Shock Totem #10 (Jan 2016)
- The State of Shock Totem Publications, or We Are Not ChiZine Publications
- Closing for Submissions
- Shock Totem Returns!
- Apex Publications Acquires Shock Totem Book Line
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 6
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 5
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 4
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 3
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Author Archives: Robert J. Duperre
I was so excited to read the three books of The Strain series, which was a collaborative effort by director extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, author of the very entertaining The Town. All of the books came equipped with the full endorsement of the friends of mine who’d read them, and hell, the series was presented as a science-based horror yarn about a biological strain of vampires taking over the world! Take I Am Legend and combine it with a modern retelling of The Andromeda Strain and voila!—perfection!
Or so I thought.
The first book, The Strain, moved along quickly and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Sure, there were parts I rolled my eyes at, but the story was so entertaining that I could easily forgive them. Then came The Fall, which started out well enough. But then halfway through that book, something happened. The storyline became laughable. It all went to hell. And by the time I finished The Night Eternal, my opinion was set in stone.
The Strain series sucks.
And here are my top three reasons why, completely filled with spoilers for those who haven’t read the books.
#3: Bad Science
There are really only two glaring instances of this throughout the entire series, but trust me, these instances are HUGE.
First of all there’s the more minor affront. One of the man characters is Abraham Setrakian, who’s a Romanian Jew and who’s well over eighty years old. The text makes constant reference to his severely crippled hands and his bad heart, and yet he is constantly able to not only duke it out with the vampires, but all it takes is a single swing of his silver sword to sever head from neck. Seriously? I mean…seriously? Even guillotines, with their 45- to 50-pound blades, did not always succeed in hacking through the tissue and spinal column. And yet this ancient professor was able to do so every time with relative ease. Completely unbelievable, and we won’t even get into the fact he screams, “My sword sings of silver,” every time he executes a vamp, because that’s just plain dumb.
“Get off my lawn, dammit!”
The second and most egregious affront to science just so happens to be the conclusion of the second book, which completely sets the stage for the third book and forwards the vampire master’s plan. This plan includes exploding a series of nuclear power plants built by another rather unbelievable character in order to block out the sun with ash. Once this is finished, there will be a world that has only three hours of muted sunlight a day, which is of course vampire paradise.
The problem? Nuclear power plants don’t explode. They melt down.
“Wait, does anyone know how these things work?”
“Eh, never mind, no one cares.”
A nuclear explosion requires a catalyst and weaponized atomic fuel, which are quite lacking in reactors built to supply the public with electricity, because to have a reactor that could incinerate miles of prime real estate if anything went wrong would be just plain stupid. No, reactors melt down. When the core overheats, the fuel and fission products seep out and radiate the environment—which is of course really bad. Now, while it is true that hydrogen explosions from superheated steam can most certainly occur, those detonations wouldn’t be in any way large enough to create an ash cloud big enough to blot out Chris Christie, never mind an area of the sky. Even if it could, and the place did go up in a giant mushroom cloud, there’s no way that the main characters of the story, who weren’t even a mile away from one of the explosions when it occurred, would remain fine and dandy and drive off into the no-sunset.
Now, I know what you’re saying. These reactors were all built by one of the baddies from the books. He probably added explosive materials into his reactors to allow these nuclear blasts to occur, right? Well, I guess that’s possible…however, during the laughable back story (more on that later), it’s said that when Chernobyl melted down, one of the Ancient Ones (more on them later too) turned to dust. But wait…Chernobyl melted down, it didn’t explode! In other words, the authors are setting up the finale by rewriting a scientifically historical fact and hoping no one notices. Which of course no one does, because to most folks nuclear power is like Merlin, David Copperfield, and Ric Ocasek’s love life—it’s magic.
That being said, this sin is nowhere near as bad as…
#2: Good (Fake) Science Ruined By Bad Mythology
The vampires in The Strain are brilliant. They truly are. They’re created by parasitic (capillary) worms that burrow into and then change the biology of the host. Human traits are nullified, the skin becomes opaque, the digestive systems are simplified and fused to allow for quick absorption, and a stinger is formed where the voice box would be, which is the tool the creatures use to feed. Brilliant. Also, the effectiveness of silver is explained in a scientific way, given the metal’s antiviral/bacterial qualities, as is the sensitivity to UV light. In a less impressive addition they all share a hive mind, which might not be truly scientific, but then again all one has to do is look at the legions of Beliebers in order to say, “Okay, wow, this is actually a frightening possibility.”
Talk about getting your red wings.
And then the authors go and ruin all this groundwork by instituting one of the dumbest origin stories I’ve ever read.
According to the series, when God sent his angels to Sodom and Gomorrah, there were three, not two. One of the archangels, Ozryel, apparently developed a taste for killing and drinking blood. Why an all-knowing God didn’t step down and stop this, I have no clue. Instead, Ozryel is hacked into seven pieces and deposited around the globe, and it’s when the blood from those seven pieces seeps into the ground that the worms are formed, the Ancient Ones come into being, and vampirism begins. Goodbye, science!
What was once a thought-out and researched plot then goes on to be explained in the worst way possible. Vampires can’t cross moving water because they’re bound to their origins, but they can if they’re invited, which allows the Master, the renegade Ancient One, to cross the ocean and enter New York. Not a very well-thought-out fail-safe by an omniscient deity. It’s about on par with Darth Maul taunting Obi-Wan while the Jedi’s lightsaber, and certain death, is within easy Force-grabbing reach. The method, and the mythology, is just downright silly, not to mention lazy. And worst of all, it leads directly to…
1: An Insulting Ending
After all this plotting, after characters are left rummaging through a darkened world that shouldn’t in reality be changed in the slightest, our racially stereotypical heroes (no, I won’t get into that here, it’s just piling on) end up on some islands in Lake Ontario with a nuclear bomb in tow. (There’s that magic nuclear power again!)
It seems that all our heroes have to do is gather the ashes of the six Ancient Ones who had died because of those impossible nuclear explosions, lure the Master there, and then detonate the bomb. Then the whole shebang would end and the world would go back to normal. Yippee!
So they all arrive, the Master’s there (though he should have known their plan all along and stayed far, far away), and finally, after some eye-roll-inducing action, the bomb goes off. Let’s take out the fact that the main character and his young son go up in flames, which would be an emotional sticking point in the plot if not for the fact they were so damn annoying, and the added element that another couple of major characters are stationed on an island quite close to the one that blows up and they walk away completely unscathed after that magical nuclear blast. Instead, let’s focus on the direct aftermath of the explosion.
The sky opens up. A beam of light shines down on the detonated island. Two angels appear from heaven, and a third flies up from the ashes. The three angels then soar around together like fairies and then all three shoot upward and disappear into the clouds.
Um, huh? Did I just read that?
That’s right. The angel Ozryel, who was the reason the globe was thrown into chaos and that millions upon millions of people died, was just escorted back up to heaven after his body was reassembled. Talk about a massive crock of shit. It seemed his only penance was to kill shit-tons of innocent people and then get all blowed up without ever showing an ounce of contrition. It is without a doubt the most imbecilic and indolent ending to a serious work of fiction I have ever read. I literally slammed the book shut and mumbled curses to myself for a good five minutes after reading it. Sure, his entire strain was obliterated and humanity was saved from vampiric rule, but still…why the fuck was the angel let back into heaven? It makes absolutely no sense. It’s insulting. I can’t believe talented folks like del Toro and Hogan created it.
Just like eviscerated remains, heaven is pretty!
And just think…The Strain was optioned to be a series on FX! Ha! Will I watch it? Of course! And will I enjoy it? Probably. Why?
Because I’m an idiot.
“I give Rob a boner that big.”
Women are fascinating, and for a man, they’re also quite confusing. Because of this, one of the things I love in literature is when you’re handed insight into the mind of the opposite sex. It’s like being given a silver decoder ring, only now you have to figure out how to use it. (Yeah, there’s excitement in the unknowing, too, similar to putting together one of those monochrome puzzles.)
The story is told from the point of view of a peculiar girl named Scarborough (Scree to those who know her), who grows up on an apple orchard in Maine. Raised by her mom and stepdad, she has a rather mundane, if not comfortable, childhood. That is until a tragedy comes about (one that is ostensibly young Scree’s fault), leaving her one parent short. Scree comes to long for something other than what she has known her whole life. She feels trapped, and when her brother comes back, his girlfriend pregnant, Scree is dead set against that poor baby being confined in the same life she has been subjected to.
The girl saves up her money working at a restaurant, steals the child, and then flees, ending up in an odd yet opulent resort. It is here that the bulk of the tale takes place, as Scree is haunted by strange visions while she tries to learn to be happy, to find love, and make peace with her guilt.
This truly is a wonderful tale, completely feminine in the best of ways. Some might find the storytelling to be languid, or even meandering at times, but that’s only because Schoonover dives headlong into her character, letting the reader get to know Scree in an intimate way. We know her thoughts, her longings and fears, and since the story is told from her viewpoint, the clues as to what is actually happening are hidden in plain sight, beneath the miasma of Scree’s desires.
As I said earlier, this is an insightful novel. It might not be an illustration of all women (or girls, as the case may be), but in the specific instance of Scree, Schoonover manages to create a sort of everywoman, one who’s believable despite the fantastic situation she finds herself in. She’s a female character that isn’t simply a reflection of the men around her, one that indeed longs for love and affection yet also strives to become powerful and independent, and it is that inner struggle that drives the book’s plot. And the author also does something quite strange for a work of fiction such as this: the settings, even the previously mentioned ritzy resort she finds herself in, are presented in an ordinary, almost dreary manner. It is the character’s interactions and viewpoints that matter, what she makes of the setting rather than what the setting actually is, that gives it depth.
As you can plainly see, I adored this book…until the very end. At that point the author uses a writing convention that is tantamount to cheating in order to manipulate the reader’s view of the story being told. I hate to be vague about it, but to give away what happens in the very last section would be to give away the twist ending, which would be a shame. However, I was slightly disappointed when I came across this last bit, and felt it took a little of the power away from the tale. Which was a shame.
That being said, it didn’t dishearten me enough to alter my view of what came before. I still feel Bad Apple is a powerful and enlightening tale, and in the end, I think the author was painted into a corner by just how personal a story it is. Tell the tale in third person, and my problems with the ending disappear…yet at the same time, the intimacy of the first-person narrative is lost. It’s a no-win situation at best.
In closing, I give this book a hearty recommendation. There are worse sins an author can commit, such as telling a substandard story. And Bad Apple is certainly not that.
Sometimes in one’s life, you run across an author whose vision you see clearly, as if your minds are somehow connected across the vast expanse of the universe. The author’s voice resonates in your mind, the words he or she places upon the written page are the entirety of your hopes and dreams, your nightmares, your fears, your sorrows, your ideals, and perhaps the longing for a happy ending that you know your own life may not have in store.
For myself, that author is Ben Duiverman. The man has captured my soul, has given to me a mirror through which I can gaze and see the humanity that lies within with startling clarity. His writing is that of a fever dream, a never-ending kaleidoscope of terror, introspection, and eventual acquiescence that permeates my own thoughts each and every day.
What Happened Here? is a collection of seventeen stories, each of which ponder the universal questions that we all ask daily. Be it a question of duty, as in “The Sweeper” or “Lost Over Tokyo,” or the issue of culpability and its price, be it historical or otherwise, and its grip over our hearts, like “The Gathering Place” (the greatest story in the entire book), “The Battle of the Bulge,” “Never Late for Work,” or “An Unnatural Death,” each story resonating, building upon the next, constructing a wall of emotional bricks that, by the time you are done reading, is destined to be torn down.
There are inquiries into the depths of darkness that reside in the hearts and minds of each of us, such as “Trick or Treat,” “The Circus Is in Town,” “A Family Portrait,” and “My Domain.” And there are even those that cast a critical eye on society itself, like the deliciously haunting “Dining with Sharks.” And with “Bogeymen,” perhaps the most frightening of all the stories, the author paints (literally and figuratively) the image of the fate which may await us all, and illustrates with startling ambiguity how we very well may be the unwitting authors of our own demise. As in “A Two-Way Street” and “Cruel and Unusual Punishment,” selfishness leads to self-wrought destruction, the bane of man since the beginning of the human race.
This volume, published by the author himself, is truly a great and worthwhile read. It is a paragon of creation and subsequent deconstruction, a masterful work of art using the written word to tear down what we know of reality and to then build it once more in ways we may not have thought of before. Duiverman is a master storyteller, an author with something to say, whose own inner turmoil is laid out for the whole world to see, if we should be brave enough to take that leap along with him. Reading this was a unique and wholly rewarding experience for this reviewer, and it is my hope that any who stumble across this review will take the plunge as well.
When I reviewed The Infection, the first book in a seemingly ongoing post-apocalyptic series penned by Craig DiLouie, I stated that he was an author that knows his voice. The action was well paced, the emotions were real, the tension expertly portrayed. I called that novel a “really good book,” and I meant it. And then DiLouie had to go and release a second installment and make me change my definitions of his work.
That is because The Killing Floor, that aforementioned second book, goes far beyond really good. It enters rarefied air and becomes great. And when I say great, I mean Stephen King/Robert McCammon great, as in a nearly flawless work of dystopian brilliance.
The story picks up right around where the last book ends—after the destruction of bridge connecting West Virginia and Ohio. Our heroes are now scattered, both in separate militias, still struggling to both survive and make the world safe again—an obviously thankless task in a world where zombies and other unearthly beasts roam. There is also a touching subplot added to those we already know, one that follows around a group of soldiers as the US government attempts to retake Washington D.C.
Whereas The Infection follows a very tight, rigid timeline, The Killing Floor meanders a bit in the best of ways, mainly because the world has become a huge war zone, and oftentimes in war there are long periods of stagnancy that would probably come across as rather boring in print. This is not to say that this book is nothing but action, however. While there is a good deal of conflict, DiLouie picks his spots. There is much more introspection this time around, many added instances of characters mourning the loss of their friends, questioning their place in the world, wondering if, now that their existence is redefined, there will ever be a place for them again. It’s truly heartbreaking to read, real gut-wrenching contemplations that sting in their sincerity.
This aspect is illustrated beautifully by an inventive storyline dealing with a mutation of the original virus. Trying not to give anything away, one of the characters—a ne’er-do-well who became a cop in one of the survivor camps—is stung by a beastie and develops some…er, interesting abilities. This character’s story weaves his past in with his current reality through dreams and hallucinations, and does a cut-up job of showing a man who is, like society itself, a redefinition, and though it’s dangerous, though it’s scary as hell, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even though this man was a loser in his past life, that label doesn’t have to stick with him for the rest of his existence. If I can think of two words to string together and come up with to describe the tone of these particular segments, and the book as a whole, it would be thus: horrendously hopeful.
As before, DiLouie does a fantastic job of making each character flawed but likeable, of taking clichéd personalities and giving them depth and meaning. Even the most common cliché in this type of fiction—the quirky scientist—proves to be much greater than the sum of his parts.
Also, it must be said that not only does DiLouie portray the military in a sympathetic and thoughtful light, he has obviously either done tons of research into the matter or is one of the best B.S. artists of all time. The dialogue and lingo is believable to the point where it felt like I was listening to a couple of my Army buddies talk about their past combat experiences, the knowledge of weapons and the inner workings of the system are mapped out better than any I’ve ever seen. Great job, and for that the author deserves many kudos.
So yes, this is one fantastic book. Personally, combining the first two segments, I put it right up there, beneath only two other novels along the same vein by the two authors I mentioned earlier. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention that there are some juicy hints in this volume about the nature of the illness that could—and should—be expanded upon later. The Killing Floor is a seminal work by one hell of a writer. I heartily recommend it, along with The Infection, its predecessor, to just about anybody. Absolutely virtuoso read…and there better be a third and climactic book coming soon.
This book, published by Permuted Press, was purchased by the reviewer.
The sub-genre of apocalyptic fiction has really taken off as of late. It seems that everyone and their mother are now penning a book dealing with the End of Days, and I’ve read my fair share of them—particularly when it comes to the subject of zombies. I’ve had a love affair with the meandering undead since I was a wee frightened lad, and ever since then I’ve torn into whatever material I can when it comes to this subject matter.
I have found, however, that with the sheer quantity offered, many of these novels blend into one huge, intestine-chewing lump in my brain. It takes a special sort of zombie novel for me to remember not only the plot (if there is one; many zombie tales end up being nothing but expositions on gore), but the emotions I felt while reading; which, to me, is undeniably more important than anything.
The Infection, the wonderful new tale of woe and man-eaters by Craig DiLouie, is one of those “special” books.
In DiLouie’s world, the end starts with a strange malady that causes one-third of the world’s population to break out screaming, suffer massive seizures, and then fall into a state of catatonia. Then, three days after the event, these “Screamers” wake up. They are violent, fast, and driven to both eat and spread their infection, which fully afflicts its victims after a rather sparse three-minute incubation period.
Society breaks down in a matter of days, leaving roving bands of survivors to try and seek a safe haven. It is at this point that The Infection begins, introducing us to a varied group (including a preacher, a school teacher, a cop, three soldiers, a sixteen-year-old boy, and a rather tainted homemaker), who traverse across greater Pittsburgh in their Bradley (basically a tank with a smaller turret designed to be a quite-deadly armored personnel carrier) in search of somewhere, anywhere, that they can rest their weary bones for a night, perhaps longer. The Infected are always at their heels, as well as a few other (rather ingenious) beasts, which, when added together, create a nice little mystery as to why this outbreak happened in the first place. Is it the wrath of an angry God? Aliens seeking to eliminate the local inhabitants so they can re-populate with their own kind? The text offers clues, but never says the answer outright, which makes for a nice little mystery in the middle of all the madness.
The plot of the book is rather simple—folks run from monsters, find shelter, run again, find shelter again, discover they don’t know how to live like real people anymore, and go destroy a bridge to stop the Infected and friends from crossing the river. As I said, not the most complex plot in the world.
But plot isn’t where The Infection gains its significance. Yes, there are zombies (or pseudo-zombies) and other assorted baddies, but this is a book about them as much as The Telltale Heart is about a fancy puzzle box.
DiLouie does a cut-up job of presenting what it would really be like if everything were to fall apart. The human element is on full display here—the longing, the despair, the paralyzing fear. There is sadness aplenty, and much longing for loved ones lost. The book’s structure is excellent in presenting this—it is told in present tense (which adds to the tension), with constant flashbacks pertaining to the individual journey of each character. Every one of them has lost something important—some more so than others—and all must come to grips with the fact that no matter if the planet recovers or not, they, as individuals, will never be the same again.
To say that I found The Infection to be astute and poignant would be an understatement. It’s inventive and fresh, offering an insider’s perspective on pain and terror. The characters are wonderfully flawed and likeable, and I felt for them whenever I discovered what horrible events had played out in their pasts. The action scenes are concise and easy to follow, and DiLouie seems to have done his homework when it comes to the more technical aspects of modern warfare.
This is a really good book, folks. It made me edgy, sad, joyous, and angry—sometimes at the same time. DiLouie is an author who knows his voice, and he uses it to near perfection. I will definitely be reading more of him in the future, and if you have any appreciation at all for tales of the apocalypse, this small-press offering is just about as good as it gets.
Originally appeared in Shock Totem #4, July 2011.
“You called me a symbol, and you’re right. This suit stands for something. It isn’t me living some childhood fantasy or anything like that. It’s about hope.”
This novel was sent to me for review by the good folks at Permuted Press.
As a man who loves zombies, I especially appreciate two aspects—their creation story, and the way they’re used as metaphor. As a man who loves superheroes, I’m fond of the authors who take the usual conventions and either places them in an unusual situation or messes with the tropes to toss the concept of the “hero” on its head.
Ex-Heroes, the novel of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, by Peter Clines, combines all of this into a hearty, thought-provoking, and completely satisfying experience. Every aspect I just wrote about is explored…and then some.
The plot is simple enough. The undead have risen across the land, forcing martial law upon the citizens. Everything crumbles, leaving it up to the superheroes who populate this world—who’ve only discovered their abilities in the last couple years, as if Mother Nature knew this was going to happen and took steps to help stem the tide of destruction—to pick up the mantle of protection. After all, when society collapses, it is up to the best of us, no matter what form they take, to help keep society alive.
The book is written in a very unique way. Each chapter is separated into two segments—“Now” and “Then.” “Now” is told in third person, telling the story of the survivors and their guardians as they try to go on each day inside The Mount (a reinforced Paramount Studios), fighting back the legions of zombies and scrounging for supplies. “Then” is told in first person, and it is here where the author bucks convention. Each of these subdivisions introduces us to the heroes individually, telling the tales of how they became what they ended up being in their own words. When I mentioned tossing the concept on its head, this is what I was talking about. Each of the heroes is revealed to be a real, live human being, one with doubts, faults, desires, fears, and missteps. There are no cartoons or cardboard cutouts here. Each hero is valid; they’re individuals from various walks of life who just so happened to be blessed with a unique gift.
In post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, there are two warring factions—those on The Mount, and the Seventeens, or SS, a roving street gang whose numbers have surprisingly grown larger since the end of the world. While the heroes have to fight back the zombies each day hidden behind walls and barricades, the Seventeens seem to live on the streets with very little protection. All of which says there is more here than meets the eye, some behind-the-scenes mystery that just might spell doom for our heroes.
All of this is tied together nicely with the vagueness of the disease that caused the dead to rise in the first place. We learn the virus itself isn’t lethal, it simply re-animates dead tissue. The reason folks die from the bites is the ungodly levels of bacteria and other diseases harvesting in their mouths. This was something new to me, and I almost jumped up and applauded the writer for his resourcefulness. And then, toward the end of the book, it is revealed what truly caused the outbreak, and all I could do was keep nodding my head, over and over and over. Just like the heroes, the plague got itself an original—and unexpected—origin story.
Yeah, I guess you could say I fell in love with this novel. Is it the best book ever written? Of course not. There are a couple plot holes that could use some further explanation and on more than one occasion I wanted to run into the page and slap the heroes upside their heads when they made a few stupid decisions. But none of that matters, because it’s the afterglow of any literature that one must judge it by, the way you remember the experience long after it’s done. And I can honestly say that Ex-Heroes has stuck with me ever since I read the last page. It’s affecting, exciting, inventive, and even, surprisingly, innocent. There’s a message of hope—both in human nature and society in general—between those pages that is refreshing. I can’t wait to dive into its sequel, Ex-Patriots, and can say without second thought that this book is in the top five of zombie literature I’ve ever read. Seriously.
I love me a good zombie tale. Dawn of the Dead is my favorite movie of all time, Romero is a god to me, and my first book is about those meandering, rotting corpses. So when I was sent The Zombie Feed, the new compilation put out by Apex Publications and edited by Jason Sizemore, for review, I was more than pumped to dive right in.
Inside this volume are 17 tales of zombies in all of their various forms. At first I expected a grouping of run-of-the-mill apocalyptic, undead stories. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered how different the collection is, with how many various directions the authors took what very often are clichéd tropes and plot devices.
In order to adequately break down this fantastic collection, let’s look at The Zombie Feed story by story.
Not Dead by BJ Burrow: A woman wakes up on her deathbed, questioning if she’s still alive. A touching story of the nature of faith and what really defines humanity.
Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs by Monica Valentinelli: An original, if somewhat clunky, take on the origins of the outbreak and the privileged nature of the wealthy. It could’ve been spectacular given the original premise the author came up with, but it falls flat. A little too “Ah, gotcha!” for my taste.
Cold Comfort by Nathaniel Tapley: What is this? A zombie tale without a true zombie? A fantastic story dealing with the undead that only exist in the narrator’s head, as a Russian mortician whose wife is cheating on him communes with his recently-departed patients. Ironically enough, in this particular tale it isn’t the dead who should be considered zombies.
The Final December Day by Lee Thompson: This one follows more along the lines of a traditional zombie tale. A lone cop, searching for his long-lost partner on his last day on Earth, runs across a young photographer. An interesting take on the apocalypse where the zombies are simply drug-addicted, insane humans, and aliens roam the earth. I enjoyed the message, but it fell a little short. This is one short story that begged to be longer.
Broken Bough by Daniel I. Russell: A particularly heartbreaking tale of the end of the world, told from the point of view of a young family of three struggling with the ultimate decision. Truly sad, it makes you wonder what you might do should the unthinkable happen. Would you be able to take the actions necessary? Haunting.
The Sickness Unto Death by Brandon Alspaugh: A somewhat convoluted tale of the recently departed rising up, remembering their pasts and able to act as human, though they’re no longer living. A bit confusing, and written in a way that I think might seem like the author is trying to “put one over” on the reader. I’m all for an original, inventive story, but this one seemed too clever for its own good.
A Shepherd in the Valley by Maggie Slater: Now this one was creepy. A man, all alone and living in an old airport, has figured out a way to “tame” the dead. A heartening examination of a parent’s love and the sacrifices one must make in the face of absolute terror.
Twenty-Three Second Anomaly by Ray Wallace: Eh, I could give or take this one. The story of human experimentation and how exact science can be. Interesting, but the punch isn’t punchy enough and the emotions seems forced. Not bad, but could be better.
The Last Generation by Joe Nazare: Another very interesting and not-quite-zombie story. All people have fallen over and entered a state of non-death, and only a few wake up, albeit minus their memories and sense of self. An inventive story, but lacking in some important information (such as how do they remember pop culture references and not their names or pasts) that could have made the story much more affecting. Decent nonetheless.
Bitten by Eugene Johnson: One of the few standard zombie tales in the whole collection. A very short story of a bunch of folks trying to protect a house at the end of the world. It is what you’d expect.
Lifeboat by Simon McCaffery: A very entertaining story of a group of people surviving the apocalypse by sailing the ocean on a cruise ship. Intriguing and imaginative, the narrative takes twists and turns I never expected, coming out at the end in an intense, hell-bent-for-leather climax. One of the best in the bunch.
Rabid Raccoons by Kristen Dearborn: Now this is what I call taking a genre and flipping it on its head. A teen girl does her friend wrong, only to be assailed (possibly mystically) by zombie raccoons. A stupendous job of telling a story from the viewpoint of a young adult, this tale captures the sense of seclusion and fear beautifully. Great story.
Zombies on the Moon by Andrew Clark Porter: Another short tale, and while the imagery of a moon cluttered with zombies has stuck with me since I’ve read it, this is another example of a story that could use some fleshing out to be perfect.
The Fare by Lucian Soulban: The absolute best story of the bunch. A lonely man in the aftermath of the world’s end hires a mysterious cabbie to help him obtain closure for his past sins. A tremendous study of the human condition, of how guilt can guide our actions after a traumatic event, no matter if we were in the right or not.
What’s Next? by Elaine Blose: This is the only story that I don’t think belongs in this collection. It wants to be campy, describing a world where aliens bring about the zombie apocalypse, only to have monster after monster appear in their wake, but it comes off as amateurish. The rest of the stories in this collection are so strong and insightful, it seems entirely out of place.
Goddamn Electric by K. Allen Wood: Another ingenious story, imagining a “different” sort of zombie, when the skies open up during an apocalyptic storm and fry everyone who wasn’t smart enough to find shelter. High on anxiety and even (surprisingly) emotion, this story follows an old man who’s lived a long life and isn’t quite ready to give it up.
Hipsters in Love by Danger_Slater: This is the oddest story of the bunch. I absolutely hated it until I was a couple pages in, when I went back to the beginning and re-read the title. This is a complete farce of a tale, a satire poking fun at a certain segment of our modern culture, complete with kids and their ironic t-shirts worrying about obtaining some Pabst Blue Ribbon in the face of the undead. A highly funny romp, it’s the perfect choice to end this anthology.
So that’s it! In all, I’ll say this is well worth the read, and the best zombie anthology to come out in years. Congrats to Apex and to Jason Sizemore. You’ve collected something highly entertaining and even touching. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves this genre of story.
I have to say at the start of this review that I never 1) read the book this film is based on, nor 2) saw the original Swedish version, either. In other words, I went into this as a virgin, someone who was excited to see it based solely on trailers and the word-of-mouth of a very good friend.
And I was so not disappointed.
Let Me In, directed by Matt Reeves, is the story of Owen, a lonely twelve-year-old growing up in New Mexico in the early 1980s. He lives with his divorced mother in a run-down apartment complex and is a learned, if youthful, voyeur, using his telescope to spy on their neighbors whenever possible. He is constantly picked on at school and is all in all a rather depressed and possibly psychologically damaged child. He has no real relationship with his mother (as shown in the film by the fact we never get a clear shot of her face), and his father is distant, in both geography and emotion.
Owen’s mood brightens, however, when Abby, a mysterious girl around his own age, moves into the apartment next door with her “father.” She is a peculiar girl, seemingly opposed to the concept of footwear, and her late-night rendezvous with Owen in the complex playground serve to pique our young, despondent hero’s interest. The two youngsters begin a relationship of sorts, delving steadily deeper into the secrets each of them keep hidden, until we start to realize that this adorable and strange little girl is most certainly not what she seems to be.
I said before that I was excited to see this movie, but I’ve found in the past that my excitement level is rarely met by the actual execution of said film. This one, however, is a welcomed exception.
There is nothing in this film I didn’t love. From the dank and dreary atmosphere to the heightened sense of mystery and inner turmoil every major character feels, the emotions of all are on display. Kodi Smit-McPhee is wonderfully somber as Owen, and Chloe Moretz absolutely shines as the more-than-she-seems Abby. In fact, this young actress completely steals the show. She is grave, reflective, and much more mature than her age suggests, which fits perfectly, especially when her true nature is revealed.
There is a good amount of blood and violence in this movie, but it’s used expertly so that it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer or become campy. When there is violence, it means something. The plot has something to say about lost innocence, as well. As we watch Abby’s past unravel, we grow to sympathize with her, even though she’s an entirely less-than-savory character. And that’s where the brilliance of the storytelling shines greater than ever. We see how this girl manipulates the situation, manipulates every relationship in her life, and by the end I found myself hoping Owen would just open his eyes, dammit! For as wonderfully innocent and sexually pure as their bond is, there’s a level of malevolence lurking right beneath the surface that, although we never really see it play out on screen, is still horrible.
In short, this is a fantastic film, possibly the best horror movie I’ve seen since The Descent. Moody and atmospheric, it captures your attention on the slow ride, watching as this unfortunate child confronts one fear and becomes the embodiment of another. It’s full of tremendous performances (and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Richard Jenkins, who has a small role as Abby’s “father,” a man who might know a thing or two of what Owen’s future holds.) and the special effects, though weak in spots, do their best to forward the plot, not overshadow it. I had a great time watching this, and actually sat around and discussed the movie with my wife for an hour or so afterward, which is usually only reserved for the best-of-the-best films.
I think you can see where I place this one, then.