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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Tag Archives: Zombie Apocalypse
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.
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.