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
 
 
 
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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.
 
 
 
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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.]

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.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Alpha Plague 7 by Michael Robertson

The Alpha Plague 7The Alpha Plague 7 by Michael Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This action packed British urban fantasy follows a tight cast of characters through a rage-style zombie apocalypse. Organized into trilogies, the opening trilogy details the hourly spread of the apocalyptic pandemic from the POV of a father just trying to save his 6 y.o. son, Flynn. The second trilogy jumped ten years to show the dystopian micro-communities that existed in the ravaged landscape. Each micro-community was largely isolationist since infected zombies ruled the world.

This installment repeats the trick of the fourth book by fast forwarding yet another ten years–again to shocking effect. Here, the zombies died out 8 years prior. So everything’s good, right?

And, no. Dystopian and sadistic micro-communities still dominate the countryside, but now unchecked by the undead. With dwindling resources, communities enslave or outright kill each other. Others turn to cannibalism.

Flynn, now 26 and after accepting the sanctuary of Home for a decade, strikes out on his own to find a better community. Home isn’t what it once was. The electricity and running water failed during the intervening years. However, what Flynn finds with another community is so much worse. Captured and imprisoned, he needs to outwit and outsurvive 19 other prospects for a single spot in their community. Failure=death. [Think: Hunger Games]

The nice sub-theme of this installment is trust. Flynn didn’t trust Vicky during his teen years, and then she left. Then he didn’t trust the new leaders of Home. Unless he wants to go it alone forever, he needs to learn to trust. But who to trust when it’s every person for oneself . . . to the death.??

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 Alpha Plague 6–4 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: “Saxophone” by Nicholas Royle

4 of 5 stars.

In an interesting twist of alt-history, this tale depicts a ravaged Iron Curtain separating Communist Soviet Union’s sphere of influence from that of NATO’s. The tense border between East and West Germany led to shots fired, war escalating, and eventually biological warfare. Hungary and Yugoslavia are the worst ravaged, with most of the population turned to zombies and a dark trade in live organ harvestings. Harvested American military organs bring an especially hefty price on the black market . . .

The metaphor of zombies as denizens of warzones is both unique and particularly apt. It is a tense and joyless existence. The fully cognizant zombies try to keep their heads together [literally] to keep on going, even after the loss of their “lives”. Memories of better times, ie living times, are bittersweet.

Hasek, the main zombie POV, played jazz saxophone when living, now he doesn’t have the breath for it. Nor the instrument. That doesn’t stop him from fingering his air-sax out of habit as he tries to bring a little imagined joy into his music-less reality.

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

Short Story Review: “Eat Me” by Robert R. McCammon

3 of 5 stars.

While this short tale centers on zombies, it’s less a zombie tale and more an allegory. About love. Especially about finding love in the later stages of life. And in that, it’s sweet. If not a little gory.

Jim is a zombie. But then again, everybody is a zombie these days. But Jim is a particularly lonely zombie. In his prime, that would be when he was still living, he had his work to keep him feeling fulfilled and set to a comforting routine. But in death, the busywork doesn’t even matter. Nor does his timeliness. So Jim is left to his thoughts and he thinks about the one thing that he thinks matters–love. And he wanders the streets mindless of where he’s going, as he dwells on the elusive subject of love.

All around him, Jim sees other zombies shuffling along in their various states of decay looking all the worse for it. None look particularly happy; they all seem lonely. He stumbles upon a nightclub with its harsh music and skeletons grinding up against each other in some sort of bizarre courting ritual. The entire scene is so far from his comfortable Brahms music in his calm house. In one corner he sees a beautiful, well she would have been beautiful in her prime before she lost her nose and a few fingers . . ., he sees a beautiful female who also looks uncomfortable being in the nigthclub . . .

This sweet tale shows that it’s never too late to find love and to accept love. It’s never too late to change one’s habits. And when one finds love, to allow it to completely consume you. Yes, consume, because that’s what zombies do. And it’s beautiful.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Deep End” which I highly liked.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]