Tag Archives: Zombies

The Way of All Flesh

May I once again state that I am sick to death of zombies. Seriously, weary of the walking dead. I don’t much care any more if they lope or shuffle, run or even fly. I’m all out of shits to give for the cavorting cadavers. Its all grown so damn boring.

Then Tim Waggoner decided to craft a zombie novel. I’m a big fan of Tim Waggoner. So when I was asked if I would like to review it, I said certainly. And when it arrived, I kind of thought I was in for it. The cover is a little hokey. Not horrible but not at all as cool as the inner contents.

The Way of All Flesh is a novel that is populated with the usual set pieces and suspects: A rag tag group of survivors holed up somewhere, in this case a fortified school. We have a brave warrior maiden, Kate, and her bookishly smart girlfriend, Marie. We have the macho man among them who is not at all what he seems to be. His name is Nicholas and before the zombie apocalypse he made Jeffrey Dahmer look like Michael Landon! Now that society has crumbled and zombies are the most feared in the land, he kind of lost his title. He ain’t happy about it. In his quest to regain his status as top predator, he really gets in touch with his psycho-side. I mean really.

But our hero is David, he’s a zombie and he’s also Kate’s twin brother. He doesn’t really know he’s a zombie. Zombies view the world a bit differently. They see humans as grotesque creatures out to kill them for sport. They also view one another as though they were normal living folks. David must find his family and save them and try to figure out what the hell is going on. He is dogged along the way by Simon, a skatery youth in a Megadeth shirt. Simon seems to know a great deal about what is happening and could help a lot more than he does. He’s kind of an asshole.

These are the ingredients to one of the most amusing zombie novels I’ve read as of late. There is zombie gore, people eating and all that, but damned if Waggoner doesn’t introduce existentialism and one of the most ingenious devices for the cause of a zombie apocalypse EVER. And when things get gruesome and fucked up, they get really gruesome and fucked up.

Deft characters and a cinematic gait keep The Way of All Flesh a fun sliver of bloody entertainment. Get it now from the fine folks at Samhain Publishing.

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Rag Men

If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I love apocalypse stories. My favorite way to end the world is with zombies, but any disaster will do. I was under the impression that Rag Men, by Rocky Alexander, was going to be a zombie story, and it sort of was. However, I realized it concentrated more on the survival of one main character and the revenge seeking of the other.

Colin Ross is grieving for his wife, who became ill with the “QILU” virus while overseas. As the virus spreads throughout the world, turning normal people into savages, Colin at first contemplates suicide, then decides to ride out the end of the world at his uncle’s cabin. He just needs to get there in one piece. He grabs supplies from the gym he owns, and sets out with one of the gym kids, Andre.

Rooster has just gotten out of prison, and drops in on an old dealer friend, Timbo. Timbo is glad to see Rooster, until Rooster murders the rest of the losers in the house. He tricks Timbo into helping him get supplies, then takes off after killing Timbo as well. Rooster is on a mission just as Colin is; but he is after revenge where Colin just wants to survive the madness plaguing the world.

Rag Men follows these two characters as they make their way to their goals. They must do awful things to survive, but Rooster actually enjoys the brutality in the new world, resorting to it even when it’s unnecessary. Be forewarned—the violence in this story is graphic and disturbing. But it’s not gratuitous; Rooster would be a lesser character without it.

The “zombies” in the story are secondary; the apocalypse is just the background. But it works great. Rag Men is not your average end-of-the-world story, but it’s a great read. The two main characters come together in a way that is both satisfying and unsettling.

If zombies aren’t your thing, or you’re tired of the zombie apocalypse trope, you will definitely enjoy Rag Men. But zombie lovers will love it, too. The story is action-packed and quite the page-turner. Don’t miss it.

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Night of the Living Dead

Arguably the scariest offering from the 1960’s, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is more than the average zombie flick. For starters, it is the original zombie movie, and its original incarnation has served as inspiration for the myriad of humans-eating-humans in media for the last decade, most notably with television/graphic novel series The Walking Dead. In fact, at New York Comic Con in 2012, the creator of the series said his show was to Romero “What Fifty Shades of Grey is to Twilight.” Epic fan fiction. Even Roger Ebert, a budding critic for the Chicago Sun-Times regarded the film as “…something else.” At the time there was no rating system, and often children would show for the monster movies. No one expected the Romero film to elicit such a visceral reaction.

Though Romero’s zombies were the stuff of nightmares, the film has a very political and social focal point. It plays on many of the themes from the 1960’s—a time of civil unrest and dissension among the masses, and was one of the first horror films to feature an African American lead. Much of the dialogue from the film was ad-libbed, and though there was a script, it was Romero’s intention to capture as much surprise and candor from the actors, often telling them to “explain” a situation with no further notes than that. In many of these cases, there were only one or two takes before Romero moved on.

In a time when cinematography and film were in their prepubescent age, Romero brought a very new—and very dark—insight into what a horror film could be, and how it could touch upon the nerves of an already turbid and volatile apex in a societal realm. Though initially intended to be a dull-witted truck driver, the character of Ben was restructured by the actor Duane Jones. Jones, well-educated and mannerly, decided that if he were to play the character, the character should also be a reflection of the kind of people he knew. He once said he feared that if Ben appeared a lack-wit, that the audience would have a hard time liking him as a hero and respecting him as a leader.

The grainy black and white of 60’s era cinematography adds an additional haunting aspect to the film, the focal point of the movie is not the monsters themselves, nor the fear of them. The true core of the film is the fear of the unknown. In a world where the dead stalk the earth, they are a known fear. But the unknown fear of other people is in finding that, when faced with our own mortality, most people become monsters and would commit horrifying acts to save their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, and the moral codes that act as a cornerstone of our society and civility dissolve in that. The film seeks to explore what constitutes “moral” and “immoral” in a world verging on apocalyptic chaos.

As a movie, the acting is brilliant and the film itself pits strangers in a truly life or death situation to determine what manifests “good.” In a world where the dead come back to life as shambling monsters of their former selves, Romero executes a level of fear—not only from the dead rising, but from those of the living—rendering seven strangers struggling to survive in a world of the sick, the dying, and the dead, proving that the scariest monsters are not creatures of the imagination, but rather are people caught between the fear of death and the fear of the unknown.

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The Hungry 3: At the End of the World

Sheriff Penny Miller is back! This time she and her zombie-fighting gang have made their way to an isolated town in the mountains, hoping to hunker down in a ski lodge and regroup. But nothing is ever easy during the zombie apocalypse, and their situation is made worse when the lodge owner steals their ride and all of their money, leaving them stranded.

Although they are not as exposed as they were before, they still aren’t safe from the zombies making their way slowly up the mountain. Penny and her friends must find a way to protect and fortify themselves, as well as convince skeptics that danger is heading for the town.

The previous books in the series—The Hungry and The Hungry 2: The Wrath of God—were fun and exciting, and The Hungry 3: At the End of the World is no exception. The entire series is great, and unusual in that a woman is the badass leader of a survival group. She’s not weak, but she does show her emotions in protecting and caring for her “family.” Penny is not someone to piss off.

Authors Booth and Shannon have once again drawn me in to their world, and kept me reading far into the night. I know that The Hungry 4 is in the works, and I can’t wait.

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Sunday Digs: Angels & Other Flying Humanoids, Little People, and The Brothers Grimm B-Sides

Here are a handful of goodies from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week:

A general rule among successful murderers? Don’t provide evidence to the police by confessing and/or posting pictures of your victim on your Facebook page.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a fuzzy blotch…or a smudge on your camera lens…or a hoax! It’s the Mysterious Flying Humanoids of Mexico!

Five hundred brand new fairy tales have recently been discovered after having been locked away for over a century in an archive in Germany. Before you get too excited—as people are apt to do over the thought of brand! new! fairy! tales!—please note that one of the better ones is about a girl who escapes a witch by turning into a pond. In other words, it’s kind of like The Brothers Grimm decided to do their own prequels.

Hey, baby, how would you like six inches of me?

The SCP Foundation. To Secure, Contain, and Protect. Things like SCP-231-7, for example.

Lastly, do you believe in angels? Katie Lentz might.

This week’s Sunday Digs brought to you by those meddling kids

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The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse

Alone, on a deserted island research laboratory, three scientists with the hopes of the entire world resting on their shoulders slowly degenerate into madness and the not-death of Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome (ANSD)—Zombieism.

Scientist to the last, Dr. Stanley Blum records not only his experiments and discoveries, along with those of his colleagues, but also his own slow descent as he succumbs to the symptoms of ANSD. It is now down to us, fellow members of the UN emergency session, to take his discoveries and use them to save what remains of the human race.

This is the key conceit in The Zombie Autopsies, Dr. Schlozman’s work of zombie fiction. Laid out like a briefing packet for members of the UN’s emergency session dealing with the zombie plague that has almost completely overwhelmed the earth, the book is divided into three main parts. The first is a short introduction, which does an excellent job of setting the scene of desperation that has led to the events described in the rest of the book. The second, and primary, part of the book are the “Secret Notebooks” described in the title, the journal of Dr. Stanley Blum written during the last weeks of his life as a volunteer as part of a desperate, last ditch research attempt. The third and final section is similar to the first as it provides a fictional UN supplied appendix of material.

Throughout the fictional journal, there is a bittersweet sense of a desperately held hope. The characters have no hope for themselves; they already know they are lost, on a one-way trip, and once on the island they will become almost instantly infected and thus doomed as the symptoms of ANSD begin to take over and degrade their brain functions. They have to hold out hope, however, that despite past failures they can discover something that just might prevent the extinction of the entire race. No pressure.

The excitement as theories are put forward is palpable, and the fear and dismay as mistakes are made and mental problems begin to take hold in the group are easy to identify with. Portraying the story as a fiction journal combines with the not inconsiderable skill of the author to provide a very real and emotional journey of a sort that is not often associated with the more violent and visceral nature of modern zombie fiction. This is a more cerebral story and all the more effective because of it.

The background matter in the final section of the book is very effective in providing further setting information and the email evidence accumulated in the appendix gives context as to how the plague started and some characterisation to the nameless executive whose greed destroyed the world. However, this is by far the weakest section of the book and other than a certain amount of colour, it doesn’t add a great deal to the primary story of Dr. Blum.

Schlozman, in his writing of this book, has decided to leave the eventual fate of mankind and thus the final result of Blum’s sacrifice undetermined, and the email trail thus feels a little like the author is unable to leave his creation alone once finished. It hints at a possible cure already in existence but without any real indication of who is behind the faceless communique, or their current status (the emails date from before the plague). It’s difficult to know how or if it matters at this stage in the story. Is it attempting to suggest that the sacrifice of these brave scientists is, in the end, completely unnecessary?

The final section of the book seems to add another layer of ambiguity to an already ambiguous ending, and dilutes the primary impact. The rest of the book does such a good job at playing on the reader’s emotions that this final piece of the puzzle feels flat and contrived by comparison.

A book like this had to come along eventually. The genre cries out for first-person accounts of the zombie apocalypse. But Schlozman deserves real acknowledgement for what he has accomplished with this short work. As a doctor himself, Schlozman’s descriptions of the physiological stages of the disease are gripping and feel very real. This is assisted by some very graphic and realistic pencil sketches of the autopsies he performs on the “living” zombies during his research, showing the things he describes in excruciating detail. The nature of the story as a journal rather than a report or official communique means we get a first-hand look at the main character’s thoughts as well as his experiments, which adds a lot of further detail to the setting as he considers the decline of social order, the official rulings of authorities on the “humanity” of those afflicted with ANSD, and the ethical issues inherent in the research he is forced to perform. Schlozman gives us a living, breathing (for a short while longer, anyway) world on the brink of destruction through the eyes of a sympathetic and quietly heroic protagonist.

Comparisons almost invariably have to be made between the final days of Blum’s life and the short story “Flowers for Algernon,” by Daniel Keyes (which later became a novel of the same name). The Zombie Autopsies is somewhat less poignant and tragic than that older story and the difference in theme along with the direct medical viewpoint provides a radically different tone.

Any fan of the zombie genre and particularly those more concerned with the psychological effects of such stories as highlighted in the early Romero films rather than the gore central to more modern takes on the genre will definitely find a lot to enjoy in this one.

Finally, for those who are interested in the visual media, a movie based on The Zombie Autopsies is currently in production. Personally, given the epistolic style of the story and the ambiguity of the ending, it is difficult to see how a movie could be made without radically altering the story—or at least greatly expanding on it. Still, George Romero is on board to direct, so with excellent source material and the father of the genre himself, it could well be one to watch.

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Psychos and the Appalachian Undead

Some staff news, ya’ll! Cue banjo!

This coming October, if not sooner, Apex Publications is set to release Appalachian Undead, a new anthology dedicated to the walking dead. I contributed a quirky tale called “Long Days to Come.”

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The brilliant artwork was created by Cortney Skinner. Quite a lineup, too: Elizabeth Massie, Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner, S. Clayton Rhodes*, Maurice Broaddus, Bev Vincent, Tim Lebbon, Steve Rasnic Tem, John Skipp* & Dori Miller, and Gary A. Braunbeck, to name a few more than a few.

If you’d like to check out the full table of contents, click here.

You can also pre-order via the above link (and get 5% off if you tweet the link), but before you do, check out this groovy contest they’re running for those who do pre-order.

As always from Apex Publications, you can expect quality.

Not to be outdone, Mercedes and John each have stories—“Murder for Beginners” and “Intruder,” respectively—in Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, the latest slab—and I do mean slab; these things are massive—in an ongoing series edited by the inimitable John Skipp which has thus far included Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead, Werewolves and Shapeshifters: Encounters with the Beasts Within, and Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed.

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Psychos is due out in September via Black Dog & Leventhal, and features new and classic fiction from the likes of Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Lawerence Block, Neil Gaiman, Leslianne Wilder*, Violet LeVoit, Weston Ochse*, Kathe Koja, and many more.

If you order now, Amazon has it for $10.07. That’s 608 pages for $10! No-brainer.

We hope you’ll buy both!

* Shock Totem alumni.

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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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Dead Things and Satanskin

I have probably stated before, quite a few times, actually, the fact that I am just about zombied out. So when I received a package containing Dead Things, by Matthew Darst, I read the blurbage and sighed. Zombies. But I won the book through a Goodreads giveaway—and hey, Free book! Better yet, a signed free book.

I started it that night, and within two or three nights had finished it. It was that good.

The debut novel is set nearly twenty years after the “zombie event.” The dead have risen and eaten folks. Society has collapsed and rebuilt itself. Religious fanatics have lots of control. Our main characters are literally thrown together in a plane crash and forced to stick together to survive. Adding to the tension of outrunning the hungry dead, there is the fact that no one trusts anyone else, as anyone could be a mole for the church. I’m talking Witch Hunt kinda-church.

Darst uses a number of nifty maneuvers to keep this a fresh offering. The dialogue is smart and witty. The science behind the story is very well thought out and smart. In fact, I’d say the weakest point would have to be the ending, which seemed a bit rushed—literally rushing headlong into and messily hitting closure in a chapter.

As I stated, this is a debut novel. A well-written, smartly entertaining debut. Integral to the plot are the zombies; however, it is more than a zombie novel. It’s a novel about humans being, a novel where the monsters we become are far more frightening than the things shambling from the graves to gnaw on our flesh.

Dead Things is available from Grand Mal Press.

In 1992, James Havoc released this wonderful book of bizarre and repulsive word swill. I loved it. Still do. Then he went missing. Dropped right off the face of the earth.

Gone. Never to be heard from again.

Like a meth-fueled mixture of William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Michael Gira and Chuck Palahniuk being poured down the eager throat of Edward Lee, Satanskin is that hardcore. Graphic as anything you can imagine. Surrealism carved in the faces of the damned with a rusty razor equals Satanskin.

Havoc didn’t paint with words…he fed you the words then reached down your throat—or up your ass—and then finger-painted your brain with them. These stories are prose-beasts. Skulking ugly creations that stumble in and out of cohesive narrative. There are vampires and nameless things, aliens and undead creatures. Depraved children and Demonic butt-sex. It’s an explosion of supreme insanity and chaotic cringe-worthy debauchery. This is Bizarro, from a time when the tag didn’t really exist.

This title was released in 1992 via The Tears Corporation/Creation Press. In 2011, the 20th anniversary e-book edition, which includes the bonus story “Third Eye Butterfly,” was released by Elektron Ebooks.

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Zee Dreamt and Deathless Wurm

David James Keaton’s Zee Bee & Bee (a.k.a. Propeller Hats For The Dead), as it was called when it was sent to me last spring, has since been rechristened Zombie Bed & Breakfast (Zee Bee & Bee). Regardless of which title you acknowledge, this is one of the zaniest sort-of-zombie works I’ve ever read. Its audacity to be so smart and ridiculous at the same time is a feat worthy of your time.

In this novella, Keaton tells the story of a Zombie Bed & Breakfast, one of those themed places where folks pay to stay and be entertained. In this case, attacked by hotel workers dressed as the shambling dead.

Keaton has a keen eye for personality and pop culture references. The broken-down hotel workers are all schooled in their zombie lore and mythos and all know their script…but when things start to meander from the scripted path, chaos and bloodshed ensue.

Bizarro and smart. Keaton has a unique voice in his writing, the literary equivalent to Geddy Lee’s vocals—those who dig it are really going to dig it; those who hate it…you know what I’m getting at. It is also worthy of mention, an urban legend suggests that Tom Savini was so offended/insulted by this novella that it led him to “unfriend” the author on Facebook.

If I know David as well as I think I do, he wears that fact as a badge of honor.

Andrew Bonazelli steps up with his slice of world-ending pie, “The Dreamt and Deathless Obscene.”

His apocalypse is sort of quiet. Set in the mid 70’s, people just start acting strange. A plague has reduced half the populace to raving maniacs, while the rest don’t seem all that better off.

A group puts down roots in Philly and tries to start again, or at least live normally until a cure is found. In this, we are introduced to the Gall family, flawed and harboring their own insanities, well before the supposed plague began. The father and his two sons struggle to come out on top, through any means necessary.

Where Bonazelli elevates this above the typical post-apocalyptic crazy plague story, is with his unique grasp of the language. Quirky phrases and characters that are real and not at all the empathetic likeable survivor-types we’re used to. He takes all the templates of this genre and sets them aside, giving us a bleak and not-all-that-positive idea of the world ending—not with a bang, but with a whimper.

You can buy this book through Vitriol Press.

I don’t like worms. They’re icky and slimy. I get it. I’ve seen the world end at the hands of worms before. Keene served it to us and the 70’s film classic Squirm did as well. Worms are scary.

In 1991, Matthew J. Costello and Diamond Books gave us his novel Wurm. These worms are the scariest I’ve read about yet. Deep sea leech-like creatures that burrow inside and become what we are…and then become more.

Filled with great strong characters and frenzied pulp horror violence and gore, Wurm reminded me of all that I loved about the paperback heyday of the 80’s and early 90’s.

Wurm begins as an exploratory group is surveying a deep-sea volcanic rift and discovers countless species of strange life. Mainly worms. Big long worms. They go deeper…and are attacked by bigger, meaner worms who live in burrows. They return to the surface with a piece of a worm. From there, bad things happen and a new god struggles to rise.

Wurm is a quick read, a crazed comic-book fun ride through sci-fi tinged Lovecraftian landscapes. Recommended!

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