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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: 10:55 Flight to Chicago from Heathrow

A final look back at the boarding gate
               shows stand-bys milling, rushing
               among linen scarves, watches and fresh
               fruit booths from the Tube station escalator.
Trains networking out embrace fields, coasts,
               and leaping rivers, disturbing the contours
               to reach the valleyed cities.
Rains sweep down and stop miserably,
               as they had started, luring
               someone into the sea by warm sun
               and high waves industrially glossed.
The castle deteriorates upon the throbbing
               club pulsating with men-by-day
               experiencing Madonna with each breath
               of bottled poppers.
Separate out a quarter and smoke it, surfer.
Gather blossoms from the rhododendrons
               to sprinkle on the water ebbing further
               from shore draining this filthy bay
               marred by a fresh stream cutting
               through attracting gulls.
Come in, roll up, blow blue smoke
               out the windows from the lofty ledges
               used by bees that just want the jam packets
               to get drunk on like we get drunk on
               before dancing, dancing, and sleeping
               with the nice looking guy who tries
               to lure us back to his place before coming in ours.
Was it worth it?
 
 
 
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

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.

 

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Prayer for Icarus

You’ve been caught,
     accused and condemned
in barely a breath. Bindings

ensnarl your chafed wrists
     wrenched back beyond
your failing flexibility.

The sweat-and-vinegar
      blindfold snuffs the sun,
but not heat, oppressively

still air, not murmurs
      of gathered people
four stories below,

not the whimper of your lover—
      beautiful man
that he is—likewise bound.

The sentence uttered
      is brief,
feather-light.

The man you once knew
      crumples, then
is hoisted aloft.

You pray, that like Icarus, he’ll find his wings and ride thermals
     between the sun’s heat and the shattered cinder blocks below.
He’ll fly to the Neverland where men like you marry,
     where they throw you parades and gift you rainbows.

The ruined noise echoes its report
      from cavernous buildings
and broken cement.

Bound and brought
      to a ledge, you
are freed of gravity—

desperate to fly like the doves
      tossed from the ark
looking for dry land.
 
 
 
 
 

[The original week of this posting in October 2015, ISIS released proof that they’d been executing gay men in multiple cities by throwing them off buildings.

Check out other original poems here.]

Original Poetry: “Daughter of Bilitis: for Del Martin (1921-2008)”

You are the defiant devotion of a half-century of modern, queer courtship
     resolving with your domestic vows.
You are the equanimity that surmounts court-forced annulment
     on your anniversary by reenacting your marriage while California
     patiently waits.
You are the tympani echoing from the bayside Pacific cathedrals since
     nineteen-fifty-five. Daughters of Bilitis beckon while mouthing, Qui vive.
You are the silent vanguard among our disaffected communities huddled
     in gay ghettoes bracing against communist brands and police
     who strip your Chicago sister-dykes.
You are the deviant teacher of variant knowledge, unbarring our doors
      and expunging our records of psychopathologies.
You are the asterisk and footnote to the legal chapter that quietly registers
     as an obvious coda.
You are the legend that, in death, no proposition can amend again.
 
 
 
[This poem was written in 2008 upon Del Martin’s passing to honor her work in promoting equality for a half-century. She and her partner were the first same-sex marriage in California before it was later nullified by the courts and voters. Del died before the proposition was overturned and before a single court upheld marriage equality.]
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

3 of 5 stars.

When the purest substance on earth, unicorn horn, is used to make a dildo, every demon for millennia wants to get their . . . hands . . . on it.

Two demon brothel madams battle over NYC turf. Each would like to add the aforementioned rumored item to their arsenal and jump into action when it hits Chinatown. The scrap up comes down to a dead Jimmy Wong, an ambitious double-crossing sorceress, and a lesbian store owner of rare books.

The tale comes across plenty noir, but more Lovecraft than detective. There’s much world-building for a short story, stretching this tale to the extremes with what’s left unexplained.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s:
     “The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
     “Bridle”–4 stars
     “The Cats of River Street (1925)”–5 stars
     “The Cripple and Starfish”–4 stars
     “Dancy vs. the Pterosaur”–3 stars
     “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
     “The Peddler’s Tale, or Isobel’s Revenge”–2 stars
     “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”–5 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “See Me” by Tanya Huff

3 of 5 stars.

This is a different sort of detective tale in that the one doing the detecting, Tony Foster, is not a detective by trade, but rather by circumstance. He is, however, a wizard. This allows him to delve more deeply into the mystery of dead elderly men without IDs being found near his work and near his home in Vancouver.

Tony works on the crew of a popular vampire/detective television show. His boyfriend, an actor, plays the detective on the show. Things get “complicated” when the hooker who’d been serving the first of the dead men takes an interest in Tony’s boyfriend. The police are too busy hunting recent missing persons to investigate old men dying of natural causes . . .

The unusual and complex relationship between Tony, Lee [the boyfriend], and Valerie [the prostitute] grows steadily throughout the story making it work.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]