Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Deadline (Newsflesh #2)

Mira Grant, 2011, Orbit
(Warning: the following review contains spoilers for the first book in the Newsflesh Trilogy, Feed.)

Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organisation he built with his sister has the same urgency it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn't seem as fun when you've lost as much as he has. But when a researcher from the CDC fakes her own death and appears on Shaun's doorstep with a horde of ravenous zombies in tow, Shaun finds a new purpose in life; because it seems that, while the man who murdered Shaun's sister is dead, the conspiracy behind that act is far from buried...

Deadline is, of course, the highly-anticipated sequel to the spectacular Feed - and I'm truly overjoyed to report that Mira Grant has delivered a novel every bit as brilliant, engrossing, and downright terrifying as its predecessor. Shaun Mason provides a fascinating replacement as narrator for the ill-fated Georgia, being a deeply damaged, self-destructive and, frankly, mentally ill character (holding animated conversations with his dead sister, among other things). The plot gallops along at breakneck speed, through numerous twists and turns, to deliver a twist that - while perhaps not as shocking as that which concluded Feed - is nonetheless superbly powerful, and will whet the appetite of any reader for the final installment of this series.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Deadline is how Grant, as in the first book, maintains an atmosphere of 'mundane dread' - the feeling that the terrors of the tale are part of everyday existence for her characters - while keeping actual zombie appearances to a minimum; her perfectly-extrapolated future society is one in which everything the characters do is in some way regulated by the constant threat of death and/or zombification. It's emotionally exhausting to read at times, yet absolutely riveting, and one of the most rewarding pieces of zomfic to hit the shelves since...well, Feed.

I'm not going to ask you to go out and buy a copy of Deadline. I'm telling you. Do it, and do it now. And pick up a copy of Feed also, if by some miracle you've not done so already. This is not negotiable.

And if you don't...well. I know where you live. And I'm real hungry...

Review: Zombiesque

Ed. Stephen L. Antczak, James C. Bassett & Martin H. Greeberg, 2011, DAW Books

DAW have always done a fine job of tapping into emerging and resurgent trends in speculative fiction with their anthologies, as evidenced by recent collections of space opera, steampunk and Lovecraftian short fiction. Zombiesque is certainly no exception, being an anthology not merely of zomfic, but of tales told specifically from the zombies' point-of-view, which is just now becoming a popular trope within the subgenre.

The sixteen original tales comprising Zombiesque are all, without exception, highly entertaining, and run the full range of cross-genres from humour, to horror, to romance, drama, and everything in between. Of particular note, for me, were Nancy Collins' 'At First Only Darkness', which really does take the reader inside the head of a creature driven only by hunger; Tim Waggoner's 'Do No Harm', which uniquely posits the sort of society zombies might evolve in the relative absence of humanity; Richard Lee Byers' 'Zombie Camp', in which holidaymakers actually pay to briefly experience 'life' as zombies; Jim C. Hines' 'In the Line of Duty', in which intelligent zombies are successfully (kinda) integrated into the field of Special Ops; Del Stone Jr's 'Zero', which draws emotive parallels between zombies and the homeless; S. Boyd Taylor's 'A Distant Sound of Hammers', which hideously depicts the ultimate fate of those who survive the inevitable zombie uprising; and Laszlo Xalieri's 'The Confession', a terrifyingly creepy and gruesome piece of fiction that will have you checking the locks tonight...

In short, Zombiesque is a rather brilliant little anthology showcasing some brilliant authors, some of whom will be familiar to fans of the genre, others not. This is definitely a publication to be read and cherished by zomfans of all stripes, and is available to Australian readers through Penguin Australia.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: Best New Zombie Tales Vol. 1

Ed. James Roy Daley, 2010, Books of the Dead

 Best New Zombie Tales is a reprint anthology comprising 19 short stories and one comic strip, and - I'm glad to report - very much lives up to its claim of including the very best in zombie fiction, although 'new' is perhaps inaccurate, as the publication dates of the tales herein go back as far as 2002. Regardless, there are some absolute gems to be found here, few of which appear to have been previously anthologised, Particular highlights, for me, include Jeff Strand's 'Immunity', Robert Swartwood's 'In the Land of the Blind', Gary McMahon's 'Nowhere People''Darkness Comprehended', by Harry Shannon & Gord Rollo, and Kim Paffenroth's 'On the Usefulness of Old Books' - all of which present fresh takes on tropes familiar to fans of zomfic - but really, there isn't a dud anywhere in this collection.

In short, Best New Zombie Tales is an absolute 'must own' for the zomfic aficionado. A great read.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: Survivor (Alone #2)

James Phelan, 2011, Hachette Australia

Twelve days after the missiles fell, pursued by predatory Chasers, menaced by mysterious military personnel, Jesse finds unexpected friendship in three other survivors: Felicity, a girl he meets via  home video; Rachel, more concerned with the animals in her care than with people; and Caleb - angry, disillusioned, and maybe even dangerous. But friendship comes at a price in a world where nothing can be relied upon. Will Jesse's new mates really stick by him if he decides to flee New York City...or is he destined always to be alone?

Survivor is, of course, the sequel to the highly-successful YA infected-zombie tale Chasers, and like its predecessor, it's an absolute cracker. With the appearance of other survivors comes a raising of the stakes, not least in the face of an incursion by local military forces that may not have the interests of our protagonists at heart. Phelan successfully alternates moments of beautifully-crafted creepiness with those of adrenalin-pumping action and violence, and his characters are all sufficiently empathic to drag the reader - unwillingly, perhaps - along for the ride.

While the Chasers/zombies play second-fiddle to other hazards in Survivor, this is nonetheless a zompocalyptic tale to stand with the best of them. The proof of the pudding, for me, is that - again, like its predecessor - Survivors will be included in the Australian Government's Get Reading! - 50 Books You Can't Put Down campaign for the coming year.

In short, Survivors is a brilliant read that will leave you hungry for the third installment of the Alone trilogy, due out later this year.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: Tooth and Nail

Craig DiLouie, 2010, Schmidt Haus Books
"I mean, is this, like, supposed to be the end of the world?"
"The Army has given me no such order."

As a new plague turns millions of Americans into violent, flesh-eating maniacs, Lieutenant Todd Bowman must guide a unit of hardened veterans across New York City in order to secure a research facility that may - may - hold a cure. But when the army is forced to turn their weapons against the very people they have sworn to protect, even Bowman begins to ask the question: is anything truly worth this?

Let me say, right from the outset, that there are few pieces of zomfic that have ever truly moved me as effectively as Craig DiLouie's Tooth and Nail, and this may be because Tooth and Nail - while undoubtedly a zombie novel - is also one of the most emotive, character-driven, realistic and nihilistic war novels I've ever had the privilege to read. DiLouie combines his obvious insider knowledge of military procedure and terminology seamlessly with breathtaking action, emotive character studies, and a plot that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat from beginning to end. The horrors of having to 'put down' the very people one is entrusted to protect - in this case, ordinary American citizens - is examined more deeply and movingly than in any previous movie or publication I can name, and the end result is a stunning exploration of the hell that is war, and one that - in my opinion - should be read by everyone.

I'm hereby making the call: Craig DiLouie is an author with an incredible future ahead of him, and one whose publications are now and forever on my 'must read' list. If you hunger for the absolute best in zomfic - or any fiction, for that matter - you must track down this book - along with DiLouie's subsequent publication, The Infection - and read it now. Brilliant and absolutely unforgettable.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: Hungry For Your Love

Ed. Lori Perkins, 2010, St. Martin's Griffin
Even as someone who has been quite vocal in championing la difference in zomfic, as a means of keeping the genre continually fresh and entertaining, I've never been totally comfortable with the whole zombie/romance crossover concept. It always seemed to me that, once you move past the basic idea of a human/human romance perhaps set against the backdrop of a zompocalypse (as in Amelia Beamer's The Loving Dead), then you're potentially entering either fluffy-bunny or major 'ick!' territory, neither of which floats my boat, particularly.

That said, Lori Perkins' excellent anthology, Hungry For Your Love, has pretty-much forced me to change my thinking on this point. Comprising twenty-one zombie-related tales that range all the way across the romantic spectrum - from pure Mills & Boon stuff to, as Perkins herself puts it, 'smut' - there is literally something here for everyone. The zombies, also, run the gamut, from humorous to genuinely horrifying, voodoo to Romero-esque. Such is the variety offered - almost every individual story claiming its own niche somewhere along the available spectrum - that it's pointless for me to pick out any favourites; suffice to say, this is one of the best zombie 'crossover' titles I've come across in a while, and well worth reading.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

News: Dymocks Southland Bestselling Dark Fiction Titles for May 2011

May being International Zombie Awareness Month, sales of zombie-related titles went through the roof. For this reason, our usual Top 10 list has been extended to Top 20.

1. Breathers (S. G. Browne)
2. Feed (Mira Grant)
3. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (Austen/Graeme-Smith)
4. P&P&Z: Dreadfully Ever After (Steve Hockensmith)
5. Warm Bodies (Isaac Marion)
6. Alone #1: Chasers (James Phelan)
7. Monster Nation (David Wellington)
8. Zombie Apocalypse! (ed. Stephen Jones)
9. P&P&Z: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (Steve Hockensmith)
10. Marvel Zombies 5
11. The Zombie Combat Manual (Roger Ma)
12. The Walking Dead Compendium (Robert Kirkman)
13. Patient Zero (Jonathan Maberry)
14. The Walking Dead Book #1 (Robert Kirkman)
15. Rot & Ruin (Jonathan Maberry)
16. Xombies: Apocalypso (Walter Greatshell)
17. Flesh Eaters (Joe McKinney)
18. Zombiesque (ed. Greenberg/Antczak/Bassett)
19. Eden (Tony Monchinski)
20. The Zombie Survival Guide (Max Brooks)

New titles arriving in-store this month include Xombies: Apocalypso (Walter Greatshell), The Reapers Are the Angels (Alden Bell), and The Zombie Autopsies (Steve Schlozman).