My friend Rena Mason’s debut novel dropped almost two months ago, and I reviewed it for the New York Journal of Books. On a more personal note, one that wouldn’t have been appropriate for the NYJB…I am so goddamn proud of her for pushing this one out of the nest. I’ve known her since WHC ’11 in Austin, when she was just breaking onto the scene and I had debuted my third project (my novella, WILD) mere months earlier.
We have a pretty good relationship as a pair of writers who’ve critiqued each other’s work with brutal honesty and have advised each other on such peripheral matters as web design, social media and pitching. However, I wouldn’t have reviewed the book if I didn’t truly think it kicked ass. Nobody made me do it. She didn’t even send me the copy I read. And while it’s a bit surreal at times, and probably not to everyone’s taste (and honestly, I wouldn’t wipe my ass on some of the books the masses RAVE about), I dare somene to send me a 2013 debut science fiction or horror novel that tops The Evolutionist.
The Evolutionist is a perfect storm of life experience and talent, ending on a somber note with most of the loose ends tied up and just the hint or two of a question raised.
A couple weeks ago, I was approached by the founder of the New York Journal of Books, an online review site designed to fill the gap left by the decrease (or cessation, in some cases) of book reviews by traditional print sources. Their staff of reviewers is comprised entirely of authors, editors and other publishing industry professionals, or people qualified in other fields. I anticipate reviewing at least one book a month for their site.
Author’s Note: I came across this guest blog while answering a friend’s question about Stephen King books on Facebook, and realized I’d never brought it over here for safekeeping. So, you get it now. It originally appeared on the Undead Rat’s website, preceded the previous day by a review of WILD, the book I was touring (virtually) for in March 2011.
Let’s face it; when you write the scary stuff like I do and review horror books on a regular basis, it’s easy to… take the chills for granted, so to speak, or to become jaded. Kinda like how you can eat your dinner while watching the evening news because you see the same murders and genocide night after night.
Now, there have been quite a few novels that made me cringe; I made the mistake of reading Brian Keene’s Urban Gothic and J.F. Gonzalez’ Survivor while eating meals, for instance. Grossing me out isn’t the same as really sticking with me, though, and while I don’t want to take anything away from the authors I enjoy reading every week, I read horror for entertainment and only three books come to mind as having actually horrified me.
I first encountered Pet Sematary by Stephen King while in high school, though the novel was released the year after I was born. I’d been reading horror for a couple of years by this point, was a freshman at a local Catholic high school and routinely broke the religion teacher (a priest)’s balls by ignoring his lessons in favor of Stephen King but still maintaining an ‘A’ average. Even at that age I didn’t lay awake for hours after reading a horror novel or get creeped out by reading about the various bad guys.
However, I almost didn’t finish Pet Sematary, the story of a family’s dealings with an ancient Native American burial ground. I put it down about 2/3 of the way in and couldn’t pick it back up for two months, as I recall. Imagine how gratified I was when I discovered that King almost didn’t publish the book and considers it the most horrifying of his works.
Last year I had the pleasure of personally telling Jack Ketchum how affected I was by his novel The Girl Next Door. In return, he shared with me how affected he was by the real-life story that inspired the book, of a girl in 1965 Indianapolis tortured to death by a family friend and her children. My autographed mass-market paperback of the book is probably my favorite signed book of all because of the impact the story had on me, but I have to admit it’s the book I’m least likely to ever read in public again.
The first time I read the book I didn’t know what to expect; I’d heard good (bad?) things about it, but I read horror daily, you know? There were certain points in the story that I reached while sitting in a large group of people, praying that no one would look over my shoulder and see what a sick freak I was, while at the same time unable to put the damn thing down.
Finally, Succulent Prey by Wrath James White really did me in, to such an extent that I still found myself thinking about it weeks later. It starts out intriguingly enough, with an unorthodox theory about the propagation of serial killers, but quickly degenerates into a horrifying string of brutal cannibal episodes interwoven with the protagonist’s quest to discover whether serial killers create other serial killers.
Wrath’s a good writer, but so are a lot of the other authors I read for fun, too. There’s something about cannibals that really screws with me, though; I guess everyone has their thing, right? For some people, it’s clowns. Succulent Prey not only has the gore-factor going for it, but the emotional impact of the story, especially the end, was the icing on the cake.
I’ve covered the douchebaggery of Tony Giangregorio and Undead Press here and here if you need to get caught up. Those of you already in the know might be interested in knowing that the guy is still at it. Even more outrageous is that he’s contacting people who pulled their stories from his most recent anthology, CAVALCADE, and asking them if they’d care to send him their pulled stories for a new project.
Can you say facepalm, boys and girls? I knew you could.
This evening while at my son’s baseball game, I received an e-mail from Tony G. at Undead Press. The e-mail asked if the story I submitted and pulled from Cavalcade of Terrorwas still available. He was wanting it for a new horror anthology. I politely declined and I left it at that, trying to be courteous and professional.
A few minutes ago I received an email from the now infamous Undead Press editor asking me if I’d like to re-publish my former Cavalcade of Terror story in a new anthology of his–complete with new name, new cover art, and all the Thanksgiving fixings.
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 Situationby 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.