Anthology Review: Book of the Dead ed. by John Skipp and Craig Spector

Book of the DeadBook of the Dead by John Skipp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This zombie-themed anthology came out in the 1980s and shows it. At the very least, it makes obvious the more complex view of zombie lit as a genre. These tales stem from an era when zombies had not broken out of B horror films. Many cliches plague the narratives. And often times the zombies don’t move and act in a consistent way which takes seriously the defining situational characteristics they’ve been assigned. That’s a problem. Zombies, by cultural definition, are humans deprived of free will and acting the animal or the manipulations of another [such as a necromancer or obeah/voodoo priest].

There are of course exceptions in a zombie sub-genre where the zombie retains thoughts and memories and must deal with their “condition” as if it were akin to chronic disease. All zombie detectives fall into this category.

Two of the sixteen short stories and novellas rose above the rest for me, meriting 4 stars:
–Glen Vasey’s Choices follows a young man’s journal of the first months of a zombie apocalypse under the looming cloud of knowing that the journal is “found evidence” not accompanied by the writer. His fate resides within the pages. The journal mostly explores the variety of reactions found in the other survivors he meets along his journey.
–Nicholas Royle’s “Saxophone” depicts self-aware zombies living the chronically hampered and deprived life of those behind the iron curtain. The Berlin Wall separates the free from the zombie in this well developed tale of alternate history.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the anthology’s component tales. Also included are:
Boyett, Steven R.–Like Pavlov’s Dogs–3 stars
King, Stephen–“Home Delivery”–3 stars
McCammon, Robert R.–“Eat Me”–3 stars
McConnell, Chan–“Blossom”–3 stars
Nutman, Philip–“Wet Work”–3 stars
Winter, Douglas E.–“Less Than Zombie”–3 stars
Campbell, Ramsey–“It Helps If You Sing”–2 stars
Daniels, Les–“The Good Parts”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
Tem, Steve Rasnic–“Bodies and Heads”–2 stars
Bryant, Edward–“A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned”–1 star
Hodge, Brian–“Dead Giveaway”–1 star
Layman, Richard–“Mess Hall”–1 star
Schow, David J.–“Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy”–1 star
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Like Pavlov’s Dogs by Steven R. Boyett

3 of 5 stars.

This novella chronicles two different reactions to a zombie apocalypse and how those reactions abrade each other. The first reaction is one of cool detachment. Out in the Arizona desert, Ecosphere stands as an experiment on the road to Martian exploration and colonization. Eight specialists live in an enclosed system containing multiple ecosystems and hundreds of species both wild and domestic. The social and biological experiment was set to end a long time ago, but with the pandemic, the specialists stayed put ignoring the outer world. Small tensions exist within the 8-person team . . .

Many dozens of miles away, the cities of Arizona are scraped thin by the scavenging survivors. They’ve learned to live with the lumbering dead going so far as to clothe them in ironic t-shirts. [Eat Me, I’m With Stupid, etc] The survivors are grouped like street gangs, each member answering to one or two nicknames. Fights are common; murder not uncommon. One guy gets the idea to check on that place in the desert where they were doing that NASA Ecosphere experiment years before . . .

The characters within the Ecosphere are fully developed, while the city-dwellers are left nearly indistinguishable. The nicknames fail to add description or color to the characters there. Included, also, is a rare perspective from that of a “smart” zombie. It stands without payout, however, as the zombie POV doesn’t arise at the critical moments in the tale.

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

Novel Review: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

Dead Beat (The Dresden Files, #7)Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Dresden Files may be one of many urban fantasy detective series in the literary market, but it leads and inspires as such. The world of Harry Dresden, the modern day wizarding detective based in Chicago, continues to expand its worldview and internal history. But most impressively, a reader will sense a turning point in this installment, an escalation, in which the disparate elements of Dresden’s world are starting to lock into place in relation to each other. There has been offshoots into the worlds or politics of vampires, fae, werewolves, wizarding counsels and police forces, and circles of black magic users in previous novels in the series. Additionally, Harry’s own parentage and quizzical family history including a literal fairy godmother and a incubus half-brother has been held in hint-and-tease mode. Here, each offshoot and sub-story line formulates as a puzzle piece in a very large and curious puzzle. While the overall image may remain elusive, a sense of place and relation between the pieces becomes apparent.

Harry’s partner in crime[fighting], Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD is on vacation while necromancers descend on Chicago in the days before Halloween. Werewolves, vampires and wizards all react to this development while the necromancers stir up the ghosts and create zombie minions. Harry’s increasing strength and taint by a demonic fallen angel guide him as he leads the revolt against the coalescing forces of darkness. His ongoing unease with the wizarding police known as the wardens takes an interesting turn when Harry is essentially drafted into service.

This series is highly recommended. I’ve previously read:
     Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
     Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
     Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
     Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)–4 stars
     Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)–4 stars
     Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)–4 stars
     “Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars
     “Love Hurts” (The Dresden Files, #11.5)–5 stars
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Eulogy to Ezra Pound

I don’t know who perpetuated the lie
of the poet elite with his high-destined life
because in the end all things must die.

Ideas grow stale with time proving why
one person’s words are never enough.
I don’t know who perpetuated the lie.

Losing spirit, woman and man try
as one. Age will comfort the widowed wife,
because in the end all things must die.

Roman and Nazi Reichs wither and dry—
each society is just an autumn leaf.
I don’t know who perpetuated the lie—

Ptolemy? Not all revolves around our sky.
The Earth’s stay is universally brief,
because in the end all things must die.

And you, with your head and self-worth held high,
flaunt arrogance in your every belief.
I don’t know who perpetuated the lie—
not God? For even He must die.

[Check out other original poems here.]

Novella Review: Choices by Glen Vasey

4 of 5 stars.

The modern incarnation of the “found evidence” urban fantasy has someone reviewing video footage of often horrible or unexplained events. Many movie examples demonstrate this such as The Blair Witch Project [a ghost haunting], Paranormal Activity [a demon haunting], and Cloverfield [alien invasion]. The story can be made all the more horrible in knowing that the videographer doesn’t necessarily survive their own video.

Pre-dating the found video is the found journal, or diary. This form has the potential to be even more intimate as the writer can bare their soul into the journal. But it’s also more tenuous–the writer must record everything. And accurately. The potential for personal bias runs very high, whether it be through prejudice, emotion, or misinformation.

This novella follows one young man, Dawson, through his journal after it has reached the hands of researchers. The journal chronicles the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse and Dawson’s next couple of weeks on the run for survival. Mostly, he is alone and fighting madness that seeps into his journal skewing the perspective. Dawson’s ultimate fate and the path of the journal are left to the very end. What the journal portrays the clearest is the human decision to survive come-what-may. It’s a desperate choice in dire circumstances, and not without it’s own madness.

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

Short Story Review: “Ten Thousand Miles” by Connie Wilkins

4 of 5 stars.

The horrors of war get a fresh treatment in this tale set in a Union hospital encampment at the edge of the Louisiana swamp. A virtual limbo, the miasma-filled camp is staged for confusion as first Rebels overtake the camp and then a Union gunship takes aim amid the roiling mists and smoke.

The camp is largely manned by “African-descent” former slaves fighting for freedom. Two main characters hold down the hospital tent. Gem is an elderly African-American woman disguised as a man to help the freedom effort. It reads more queer/trans in the narrator’s use of male pronouns for male-guised Gem. Gem’s also attuned to the restless spirits awaiting reunion with the still battling living.

The narrating surgeon is a widowed white Quaker son and grandson of Quaker abolitionists that were at the forefront of the Indiana portion of the Underground Railroad. He’s also haunted by spirits in the form of his deceased wife. The camp is filled with her beloved moths of every size and color, and they serve as a constant reminder of her.

This moving tale shifts from black to white, male to female, living to dead, substantial to spiritual all amidst the roiling mists and flocking moths . . . It’s recommended.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: “Half-Empty”

Rain and radio compete for noise
within my sealed car as the eeriness
of someone in the backseat
prickles my ticklish spine. I stare
straight out at dimly lit, broken
white lines made drunken by sheeted
water pushed by useless wipers. Peripheral
vision specters close in.

                                 Sensing you behind me
became frighteningly comforting.
I would reach forward and wipe mist
from the sectioned bathroom mirror to find
myself outlined by only faded wallpaper.

By lightning flashes and the stoplight’s
yellow glare, I see the soaked hitchhiker
and breathe. He is not behind me.
Liberated, I turn up the volume.
[Check out other original poems here.]