent thoughts, even rebellious thoughts, though they are unable to resist an order from an Obeah priest. The amount of autonomy and ability enjoyed by the zombies seemed contradictory.

The story is set in the jungles of Peru on a drug plantation. A small-time American drug dealer, Hull, has gone to secure a new supply of cocaine for his business. He is unfamiliar with Obeah and zombies though he notices weirdness that he cannot explain. Hull is not the only narrator, however. Later, the story shifts to a zombie to give a first person POV. This is where I struggled to grasp the parameters of this story’s world-rules. Where does life end? Where does the zombie-life and consciousness begin and end? Where does the influence of the Obeah priest begin? After a lifetime of grotesque sexual abuse, and with considerable independence of thought and action, why would a zombie crave sex to remember what it felt like to be alive?

The story is not too short when it comes to the narrative of Hull. Perhaps it falls too short in defining the fantastical elements surrounding him. He is an outsider and does not need to fully understand what is going on. The change in POV to an insider should have been more illuminating.
 
 
 
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Review: “Dead Giveaway” by Brian Hodge

1 of 5 stars.

Included in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this short story heavy-handedly lampoons modern daytime television entertainment. Monty Olson is a shallow, still-living gameshow host that only cares about keeping in front of the camera and his fame. The audience of the gameshow is the undead masses that now outnumber the living. The undead’s idea of entertainment is not very sophisticated, to say the least. The television executives are also undead, but somehow of a different type. They have thoughts, but only care about ratings. It’s their morals that are called into question.

Taking potshots at the entertainment industry and the people who comprise it is too easy. The metaphors for both the mindless masses and the unscrupulous television executives being zombies is both overly simplified and inconsistent. There’s not a single character with depth included in this story.
 
 
 
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Review: “Chuy and the Fish” by David Wellington

3 of 5 stars.

This very short story is included in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran. As the title implies, this story is about man vs. nature. Chuy is working a shift as a watchman on Governor’s Island off the coast of Manhattan, after the city and most of the mainland has succumbed to a zombie apocalypse. The story covers one evening in his life. In particular, I found the opening lines to be quite evocative:

Rain came down so hard it was tough to tell the difference between the water and the air. It scoured the esplanade, a million soft explosions a second, and it battered the weeds that pushed up through the cracks in the parking lot asphalt.

Like most zombie stories, the focus is not the zombies, but rather the survivors. The group on Governor’s Island is comprised of jaded former New Yorkers. Their disconnect from nature could explain the calling of anything residing in the ocean, a fish. More importantly, individuals must decide what they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the group’s survival.
 
 
 
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Review: “Abed” by Elizabeth Massie

3 of 5 stars.

This very short story appears in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran. It should be noted that this story is very graphic and for adults only. The entire anthology carries a warning that it is for adults only, which is likely due to this inclusion. The undead, as in most zombie stories, are not the real story. The story is how the living treat the living when the ethics of society have been stripped away.

Just about anything else I write here would be a spoiler due to the nature of the story. However, it starts rather benignly in a family home nestled between cornfields and woods in rural America. Meggie, the protagonist, is handed her favorite dress, freshly ironed, by her mother-in-law with whom she lives. The idyllic scene quickly devolves from there.

The writing is good; the scene becomes horrific. Sometimes, that combination can be quite unsettling. This is one of those cases. The story wandered so far beyond my comfort zone that I started to wonder if I did not believe the situation could get that bad, or if I just did not want to believe it could get that bad. And yet every couple of years, a real world headline will show just how horrible people can be to each other. These headlines don’t take the reader into the minds of the people experiencing the situation, though, as this story does. Read this story, forewarned.
 
 
 
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Review: “Aftertaste” by John Shirley

3 of 5 stars.

Shirley’s short story, “Isolation Point, California” was one of my favorites in the anthology, After the End: Recent Apocalypses edited by Paula Guran. It was because of Shirley’s inclusion with this short story that I chose to pick up a second Guran anthology, Extreme Zombies. The two shorts are very different.

In this story, the gritty forgotten neighborhoods lost to drugs and prostitution are the breeding grounds for a spreading zombie menace. Through a series of characters, the cycles of addiction, violence and hopelessness are seen to escalate. The zombies take a back seat here; they are a byproduct, a symptom. The authorities do not see the actual zombies any more than they help the living in the areas rife with the drugs and poverty.

Jim stopped in the middle of the room, his gun in his hand, wanting to scream but not having the energy, still sick to his stomach, thinking that all this should feel dreamlike, but it didn’t now, not anymore . . . That was because there was a smooth and ordinary continuity between being strung out, crashing on crack, perceiving himself as human vermin . . . and being here, with the dying and the dead who move around.

A clear metaphor to early in the AIDS crisis seemed clear to me. The victims are the homeless, the addicts, and marginalized and the forgotten. Nobody from the outside is coming to the rescue in this gritty, urban psychological piece. I did like this piece, it just lacked the heart and conviction that I admired greatly in my first encounter with Shirley’s writing.
 
 
 
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Review: Red Rising

This is my pick for anyone looking for a great book to gift this holiday season. It is very well written. The 2nd in the series will come out in January. This book also won Best Debut Novel 2014 on Goodreads, a well-deserved win.

Jaffalogue

Red Rising
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book immediately after finishing The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) by Patrick Rothfuss. Admittedly, that’s a tough act to follow. As a reader, I jump genres often so while I have read some sci-fi, I would not consider myself a sci-fi reader. That said, I enjoyed where this book took me and will definitely be looking for the next in the series to come out.

Early sections of the book had me thinking of The City of Ember (Book of Ember, #1) by Jeanne DuPrau, the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling [mostly due to the author’s notes] and The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The latter deserves comparison, though I was glad that Red Rising quickly established how it was different than a fantasy. The story felt organic and more fully filled…

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