Dying to Live: Last Rites by Kim Paffenroth is the third in a series of post-apocalyptic novels—this time, focusing on four characters from the previous books that were exiled from their community at the end of the second book, Life Sentence, two living humans and two intelligent undead. When one of the humans falls ill, the group takes refuge with a different community, which is run a bit differently—they have an economic system and luxuries, for one, and no respect for the undead, for two. Needless to say, once the group discovers the truth about their benefactors, they aren’t too pleased. While the philosophical content common to this series is still present, it rarely takes the form of long, plot-slowing lectures, which is always welcome. You wouldn’t imagine half a novel could be told well from a zombie’s POV, either, but Paffenroth does it well.
Ghoul by Brian Keene has been the target of a lot of hype since it’s publication in 2007. While Keene always turns out a superior product, there are certain novels of his that most every fan of his will tell the uninitiated they simply must read—The Rising and City of the Dead, The Conqueror Worms, Terminal and Ghoul—and while I’ve read almost all of Keene’s available output since first picking him up around 2008 or so, I’d never read Ghoul. The Deadite re-release of the novel seemed like a perfect time to fix that. It’s definitely everything you’ve been told—an excellent coming-of-age horror story firmly rooted in the Eighties, with conflicted characters and a bit of an unhappy ending. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone, die-hard horror fans and people who rarely pick up the scary stuff alike. You may also have heard about the movie based on the book. I can’t imagine it holding a candle to the novel, but I’m picking up the DVD the first chance I get.
The Infection and The Killing Floor by Craig DiLouie are a pair of novels set after an Infection sweeps across the planet, turning people into mindless zombies. The first novel introduces a mixed group of civilians and military personnel. The plot is very organic—the group hides out in a hospital before breaking out and making it to a FEMA community. Once there, the story takes a more solid direction: the community is sending out a small group to blow up a bridge in order to reduce avenues through which the Infected can approach.
The second book picks up right after the bridge is blown, and follows many of the characters introduced in The Infection as they go their different ways: a few strike off in separate directions of their own, another returns to the community and yet another discovers that he’s the result of another of the Infection’s many mutations: a carrier who, while not Infected himself, spreads the disease by releasing airborne spores. It also introduces another group of military personnel, charged with guarding a scientist who just might be able to cure the Infection—if he can find a pure sample.
DiLouie has an electic writing style that is catchy for the most part, save a sentence or two here and there that jolts you from the story momentarily. What pulls you right back in are the excellent characters he’s created, and the relationships built between them. DiLouie’s apocalypse comes with an additional twist—there are not just zombies to content with, but grotesque monsters created by evolutions of the virus: two headed, giant, fanged worms and hairless, jumping monkeys with infectious stingers, just to name a couple. While DiLouie says there are no plans for a third book at the moment, The Killing Floor ends in such a way that begs for another sequel. He’d be crazy not to write it—and I just might go crazy if he doesn’t.
The Undead Situation by Eloise J. Knapp wouldn’t have been disappointing at all had it not been billed as “Hannibal Lecter during the zombie apocalypse.” But, having seen that, I was prepared for the novel twist of someone eating a fellow survivor’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti while all hell broke loose outside. Instead, we get an unemotional asshole who lets a girl into his house and hangs her out the window for kicks, and then pretty much does nothing too heinous—he kills some zombies, and a few bad people, and that’s about it. A couple of past murders are mentioned, but they come off as being included solely to establish Cyrus’ credit as a bad man. The best part of the book is the blossoming relationship between Cyrus and another sociopath-type, a female ex-Marine named Blaze, who eventually warm up to each other. The ending is killer, too, I’ll give it that. But, a sociopath-in-the-apocalypse story is the sort of thing that deserves to be done all the way, and this wasn’t it.
The Junkie Quatrain by Peter Clines is a quartet of short stories set in a world where a virus has spread across the planet—a virus that makes people impulsive to the extreme for several weeks before killing them. By impulsive, I’m talking murder, nymphomania, cannibalism, etc. They just can’t help themselves. The stories are interconnected: I don’t want to ruin everything, but by way of example, a sniper who kills a Junkie at the beginning of one story and is never seen again for the rest of the tale is seen again in another story, and is the main character of a third. The characters in all four stories are similarly connected. By the time you read the last one, you learn the secret of the Junkie virus. It’s a complete, satisfying collection with a novel concept that I highly recommend.
The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People by William Todd Rose is two stories in one: the modern-day narrative of a mental patient who can jump into the bodies of people in the future and who kills a woman in his time to prevent the outbreak of a zombie infection, and the story of Ocean, a girl in the future who is rescued from zombies by a small group of survivors who might not exactly have her best interests at heart. While the title makes the book sound like a self-help spoof, it’s actually a quick, fun read.