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.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Strungballs by Mike Russell

StrungballsStrungballs by Mike Russell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rooted deeply in absurdism, this tales touches on themes of conformity and identity before moving on to reality and existence. With a creepy sci-fi feel to the beginning, a 10 y.o. boy awakens from surgery having had a cube of flesh cut and cauterized from his chest. Everything he sees, and indeed everything in the city, is sterile white and modular. The rooms are all perfect cubes. The city is a torus within a sphere. The sphere surrounding the torus is comprised of all of the surgically removed cubes of flesh removed from the citizens.

In an important rite of passage, not only does he give flesh, but he receives a ball on a string to push into the cubic hole in his body–a Strungball. Everybody wears Strungballs. Adults may sport 6, 12, even 24 if they’ve been particularly . . . giving.

Adding to the creepy tone is the stilted dialogue of conformity reminiscent of 1960’s television banter. Think: Stepford wives.

This isn’t the where the tale goes weird. But it starts with the boy questioning his role in the society, the limitations of the society and even the real purpose of the Strungballs. Then things start to transform. Reality shifts and bends, and not towards something less absurd.

I like this tale. Characters don’t develop to any real extent, but the themes do.

I received my copy of the collection directly from Strange Books through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’ve previously read Russell’s anthologies of short absurdist stories: Nothing Is Strange and Strange Medicine–both of which I gave 4 stars.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Back Doors of Fancy Places by Anderson Ryle

The Back Doors of Fancy PlacesThe Back Doors of Fancy Places by Anderson Ryle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This curious, short tale has the detective noir voice, scenery and pacing headlined by possibly the world’s worst detective. He manages to solve and resolve practically nothing and cannot tell when a clue or coincidence could be pertinent.

“My mother always used to say I would never make it as a detective, said I trust people too quickly . . . “

. . . She leaned in closer than she needed to as he fumbled with his lighter. She smiled from beneath her dark hat and took a long drag. “Go on, Stranger,” she said.

The wannabe detective trustingly relates details of three curious cases or situations to a sexy woman he doesn’t recognize in a dark alley behind a club. The 3 scenarios involve 1) the strangest thing he’s noticed while wandering the streets [dodgy thugs possibly disposing a body], 2) a case looking for a runaway, and 3) a missing person’s case. He solved none of these cases and seems genuinely not curious about coincidences and details in all three cases.

He’s also not curious about the attention he’s getting from the strange woman in the dark alley.

Even as it becomes clear that the situations might be interconnected, the “detective” does nothing with that information and the entire evening remains unresolved. Somehow, this tale seems like the first part of a two-part sitcom detective show–and then the second part never airing.

The overarching plot holds much potential to be truly interesting and deliciously nefarious, however, that potential isn’t quite reached in this stand alone tale.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Clay Tongue by Nicholas Conley

Clay Tongue: A NoveletteClay Tongue: A Novelette by Nicholas Conley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful modern day folktale as a girl explores the scary and wondrous world beyond her house in order to alleviate the family’s frustrations in the wake of her beloved grandfather’s stroke. He’s been left aphasic, and the stress of caring for him weighs on the girl’s mother. The tale builds on the Jewish lore of the golem, a clay-made servant that has the ability to grant wishes. Though, with a girl turning toward fantasy, albeit unknown potentially scary fantasy, in order to solve a family’s problems, one is reminded of a less-dark Pan’s Labyrinth.

The seed for young Katie’s adventure is planted when she secretly reads her grandfather’s notebook containing either a story he’s written or a journal entry he’s made. The tale is unfinished, but tells of a young married couple many decades ago moving into a house just like her grandfather’s house that she lives in with him and her parents. The house in the notebook is in her town. And the name of the young bride is Kate’s grandmother’s name. When the couple move into the house, they are told of a cave in the back forested part of the property which–legend holds–houses a golem made by the original owner of the house. The golem was created to grant one wish to each person who dared visit it.

Even with such ripe fodder for the imagination, Kate’s brave adventure amusingly cites other fantastical creatures. With a mysterious key in hand, she finds a cave in the forested back part of the property:

Right above her head was an iron lock with foreign characters cut into it. Katie knocked, waited for a moment, hoping that maybe a friendly troll or fairy might answer. No answer came–so if there was a troll on the other side, it wasn’t a nice one . . .

The cave rumbled, as if from a minor earthquake. Katie stopped, and a deep growling noise reverberated from deep inside the cavern–a low, guttural moan, as if a dragon had just awakened . . .

“I’m here,” she whispered to any friendly trolls that might hear her.

This tale is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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