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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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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Short Story Review: “Bodies and Heads” by Steve Rasnic Tem

2 of 5 stars.

This tale presents a unique form of zombie expanding the definition toward the breaking point. These “zombies” seem alien, if not Lovecraftian, compared to most forms in that they arrange their body parts disassociating from some parts as if they suffered from the very real neurological condition of Alien Limb Syndrome in which a limb [usually an arm] acts independently of the person conscious mind.

What is unclear is how these rearranged bodies are supposed to work. The rearrangement is highly sexualized with genitals playing new roles [think: penises as tongues and vaginas as monstrous mouths]. Metaphorically, the horror lies in repressed sexuality and sexual hangups. But there remains an inconsistency in the “zombie” representation with a newsreel scene depicting a zombie dismemberment in which some of these new vital parts are cleaved without ill-effect to the creature.

The tale’s akin to a fever-dream, not adding up once one wakes up.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read Tem’s “The Cabinet Child” and “The Still, Cold Air”, both of which I rated 4 of 5 stars.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned” by Edward Bryant

Sad Last Love at the Diner of the DamnedSad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned by Edward Bryant
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Graphic descriptions of rape should not be thrown around lightly. There are certainly stories where rape figures into the plot if not standing central to the entire story. When it is written about, all of the characters from the perpetrators and witnesses to the victims must feel real even in the unreal world of urban fantasy. This tale doesn’t pass the test. An analogy can be made between the extreme violation of rape and the live cannibalism of zombies, even to the extent of showing an acquaintance or relative turn zombie or rapist. Perhaps the unreal, palatable violence of fantastical zombie predation is made real and shocking by the analogy to rape. However, characters acting as caricatures and inconsistent treatment of the zombies lessens any analogy to be made here. Needless to say–spoiler alert–this tale includes graphic rape.

Martha works at the Diner in her small rural Southern Colorado town. She harbors a crush on the deputy sheriff, Bobby Mack, seemingly the only person in town [woman or man, priest or layman] not coming on to her. On the morning the zombie apocalypse becomes real for this small community, the men are surprisingly ready. Hernandez flippantly remarks that one of the 6 old women clawing at the front glass of the Diner is his mother. He then proceeds to go outside and shoot her in the head before turning the gun on the other undead. Considering that these are the first zombies he’s ever seen, that’s pretty fast adjusting to the new reality. Or he’s just that psychopathic . . .

In this small town, both the living and the undead are predators.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This debut novel beautifully , and at times disgustingly, deconstructs social notions of gender and gender roles along with the idea of “the individual” and what it means to be human. With descriptive language ranging from the visceral and pungent to the passionate and poetic, folkloric monsters are brought to life on the page ultimately pushing the subject of what separates the “monsters” from the “humans.”

The creatures in question are shape-shifters incorporating the lores of the Norse kveldulf, the French loup-garou, the Greek lycanthrope, the Romanian vampire, the Middle Eastern djinn, and the Hindu rakshasa. All are one and the same filtered through centuries of culture and lore. And they’re real. They disguise themselves as human. Transform into monsters. And then devour humans. When they devour humans they take on all of the memories of their victims such that memories of the beast and the various victims become indistinguishable.

Through the accumulation of memories and the horrific acts the creatures enact upon their victims, one experiences the roles of both the raped and the rapist, the murdered and the murderer, the devoured and the cannibal, the child killing a parent and the parent being killed by the child.

The novel takes the reader places they may not wish to go. But it could not do so more beautifully:

The full moon watches through the clouds, eager for massacre. With a bark of exhaled air, the clatter of tusk and fang, we spring. The bauls’ song is loud, and beautiful in its imperfection. It is their last. I run with my pack. My tribe. The bauls are surrounded. They sing till the very last moment.

The first kill is silent as our running, a glistening whisper of crimson in the air. The last is louder than the baying of a wolf, and rings like the bauls’ mad song across the marshes of what is not yet Kolkata. I can hear the howl as I run with this human in my arms, into the darkness, away from the shadows of slaughter. The howl curdles into a roar, enveloping the scream of the last dying minstrel.

But she is alive, against me, shivering against my dew-dappled fur. She is alive.

This tale is recommended.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Mess Hall” by Richard Layman

Mess HallMess Hall by Richard Laymon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

While most zombie tales have violence, the best do so to show the breakdown in the social contract and in the “humanity” of humans. This tale has violence seemingly only for the sake of creating torture porn. It starts with explicit sex, moves quickly into gruesome violence and then tapers into increasingly ridiculous blends of the two. Think: rapist serial killer. And that’s all before zombies appear in the form of previous torture porn victims.

Unfortunately, the zombies do not seem to follow any of the multiple previous lores out there for zombies, or even to have a guiding rule as to how they exist, move and act. They seem to be present merely to add to the gruesome violence and sex themes. They’re props, and quizzical ones at that. Between tool use and questionable pack behaviors, they carve an inconsistent new mythos in zombie behavior.

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