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: “Home Delivery” by Stephen King

Home DeliveryHome Delivery by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like Night of the Living Dead, something alien from outerspace is to blame for a sudden zombie apocalypse on Earth. Beyond that, there’s little sense to the movements and motivations of the zombies and somehow the nefarious alien cause makes that okay because this tale is not about aliens nor zombies. It’s about one sheltered and indecisive woman living off the coast of Maine finding herself and her true motivations.

Maddie had been obediently following her father’s dictates for as long as she can remember. She couldn’t make a decision without him. And then he died. Some enough, she finds Jack and marries him because he treats her the same way that her father did. For better or for worse.

Then in quick succession, Maddie finds out she’s pregnant and then Jack is killed at sea in a freak accident on his lobster boat. Either she needs to find another man to boss her around or Maddie needs to find strength within herself. Enter: zombie apocalypse and a kicking baby waiting to be born . . .

Zombie tales are rarely about the zombies. They’re about the extreme shake up to the civilized routine and the reactions to that shake up. While ridiculous on the zombie front, this tale delivers on the more important second front.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve read many Stephen King novels and short stories. But since decades have passed since I’ve done so, I’ve written no reviews for them.
 
 
 
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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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Short Story Review: “It Helps If You Sing” by Ramsey Campbell

It Helps if you SingIt Helps if you Sing by Ramsey Campbell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Religious indoctrination is likened to the mindless motivations of zombies in this short horror story. The metaphor is unsubtle at best while the world-building is undeveloped, since it’s not about the story–merely the satire. A developed story with a subtle metaphor would be more effective.

Curiously, the acceptance of the religion–Christianity in this tale–also numbs the body and comes with castration by its adherents. To become a zombie, is to become less than human; to accept religion, is to become less than human. Ironically, the un-Christian practice of Obeah [voodoo] is the means to creating the intentional zombies in this tale.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read and reviewed this author’s short story, “Respects”.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: No Rest for the Wicked by Dane Cobain

No Rest for the WickedNo Rest for the Wicked by Dane Cobain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Science and Religion collide when researchers at the new CERN particle accelerator try to discover the elusive theoretical Boson-Higgs particle, aka the “God Particle.” Despite the misnomer, the particle’s existence has zero bearing on religion, nor does the research conducted prove or disprove or in any way relate to religion nor the existence of a deity. However, that’s a repeated subtheme in the tale here, that somehow CERN research set about to disprove God.

In the fantastical, speculative world of the story, the research unleashes hibernating “Angels.” And they are horrifying. [Think: Dr. Who‘s episode “Blink.”] Angels are supernatural, light-based beings who judge harshly and murder. What’s left unclear is where the angels get their moral-code from. It seems to assume the Bible which clashes with the narrative itself.

Working against the narrative is the short story plot stretched into a novel without further development and the highly disjointed first half of the book. Chapters aren’t chronological, but without a good enough reason to not be. They also jump characters frequently without distinguishing the importance of said characters. 3-4 interspersed chapters taking place a half-century before the events of the tale, would have worked just as well as a single flashback, or better yet, could’ve been omitted for the sake of pace as they added little to the tale.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed this author’s Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home and Former.ly.
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