Hungry for more zombies?

I have long been a fan of Christopher Golden‘s anthologies. The man has a knack for choosing really interesting stories, by really good authors. His collection, 21st Century Dead, is no exception. I read this book, cover to 21st century deadcover, in about three days. Every story is top-notch. In some stories, people are the heroes, in others, people are worse than the living dead. Each story has something unique to add to the zombie cannon. 21st Century Dead contains stories by familiar names, as well as some that may not be so familiar. It’s always so hard to pick favorites from anthologies this good, but I will do my best.

Jonathan Maberry wows with “Jack and Jill”, the story of two twins who shared everything, until Jack was diagnosed with cancer. Jill continued with school, while Jack began treatment for the cancer. After that, things weren’t the same. Jack and Jill continued to be close, but not in the same way. They couldn’t experience the same milestones, and both knew that one day he was going to die. Enter a rainstorm that quickly turns into a flood, which is apparently not scary enough. Then, Maberry begins the zombie apocalypse. Cue images of children at school set upon by zombiefied teachers, friends, and neighbors. Continue with a family’s struggle to save both their children and themselves on their farm. And finish with forms moving through the flooded corn fields, briefly illuminated by flashes of blinding light. Holy mackeral. Welcome to Maberry’s nightmare!

Just how far will a woman go to avenge her murdered husband? “Devil Dust” by Caitlin Kittredge has the answer! Lizzie concocts a strange powder from exotic plans in a dilapidated shack in the woods. With the powder, she visits each of the men responsible for her husband’s murder, passing the powder off as homemade meth. What happens next is harrowing, but strangely appropriate. You can’t help but root for her as one by one she decimates the people who took so much from her. Her vengeance almost makes the reader sorry for the sad-sacks she takes down. Almost. Until you read what they did to her husband, Stephen.

Brian Keene brings us a story of a little girl who has always been alone. “Couch Potato” details the struggle of little Adele, whose mother is an addict. All day long her mother sits on the couch and watches TV, passing in and out of consciousness. Little Adele is left to do everything for herself, bathing, brushing her teeth, and even feeding herself. Despite the neglect, she loves her mother very much and doesn’t want to abandon her when the zombie apocalypse begins. A kind neighbor boy offers to take Adele in, but she refuses. He helps her secure the apartment, and then goes back to his own apartment with his mother.

baby girlMy absolute favorite story was “Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay” by Thomas E. Sniegoski. I’m a sucker for animal stories, especially when I suspect the hero may be a Boston Terrier puppy. (I used to be afraid of dogs until my parents got a Boston Terrier puppy, then I learned to love all dogs. Though I’m a real sucker for a Bostie! At left is a picture of Lily, my parent’s Bostie.) A boy with a special gift is guarded by his faithful dog, Murphy. One day during a terrible storm, Murphy and his boy come across a strange stone in the woods by their house. Murphy saves his boy from the spirit within, but loses his life in the process. It’s up to the new puppy to win over the grief-stricken boy and become the new guardian. I was rooting for the ghost dog and his puppy partner the whole time (while wiping away the tears, Sniegoski knows how to wring them out of you!) I suspected the pup was a Boston because of the description of the bat ears, short and stocky frame, and the penchant for sleeping under the covers. Anyone with a Boston Terrier knows that they are notorious cover-stealers!

21st Century Dead is extremely versatile, and will have you on a rollercoaster of emotions the whole time. Some stories are scary, some make you question the norm, and others are tear-jerkers. Whatever stories you prefer, I guarantee you’ll find something in this anthology!

Dead Bait 2

I want to say first that I love almost every book Severed Press has to offer, so it was only natural that I buy “Dead Bait 2″.

If you are expecting a thrilling anthology about aquatic mayhem, “Dead Bait 2″ may not be the book for you.  I purchased it based on the strength of the first anthology, “Dead Bait”.  When I saw the cover, I was convinced the second anthology would be a gem.   Unfortunately, “Dead Bait 2″ is seriously lacking in certain elements.

There is one single principle that killed the entire anthology for me.  ”Dead Bait 2″ strays from the guiding principle that made the first anthology a masterpiece.  When I think of the ocean, I think of a place so deep and dark that we humans will never know everything that hides there.  When I try to imagine the horrors, I think of gaping jaws, massive teeth, and a primitive will driven by indiscriminate hunger.  I think of merciless storms that come out of nowhere and rage without mercy, and of the souls stuck in the middle.  What fails to come to mind is people finding a way to predict the actions of the creatures they find.  I also don’t think of people learning to live in harmony with those creatures – no matter what.  I also don’t think of them being able to use those horrors to exact revenge on someone (all the time – once in awhile is statistically understandable, but not in every story.)

I was also disappointed that some of the stories were so confusing, I wasn’t able to figure out what happened in the end.  An ending that leaves the reader wondering what happens next is a great thing.  An ending that leaves the reader wondering what they just read and what they’re supposed to make of it, is not a good thing.  I found that many of the stories ended so weirdly that I had to go back and try to read them again to see if I missed something.  More often than not, I hadn’t missed anything, the story just didn’t make sense.

The first anthology also played with the idea of bait, including a variety of situations and monsters.  The stories in this book seem to revolve mostly around fishing trips.  Variety in an anthology is always a good thing, and this anthology relies to literally on the idea of fishing.  I don’t like fishing, and I don’t want to read a bunch of stories about it.  I want to read about dead fish and monsters eating people.  (Sorry, but it’s the truth!)  The stories of “Dead Bait” played with the reader’s emotions, whereas the predominate feeling in “Dead Bait 2″ is confusion, and the conviction that the next story has to be better.

Now that I’ve torn apart the anthology, I’m going to highlight what was pleasing.  First and foremost, while I wasn’t a fan of the anthology’s story picks, many of the stories in and of themselves were good, I just wasn’t a fan of them appearing in that particular anthology.  If the stories had been in other  anthologies, I wouldn’t have had a problem.

Now for the standout stories:

I don’t usually give any attention to the introduction, but I believe that J Gilliam Martin deserves a mention.  His introduction revolves around his experience with the ocean and a very large barracuda.  He handles the story with finesse and humor.  I found myself laughing out loud at his description of the encounter.

I was apprehensive at first about the first story, “The Mer-Monkey”, by Paul A. Freeman.  Truth be told, I thought it was going to be lame (Sorry Mr. Freeman).  I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had tried!  A museum curator writes to an anthropologist offering him a chance to see a defunct museum artifact – the mummified body of a mer-monkey.  The anthropologist meets with the curator, and after some discussion procures the means to go and catch his own specimen in the wild.  Unfortunately for him, the trip does not go as planned, and the mer-monkeys are far from docile.  The surprise ending was fabulous – with a twist of dark humor.

Tim Curran offers a story of a haunted lake and an ice-fishing trip that ends in disaster in his story “Lonely After Dark”.  Two old men decide to stay out on the lake well after dark, despite the knowledge that during the dark winter months something stalks the lake.  Not long after sunset the men encounter another person on the lake, whose brother was just killed by the ghost.  A pleasant ice fishing trip becomes a terrifying gore-fest.  (An added plus is that Curran gives background information on the ghost and the haunting in general.)  If it ever crossed my mind to go ice fishing, I can fully assure you that I will not be considering it after this story.

Anthony Wedd’s “The Worst Thing Ever” is a gory depiction of a shark attack and the sensations a person goes through after the attack.  In the story, a young couple goes out on a boat, and the girl is viciously attacked while swimming.  Wedd does well in introducing the character and creating a calm atmosphere, only to have it all shattered pages later.

I would like to stress that although this anthology was not like the first, the stories were still interesting.  As always I recommend that you go and pick up the book for yourself.  Ok Severed Press – I’m ready for “Dead Bait 3″!

Hola…

Cover of "Dying to Live: A Novel of Life ...

Cover via Amazon

Hello everyone!  I’m sorry that it’s taken so awfully long to get back to posting.  I just got my first real teaching job and I’m overwhelmed with excitement (and work!)  In addition, apparently I’m about to move houses in two months.  While that’s exciting, it will certainly be a handful!  Unfortunately I haven’t had much time to read or even post on the movies that I’ve seen, but I do hope to rectify that soon enough.  Perhaps this weekend, if I get some spare time.  In any event, I’m glad to be back.

I do have a few special announcements for all of you, all of which I’ve been waiting for some time now.  Permuted Press announced the release date for the third (and as far as I know, final) book of Z.A. Recht’s smash trilogoy “The Morningstar Saga”.  It’s titled “Survivors”, and word is that it will be released on December 27, 2011.  As much as I dearly hate the snow, it would almost be worth more of it to get to that book release date sooner.

Other releases of note include “Dead Bait 2″ (a Severed Press title), which features a “Jaws” send-up as its cover picture.  There’s nothing quite like a monstrous piranha swimming up towards a naked woman in open water to instill fear.  Did I mention that the piranha was decayed?  Zombie piranha !  From what I gather the authors include Steve Alten, Ramsey Campbell, Guy N. Smith, Tim Curran, James Robert Smith, Murphy Edwards, Cody Goodfellow, Anthony Wedd, Paul A. Freeman, Raliegh Dugal, James Harris,  Michael Hodges, and Matthew Fryer.

Kim Paffenroth‘s third book in the “Dying to Live” series is out as well.  This title features a carnival tent cover and is titled “Last Rites”.  This book finished up where “Life Sentence” left off – following William, Lucy (Blue Eye), and Truman as they leave the encampment.

Adams, John Joseph “The Living Dead 2″

Traffic sign alerting drivers for Amish Buggie...

Image via Wikipedia

I usually don’t buy a book solely because it received good reviews.  However, based on how much I loved the previous book (The Living Dead), combined with Simon Pegg‘s rave review, I bought the book without a second thought.  Add to this the fact that the cover of “The Living Dead 2″ is seriously scary with its horde of zombies.

All of the stories in the book were thought-provoking, once again proving that the zombie story can aspire to be more than just a flesh fest.  (Though I’d be lying if I said I was above that kind of story as well…)  In any event, The Living Dead 2 is a perfect follow-up to the first book.

The stories range from really sad to really humorous.

Author Brian Keene delivers a wild mash-up in “Lost Canyon of the Dead”.  I know I promised I wouldn’t give away any spoilers but this is too good to pass by !  A group of fugitives is running from a horde of zombies.  So far so good.  They find a canyon that isn’t on the map and decide to take refuge.  What they find there is a lost world complete with dinosaurs, an oasis, and no zombies.  That is, until the dogged undead decided to enter the canyon.  Several are devoured by dinosaurs along the way, which results in…you guessed it…zombie dinosaurs.  Very cool.  At first I thought it might be a terrible premise, but it is surprisingly good.

Bret Hammond’s “Rural Dead” takes a look at culture clash and the zombie apocalypse.  An Amish community must come to terms with the new change in the world, and adapt to the zombie plague.  Interestingly enough, I think if the plague were to ever happen, the Amish would actually come out mostly alright.  (They certainly would have a better directional and geographical sense, which would put them ahead of me by a long ways.)  The Amish also have to deal with humans who come to hurt them.

Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone under the age of 17 or 18 read “Zombie Gigolo” by S. G. Browne.  It has to be the grossest and most horrifying story I’ve read yet.  It’s indescribable.  And yes, the zombie really is a gigolo.  It is an interesting commentary for non-curable diseases though.  And I guess if you were short on material it could act as a cautionary tale.  But for what I’m not exactly sure.

“The Living Dead 2″ is a great anthology book.  The stories are well-written and they are all top-notch.  I didn’t find a single bad story in the book.

An odd assemblage of zombie stories

This is a collection of stories edited and selected by author John Skipp.  Overall it was an enjoyable read.  None of the stories were boring, but more than a few made me squeamish.  Most of the stories are non-traditional and feature literary giants Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, Robert Bloch, and Neil Gaiman.

One of my favorite stories, “Sparks Fly Upwards”, was first encountered in this volume.  It was written by Lisa Morton and features a controversial mix of zombies and abortion.  It details the issues of population control within a survivor community.  The survivors must make choices as to who is allowed to conceive and carry a child to term, and they must deal with the ramifications of pregnancy that can’t be carried to term.  An absolute stand-out tale.

I barely made it through “On the Other Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” by Joe R. Lansdale.  It was a great, avant garde story, but like I said earlier I’m squeamish.  Lansdale is very innovative, and knows how to play shock value for all its worth while creating a meaningful story.  It was so gruesome it was hard to finish – but more than worth the effort.

Terry Morgan and Christopher Morgan deliver an exciting tale of samurai bravery and loss in “Zaambi”, which is definately on my list of favorite stories.  When villages are besieged by the undead, the samurai take care of the villagers.  This story also delves into the selection process the children must undergo before they begin training as samurai.

As a bonus, there are two appendixes at the end of the book.  These appendixes examine the zombie’s role in history and in popular culture, respectively.  They’re fascinating reads for the zombie enthusiast.  (I’ve also used points from both to justify my zombie obsession to my less afflicted friends and family.)

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a new perspective on the zombie apocalypse.

Pros:

  • A variety of stories to suit many tastes
  • Great writers represented (Gaiman, King, Bloch, and others)
  • Author and story introductions for every story in the anthology
  • Nice cover art
  • Nice art for each story
  • Interesting and humorous preface and appendixes

Cons:

  • Some of the stories are borderline offensive (themes of religion and sexuality involving the undead)
  • Not a book you would give to a young zombie enthusiast (see above point)