Tag Archives: Permuted Press

The Killing Floor

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.

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The Infection

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.

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“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.

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