Saturday, October 23, 2010

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)



Skipp, John "Zombies Encounters with the Hungry Dead"

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)



28 Days Later



[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"]28 Days Later: The Soundtrack Album[/caption]


This is one of the most terrifying zombie films I have ever seen.  Period.  I'm even going to admit that it gave me nightmares.  I will go so far as to admit that it still gives me nightmares.  Especially the scene in the church when Cillian Murphy wakes up and is exploring the ravaged city.  When you see the film you will know exactly which scene to which I'm referring.

The film starts with the origin of the Rage virus and how it is spread.  It sets the framework for the rest of the film and shows the speed with which the infected travel.  The infected are capable of running very fast and even one scratch is sufficient to cause the virus to spread.  An added bonus is that the virus takes over the host within seconds, so when traveling with companions it is important to know exactly what is going on during every battle.  This element alone adds a measure of anxiety to the film, as the speed of the infected doesn't allow for many mistakes or for much careful planning and surveying.  Choices have to be made quickly, or many people die.

The music is haunting, the acting is amazing, and the scenes are very well filmed.  Another scene of note is the road trip through the body and car-filled tunnel.  The screams of the infected are heard well before they are seen.

Even if you are a purist who believes that zombies should be dead, and should not run, this is still a good movie to see.  Who knows - it may change your opinion.  This movie is fantastic !  The virus is believable, the acting is great, and the music ties everything together.  If you haven't seen this movie, I can't stress enough how badly you need to see it !





    Left 4 Dead



    [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Image by csullens via Flickr  (I have no idea why there is a cat in the photo, but it's the only one I can find on wordpress to use.)"]Left 4 Dead[/caption]


    I have played this game on both the XBOX 360 Slim and the Computer.

    This game is a first-person shooter that invites players to play as one of four survivors in a variety of modes.  It features hand-held weapons as well as guns and bombs.  There are also special zombies to encounter.  My personal nemesis is the Witch.  She sits and wails, and when you stumble on her she comes at you clawing with everything she's got.  Basically if you startle her, you better be wielding a chainsaw, if not, you're toast.  I'd recommend dodging her, unless you don't mind taking a heap of damage after a botched attempt to kill her.

    Other special infected include Boomers - big, fat zombies that spit on you in order to attract more zombies.  If you get too close and blow one up, you likewise are covered in bile / vomit and can expect a storm of zombies.  Another personal favorite that seems to favor tearing me apart are the too-agile hunters.  They are hoodie-clad hooligans that leap from buildings after you.  When caught, they too tear you to pieces.

    The game also features four playable maps.  If you are working with a competent group of friends, you can finish each map in about an hour, give or take a little.  The maps are "No Mercy", "Dead Air", "Blood Harvest", and "Crash Course".  If you are like me, and you get lost easy, you can get the AI to guide you while you are playing solo.  The maps also contain "Safe Houses" which serve as way points in campaigns.  In Safe Houses you can get more ammunition for your weapons, you can choose from a variety of other weapons, and you can use first aid kits to heal yourself and your companions.

    While I enjoy playing Left 4 Dead on the XBOX, I find I'm a better shot when playing it on my computer.  That's just personal preference.  As far as I can tell, it is just as intuitive on the XBOX as it is on the computer.  Overall, it's a great game to play in the dark.  The maps are creepy and very intense.  The maps are populated with realistic buildings and car crashes. Another added pleasure are the car traps.  Vehicles with blinking red lights signal a killing horde of zombies if you happen to jump on them or shoot them - so be careful !  At the end of each campaign you are given various player stats which include but are not limited to number of infected killed, how much damage you have done to a particular special infected, how many friendly fire incidents, and various other elements.  These add a competitive edge to the game when playing with friends.

    Since the second game is now available, it is worth noting that time has not diminished the playability of this game.  While it is true that the new game brings marked improvement in some areas, the old game is in no way rendered obsolete.  In fact, if you are unsure about this franchise, then I recommend purchasing the first game as an introduction.  If however, you enjoy first person shooters, or zombie games of any kind, this is certainly worth playing.

    Pros:

    • Intense atmosphere - realistic

    • Interesting mix of special infected and regular infected makes each gaming experience unique

    • Well conceived characters - fun to play !

    • You don't get killed from zombie bites - and you can be cured by first aid kits

    • Plenty of weapons to choose from and wield

    • Little story line and not very many cut scenes maximizes zombie killing time

    • Playable for console and computer


    Cons:

    • Only 4 maps to choose from (I'm nitpicking - but there really isn't much fault with the game)

    • I would have liked more variation in the appearance of the regular infected


     

    The saga continues

    This is the sequel to the book "Dying to Live".  It continues with the same characters and introduces new characters.  Again, unfortunately I am not able to say too much about the storyline, as it will give away too many spoilers.

    This story places the protagonist from the first novel, Jonah Caine, into the background and brings forth a heroine, Zoey.  Zoey is one of the first generation children born after the apocalypse.  She has never known a world without the living dead.  The story deals with her coming of age, as well as her struggles to understand the world her parents knew.  Zoey is the daughter of one of the characters in the first book.

    In addition to Zoey's perspective, there is a second protagonist.  The second protagonist is Truman, a man who wakes up to find he is a zombie.  Truman sets out to figure out his identity, as well as ponder his existence.  He suffers from amnesia and can't remember his name, his family, or what he did when he was alive.  His memories of zombiehood in the very beginning are also not clear.

    As with the first book, "Dying to Live: Life Sentence" pits our well-meaning survivors against a group of humans who have developed a third way of living and governing their little slice of desolation.  However, in this story, the groups of survivors must decide what to do when someone runs afoul of both camp's laws.  Which set of laws should the survivors abide by when both of their worlds are so different?

    I recommend "Dying to Live: Life Sentence" to anyone who enjoyed the first book, or who is looking for a twist on the classic zombie story.  (Disclaimer:  Don't read this book without reading the first book!  You will miss so much of the back story.)


    Paffenroth, Kim. "Dying to Live: Life Sentence"

    This is the sequel to the book "Dying to Live".  It continues with the same characters and introduces new characters.  Again, unfortunately I am not able to say too much about the storyline, as it will give away too many spoilers.

    This story places the protagonist from the first novel, Jonah Caine, into the background and brings forth a heroine, Zoey.  Zoey is one of the first generation children born after the apocalypse.  She has never known a world without the living dead.  The story deals with her coming of age, as well as her struggles to understand the world her parents knew.  Zoey is the daughter of one of the characters in the first book.

    In addition to Zoey's perspective, there is a second protagonist.  The second protagonist is Truman, a man who wakes up to find he is a zombie.  Truman sets out to figure out his identity, as well as ponder his existence.  He suffers from amnesia and can't remember his name, his family, or what he did when he was alive.  His memories of zombiehood in the very beginning are also not clear.

    As with the first book, "Dying to Live: Life Sentence" pits our well-meaning survivors against a group of humans who have developed a third way of living and governing their little slice of desolation.  However, in this story, the groups of survivors must decide what to do when someone runs afoul of both camp's laws.  Which set of laws should the survivors abide by when both of their worlds are so different?

    I recommend "Dying to Live: Life Sentence" to anyone who enjoyed the first book, or who is looking for a twist on the classic zombie story.  (Disclaimer:  Don't read this book without reading the first book!  You will miss so much of the back story.)



      The Origin of it All

      This was the book that started my literary zombie craze, as well as the Permuted Press publishing company.  My boyfriend purchased it for me as a present for Christmas 2009.  Unfortunately I am not able to give much insight into the plot because it is very complex, and any spoilers will ruin the experience for any prospective readers.  Suffice it to say, you NEED to read this book.

      The plot is easy to follow and is very indicative of the genre in general.  It can be summed up as : people during the zombie apocalypse trying to survive.  However, this book turns out to be so much more than the usual struggle for survival.  At points in the book, I found myself crying, laughing, and terrified out of my wits.  From the first sentence in the book all the way to the end it was captivating and terrifying.  Dying to Live was so good, in fact, that I stayed up all night and read the entire book.

      Characters can make or break a zombie novel - and the characters in Dying to Live leave nothing to be desired.  The story follows the travels and experiences of Jonah Craine, who is an ordinary man trying to survive in a zombie-ravaged world.  Throughout the book he grapples with the notion of staying human despite the monotony of trying to find a safe hiding place, survive day after day, and find food.  He is a strong character, though not to the point of being unnatural.  The other characters that Jonah encounters bring a sense of emotional balance to the story.  One such character is Popcorn, the young boy who became part of the group after his mother was killed by zombies.  While Jonah views the undead with respect and apprehension, Popcorn's experiences have created a violent and proficient fighter who attacks with a reckless and daring style.  Another character of note is Tanya, a mother who lost her two children early in the fall of civilization.  She adopts Popcorn and raises him as her own.  Her strength and violence are different from those of Popcorn, hers are based in the resignation that comes with knowing that everything familiar has changed, and adaptation is neccesary for survival.

      This book also features one of the most interesting anti-zombie compounds that I have come across.  It is part museum, part natural barrier, and allows for an ease of access to supplies in the city that I haven't encountered before.  The best part is that it is based, in part, on a real location which he discusses in an author letter at the end of the book.

      The aspect of the book that appealed to me the most was the rebuilding of civilization.  Theoretically, all government and law ends when the dead begin to walk, so now what do people do?  Using two surviving groups, Kim Paffenroth deftly shows two diverse paths that humanity can take when all order is destroyed.  One path is lead by a compassionate and pragmatic leader who uses group initiation rites and individual responsibility to motivate, while the other uses violence, intimidation, and control.  I can't give away any more than that, but I will reiterate that this is a book that is not to be missed !

      Pros:

      • Very engaging storyline with interesting plot twists.

      • Realistic and complex characters with a variety of histories and motives.

      • Interesting zombie-human conflicts with realistic outcomes.

      • Amazing descriptions of the rebuilding of civilizations, from the point of view of several survival groups.


      Cons:

      • The end of the book leaves you wanting to know more about the plight of Jonah and his companions.  Fear not !  The book is followed by a sequel, Dying to Live: Life Sentence.





       

      Paffenroth, Kim "Dying to Live"

      This was the book that started my literary zombie craze, as well as the Permuted Press publishing company.  My boyfriend purchased it for me as a present for Christmas 2009.  Unfortunately I am not able to give much insight into the plot because it is very complex, and any spoilers will ruin the experience for any prospective readers.  Suffice it to say, you NEED to read this book.

      The plot is easy to follow and is very indicative of the genre in general.  It can be summed up as : people during the zombie apocalypse trying to survive.  However, this book turns out to be so much more than the usual struggle for survival.  At points in the book, I found myself crying, laughing, and terrified out of my wits.  From the first sentence in the book all the way to the end it was captivating and terrifying.  Dying to Live was so good, in fact, that I stayed up all night and read the entire book.

      Characters can make or break a zombie novel - and the characters in Dying to Live leave nothing to be desired.  The story follows the travels and experiences of Jonah Craine, who is an ordinary man trying to survive in a zombie-ravaged world.  Throughout the book he grapples with the notion of staying human despite the monotony of trying to find a safe hiding place, survive day after day, and find food.  He is a strong character, though not to the point of being unnatural.  The other characters that Jonah encounters bring a sense of emotional balance to the story.  One such character is Popcorn, the young boy who became part of the group after his mother was killed by zombies.  While Jonah views the undead with respect and apprehension, Popcorn's experiences have created a violent and proficient fighter who attacks with a reckless and daring style.  Another character of note is Tanya, a mother who lost her two children early in the fall of civilization.  She adopts Popcorn and raises him as her own.  Her strength and violence are different from those of Popcorn, hers are based in the resignation that comes with knowing that everything familiar has changed, and adaptation is neccesary for survival.

      This book also features one of the most interesting anti-zombie compounds that I have come across.  It is part museum, part natural barrier, and allows for an ease of access to supplies in the city that I haven't encountered before.  The best part is that it is based, in part, on a real location which he discusses in an author letter at the end of the book.

      The aspect of the book that appealed to me the most was the rebuilding of civilization.  Theoretically, all government and law ends when the dead begin to walk, so now what do people do?  Using two surviving groups, Kim Paffenroth deftly shows two diverse paths that humanity can take when all order is destroyed.  One path is lead by a compassionate and pragmatic leader who uses group initiation rites and individual responsibility to motivate, while the other uses violence, intimidation, and control.  I can't give away any more than that, but I will reiterate that this is a book that is not to be missed !

      Pros:

      • Very engaging storyline with interesting plot twists.

      • Realistic and complex characters with a variety of histories and motives.

      • Interesting zombie-human conflicts with realistic outcomes.

      • Amazing descriptions of the rebuilding of civilizations, from the point of view of several survival groups.


      Cons:

      • The end of the book leaves you wanting to know more about the plight of Jonah and his companions.  Fear not !  The book is followed by a sequel, Dying to Live: Life Sentence.