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Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

warmbodiesFull disclosure: I’m not one for zombie novels. Or zombie anything, really. And it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve seen The Walking Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, 28 Days Later and I Am Legend and I’ve read World War ZPride & Prejudice & Zombies and various other zombie stories. Aside from a couple of chuckles and a healthy sprinkle of nightmares, I got nothing. But I think I may have pinpointed the issue. Zombie novels have no real thought behind them. Wait! Before you gnaw my head open for some juicy braiiinns, let me finish. The human characters in zombie books and movies have deep thoughts about their situation and the purpose of their horrific existence. But this is all in-between fighting thoughtless murderers (in the literal sense). I mean, in the canon of zombie literature, zombies are usually without a philosophy or desires other than to feed. And I can understand the logic behind that but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. That’s why when my seeester handed me this book and said that it was “not has good as The Hunger Games but better than Twilight,” I was not expecting much.

Plot. “R” is a zombie living in a zombie colony in an airport. And yes, he does what zombies do: hunt people and eat brains. But he also desperately wants to know his name. All he can remember is the first letter. And he wants to know his zombie friend’s name. And his zombie wife’s name, which is printed on a name tag pinned to her shirt which he can’t read because he lost that ability when he turned. He also wants to converse with his fellow zombies about their lot in life, about when they turned, about whether they still dream when they sleep, about their theories on how they came to be (plague? bombs? evolution?), hell, even about the weather. But he can’t. Stringing two coherent syllables together is his personal best and he’s the most articulate of the group. What “R” craves more than anything else is humanity. He wants nothing more than to experience and share and talk again. Which is why he loves eating brains. When he bites into a person’s brain, he becomes privy to their thoughts, fears and memories – things that he lost God knows how long ago.

And this is where “R” is when he goes hunting with his friend and comes across a group of teens/adults to NOM. “R” tackles some guy and busies himself with his brain when he sees a girl out of the corner of his eye. And since he just ate her boyfriend’s brain (with all the memories and feelings he felt for this girl), he feels inexplicably attracted to her. While the rest of his zombie gang busies themselves with devouring everyone, “R” rushes over to the girl, smears her with blood to camouflage her human scent, and takes her back to the airport. He keeps telling her, through stilted words, that he’s doing this to protect her. But it’s more because she awakens things in him that have long laid dormant. Also, she knows her name and can say it: Julie. Big advantage over the wifey there.

But “R” could not have chosen a worse person to kidnap. Julie’s father kind of runs the army for the human resistance living in the arena nearby. Also, everyone can kind of tell that she’s human. And the Boneys (the members of the zombie oligarchy at the airport) want her dead because she’s not one of them. And she represents a threat to their way of life. Self-actualized zombies with a clear philosophy on non-life?! If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is. Also, they look like this:

warm-bodies-skeletons-bonies

Eeep.

This is the tension in the novel: the human philosophy versus the philosophy of the undead. Which one will win? Who will defeat whom? Can they co-exist? Are they all that different? Can Julie and “R” hope for any sort of real life together given who/what they are? Also, “R” kind of ate Julie’s boyfriend. You don’t just get over that kind of thing. Right?

This book, guys! I try rullll hard not to be all “This book is AMAH-ZING! Read it!” because then people read it and they’re like “Calm yourself. It was only all right.” So I won’t tell you just how good I think this book is or how powerful the philosophical questions are or how it made me question how I live/want to live my life. I’ll just leave you with this quote from the book where Julie gives her theory on how zombies came to be:

‘I think we crushed ourselves down over the centuries. Buried ourselves under greed and hate and whatever other sins we could find until our souls finally hit rock bottom of the universe. And then they scraped a hole through it, into some…dark place.’ 221-222

4.5 out of 5 coffees. Read the book soon; the movie comes out this Friday. Also, the soundtrack!

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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Breed: A Novel by Chase Novak

breedI’ve never really read anything from the Horror genre. Unless you count those scary stories that were ubiquitous growing up, which not many horror-genre fanatics would (seriously, though, why was it okay for little kids to read those stories? Do you remember the one where the spider laid eggs in the woman’s cheek?! ENDLESS NIGHTMARES!). But I heard about the premise of the novel somewhere and then I saw on the cover that Stephen King recommended it and I thought, if I’m going to try a new genre, why not start with a book stamped with the approval of the author of that genre.

So, premise. Alex and Leslie Twisden are hella-wealthy. Like, “Oh that ottoman? It’s been in the family for generations and is worth a bajillion dollars” wealthy. They have everything they could ever want, except a child. Even after spending unspeakable amounts of money and meeting with fertility specialists, taking homeopathic medications, and dealing with witch doctors, they are sans an heir. Leslie is ready to throw in the natural-birth towel and adopt a child. But after running into a formerly barren couple of their acquaintance pushing a pram, Alex insists they try just one last time.

The couple – rather reluctantly – tells them about a doctor somewhere in an eastern European country whose success rate is unmatched. It’s all very experimental but Alex is so desperate and Leslie loves him so much, that they decide to give it a go. Soon they find themselves in the cold, desolate office of the doctor who has three shots prepared for each of them. Leslie watches as Alex writhes and screams in pain with each administration. With each needle, Leslie’s resolve falters. And when it’s her turn, she refuses to go through with it. She begs Alex for mercy, a reprieve from what appeared to be excruciating pain. But Alex simply steps out of the office at the doctor’s suggestion and listens as his wife screams his name in vain.

Yikes, guys. Grounds for divorce, much?

But it works. Leslie gets pregnant. And hairy. Like, unbelievable hairy. Everywhere. And Alex is right behind her. And they’re both craving meat. The very rare kind. And Alex can’t help thinking how much he wants to maul the family lawyer. Even though all the lawyer is doing is getting Leslie off the hook for biting a doctor. But none of that matters because soon it is time for Leslie to give birth. And she has twins. Well, triplets, really, but the third is barely human and is disposed of in short order.

The twins – Adam and Alice – live what appears to be a privileged life: prep school, wealthy home, refined parents. But nobody knows that their parents lock them in their rooms every night. And their pets keep disappearing. And so do their nannies. And nobody knows that Adam and Alice have been planning their escape from a home they have never felt safe in.

All right. Enough plot summary, guys. This book could have been so good. The plot was so promising! But the tropes used by the author came off as cliche. And some of the messages – meant to be subtle, I’m sure – came off so heavy handed. For example, Adam and Alice come to depend on one of their teachers to escape their parents. And the teacher is gay. Big deal. But Novak makes such a big deal about it. He has the teacher endlessly second-guess his actions because they might be construed as predatory. But the story takes place in Manhattan in the year 2012, not in some rural town in the 1950s. If somebody observes a man hugging a young child in a Museum, no one assumes that the Pedo-bear is on the prowl.

I wanted so much to like this book. But the poor writing, the cliches, and the unnecessarily conspicuous message that gay people are just like us were so tiresome that I couldn’t reach the end soon enough.

3 out of five coffees. Also, check out this campy trailer for the book. Are these a thing now?

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose

You probably haven’t heard of Bizarro Fiction. I know I hadn’t.

As an established genre, Bizarro is a relatively new concept, though the form and ideas have been around for a long time. As the official Bizarro website states, ‘Bizarro, simply put, is the genre of the weird.’ Combining logic of the absurd with twisted, occasionally pornographic, and always macabre themes, it brings to mind the writings of Christopher Moore, Franz Kafka, and even Lewis Carroll, just to name a few.

Since it is such a new genre, Bizarro is always looking to further the art form and release new talent on an unsuspecting world. One of the eight books released this year by the New Bizarro Author Series, Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose is a shining example of what it means to be shelved in the Bizarro section.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHave you ever felt haunted by a book that wanted you to read it, no matter what?  The wonderfully-titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children followed me around for a couple of weeks, then appeared in my house under suspicious circumstances.  Which is to say, it was recommended to me on various websites, by word of mouth, and I saw it reviewed all over the place.  But I resisted, and wasn’t sure that I really wanted or needed to read it.  I wish I could remember what finally convinced me to pick it up, or where or when I finally bought it.  All I can say for sure, however, is that it made its way into my home, at the very top of my TBR, and I’m grateful that it did.

This book takes a series of odd (or let’s say “peculiar”) vintage photographs and builds a narrative around them.  The concept works so well that it becomes entirely plausible to consider the pictures as proof of the story, instead of merely a jumping off point for spinning this yarn.  In truth, I would have been fascinated by the book if it was just a collection of strange and creepy photographs with whatever limited information about their origin was available.  (The photos all come from personal collections, mostly cultivated through flea markets and other somewhat anonymous sources, so there is probably very little solid information available on any of them.)  In some cases you can guess at the techniques used to create an image of an invisible boy, or a girl trapped in a jar, or a young man lifting a large boulder with one hand.  Though I still found it impressive in an age when “dodge and burn” was not achieved by a mouse click in Photoshop.  Other of the photos are not as easy to explain away, and I spent more time than I care to admit just staring at them in amazement.

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The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town by Gregory Miller

The Uncanny ValleyThe premise of The Uncanny Valley is that a radio station in central Pennsylvania launched a campaign to compile stories and personal accounts from small town citizens that showcase the culture of their hometowns.  Supposedly, thirty-three entries came from the same unheard-of town called Uncanny Valley, which may or may not have ever existed on a map, and the tales they tell are singular and incredible.  Those stories are collected in this book, written in thirty-three individual voices belonging to the residents of this ethereal town.

It would be easy to categorize this as a collection of ghost stories, except that so many of them are about living, breathing people who stay that way, albeit usually with some kind of transformation.  Rather, this is a series of distinctly peculiar tales that add on one another to create a composite view of a remarkable town and its denizens.  In bite-sized installments, none of the stories more than a few pages long, we are taken on a journey through the strange and wondrous annals of the Uncanny Valley.  The fictional small town setting serves as a microcosm, within which rules we live by are bent at will and nothing is more certain than uncertainty.

Miller manages his large cast of characters adeptly, successfully transitioning between old and young, male and female, corporeal and not.  Their personal tales are deftly interwoven, giving credence to their existence as neighbors, family, and friends.  It’s fun to see characters who gave testimony earlier in the book appear in the third person walking in and out of their friends’ accounts.  Frankly, I was waiting for some historical or character discrepancy to surface, but was pleasantly surprised to find consistency throughout.

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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Book Reviews, Horror

 

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