Anthology Review: Appalachian Undead

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading Mountain Dead, a small anthology of [4] zombie stories put out by Apex Publications. It was a delight to read (you can read my praise of it here) and I was, of course, craving more when I finally finished devouring its 66 pages. I was in luck. Mountain Dead just so happened to be a companion work to a larger anthology entitled Appalachian Undead. You might consider Mountain Dead the appetizer and Appalachian Undead the main course. And I most certainly ate it up. Licked my plate clean in fact and am ready for dessert. It seems only fitting that I write some words as to why I found this title so . . . delicious . . .

First off, it’s a large helping of zombie goodness. 20 stories over 214 pages with a preface, introduction, and afterword that give the collection a framework/context/meaning. It also includes some snippet bios of each author/editor and their relevant contributions to the field. This was especially nice because it allows the reader to continue exploring different works and authors after they are finished with a particular story. Well played team, well played. I’m going to ‘review’ the three stories which stood out the most in my mind, and hopefully I’ll be able to communicate why. Here we go!

Cover!!

Cover!!

Hide and Seek – Tim Waggoner

For me, this story  felt so memorable because of its departure from convention. The first departure is the point of view; we get the events from the zombie’s perspective. I’ve seen this before in Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, but Waggoner’s take still felt fresh and new. I remember struggling at points within Marion’s work because of the polarity of his tone. He seemed to swing widely between humor, cynicism, despair and hope (I think in the end, Warm Bodies is a pretty hopeful novel). Waggoner didn’t need all of that to represent the humanity of his zombies. He focused (as many zombie fictions do) on survival but on the survival of dead instead of the living. Very interesting.

There is also a scene where our leading boy (yes the zombie is a child!) contemplates suicide. I don’t believe that I’ve seen this anywhere else, but it seems so obvious now that I think about it. Why would a zombie want to continue on in what I can only imagine would be a pretty miserable existence? I feel most stories don’t consider this because the idea is that the undead are trapped in a cursed immortality, that having died once they can’t ‘die’ again. But Waggoner gets us asking whether or not a second life (or an undeath) would even be worth ‘living’. Woah!

Spoiled – Paul Moore

This one made my list because of how truly horrifying I found the ending to be. Poor girl has a miscarriage and the dead infant tries to eat its way out of the womb during birth. Like I said, horrifying. And in true zombie-short fashion, nobody wins at the end of this tale. Really reminds the reader that no matter how much we sit here and imagine what a zombie apocalypse might be like, how we might survive and rebuild etc. Truth is we really don’t want to be around if the dead ever start rising from grave.

Note* I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m using the term ‘horrifying’ to describe the technical aspects of the story. It’s very well written. Great pacing and even some development of character (which can be hard to do in a zombie novel let alone a short). And the imagery is . . . True. It was just the ideas which I found so terrifying. Which a good zombie story should do. Well done here. Well done.

Calling Death – Jonathan Maberry

To me, this story felt the most like Appalachia. Or at least the way that I’ve conceived ‘Appalachia’ in my mind. Really drove home the idea of the people’s attachment to the land, and the simplicity of their lives. Simple, not because they weren’t capable of more complexity but because it didn’t bring them closer to any worth or value. We can see the havoc that is rough through materialistic conceptions of worth and value in the tale of the greedy mine owners and the poor hard working miners. Even in death, they are made to struggle. I’ve always heard the expression: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Apparently in Appalachia, you can’t sleep then either.

Honorable Mentions –

Black Friday (Karin Fuller): This one was sort of silly but a really fun read. Read it about two days before going black Friday shopping myself so the timing was impeccable.

Watch out!

Watch out!

We Take Care of Our Own (John Everson): Liked the way this one felt almost like a detective mystery. I’m always down for a good detective story, especially if it has zombies in it!

Company’s Coming (Ronald Kelly): There was a really neat racial component to this story that I was not expecting, nor do I see very often in zombie fiction. Well done there.

Repent, Jessie Shimmer! (Lucy A. Snyder): Who is Jessie Shimmer?! She seems like a really neat character who lives in a somewhat crazy world. I am definitely going to read some of her other stories (novels maybe?).

This is the END!

Of the post I mean. I’ll conclude how I usually conclude, by telling you all to go read this anthology. It’s on Amazon here, so you have no excuse! If I didn’t mention your story in my post, I’m sorry. Know that I thoroughly enjoyed all of the shorts in this anthology, but I just needed a way to write about it without writing 214 pages myself.  Anyway, bye all!

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Short Fiction Review: Mountain Dead

Truth be told, I’m a little surprised by the fact that I haven’t yet reviewed a piece from Apex Publications on this blog. From what I can tell, they are deeply immersed in the realm of Speculative Fiction. They publish Horror, Sci Fi, and Fantasy but also any mix and mash of those genres that make a great story. Their blog posts are insightful, timely and relevant to my tastes and interests. And of course their twitter account is updated frequently  with useful insights about specials and promotions as well as a good dose of seemingly unrelated banter which is often quite amusing. Also zombies.

Cover!

Cover!

I first heard about Mountain Dead, a short (4 stories), short fiction anthology released as a supplement (sounds almost scholarly) to a much larger anthology (20 stories) called Appalachian Undead.  I saw the ad in the newsletter some time ago (maybe July?) and proceeded to read some post on the blog about zombies. I’m a sucker for anything zombies, but as I mentioned before, these posts were well written and insightful. Tipped me off to the whole Haitian zombie trope which I ended up researching a little further on my own and to great satisfaction. Then?

Sadly nothing. Sort of fell off my radar although I continued to follow their twitter feed, blogs, and other projects (looking at you War Stories Anthology). Then, Halloween came and with it, a free copy of Mountain Dead! Also, a good many kicks in the rear for not having ordered it sooner. So without further ado, please allow me an attempt at redemption for not reviewing an Apex short sooner . . . by reviewing the four shorts of Mountain Dead here.

The First Short: Deep Underground (Sara M. Harvey)

Alright. Here we go. The first of four. At this point, I don’t really know what to expect. I know that I’m expecting zombies, but that is pretty much it. Also, the zombies on the cover are playing banjos and violins respectively, so that’s a clue to . . . something? I’m not sure. So I start reading Deep Underground by Sara M. Harvey and . . . ?

I’m liking it!

The story starts explaining this little ‘oops’ that happened with the preacher’s daughter and goes on to tell of these two families that, for all intents and purposes, started a town. Now the town is named after one of the families and not the other, so obviously there is some conflict there, but you don’t realize just how deep the conflict (and the symbolism) is until the story approaches the end. I won’t say what happens because I want you to read it; however, I will say what I think my favorite part of this story was. I really believe that this story gets the reader set up for what these stories are supposed to be like. It sets up the small-town feel. The feeling that you’ve known all these characters since the day you were born (even though you’re just meeting them) because you grew up together. It makes it all so much more horrifying to see little Johnny climb from his grave and take a bite out of little Susie when you can ‘remember’ going to both of their christenings. That’s the type of feeling you get while reading Deep Underground. It’s hard to do, but here, it seems easy.

The Next Short: Unto the Lord A New Song (Geoffrey Girard)

For me, Unto the Lord A New Song, provides a different feeling from the first short piece, but an equally relevant one. There is a certain desensitization in this story that seems frankly appalling (although I’m sure it’s meant to). I’ve read a few zombie stories (both short fiction and novels) that are ‘post-outbreak’ (or I suppose post-‘apocalypse’) and therefore don’t focus too much on what caused this frightening turn of events, or how people are responding to it. These stories skip over all that and place you in the aftermath. You’ve survived the initial onslaught but how you continue to do so is up to you.

These are fun stories because the author gets to let his imagination run wild and think of new and inventive ways for his survivors to dispatch zombies, rebuild etc. Some authors also use this setting to invent new challenges for the survivors to face and overcome, or perhaps tragically fail to overcome. In the case of of Unto the Lord A New Song, I feel the author uses the ‘post-outbreak’ setting to demonstrate just how strange things will be after a zombie apocalypse . . . as in let’s tie vacuum tubes to a zombie’s vocal chords and make em sing during the next sermon strange. Yea. I think the horror here comes from the fact that people will have been forced to accept so much after an event like a zombie apocalypse that they won’t think twice (and they don’t in the story) about hiking all day to see a horrifying spectacle like this and when they do, they’ll see the work of God in it and call it Church. Not sure if that’s where the author was going with this story, but that’s where I went with it and it was definitely an eye opener. Well played sir, well played.

Another good looking anthology from Apex

Another good looking anthology from Apex

The Short After That: Let Me Come In (Lesley Conner)

I can’t profess to have any sort of deep analysis on any moral or thematic issues at play in Lesley Conner’s Let Me Come In. It’s not that I don’t think they are there, they might be. It’s just that I was having too much fun to look. Let Me Come In is something of a re-imagining of the Big Bad Wolf and Three Little Pigs fairy tale that we are all familiar with. I won’t say more except that I really enjoyed this piece. Very clever. Probably my favorite of the four. A must read.

The FINAL Short: And It’ll Haunt Me (For Long Days to Come)  K. Allen Wood

 This final short was another hard hitter. Very good. Very enjoyable. You’re put across the table from a suspected criminal as he goes to make his confession. He weaves his tale like a spider’s web and you can’t help but become hopelessly engaged in what he has to say. Is what he says real? Could these horrible things really have happened? He seems to believe it himself.

I go on about Denny (the convict) like he wrote the story.  I think that is a tribute to the author’s subtlety. You don’t notice the author’s presence. You’re Jack (the detective) and Denny is telling you a story. It’s that simple. I liked that a lot about the story. Some things I read these days feel like the words are just barely holding back the author’s ‘message’, which is so overpowering that you don’t even want to hear it. This short doesn’t seem to bother with any of that. Just a good story.

No I do not like your hat! Goodbye. Goodbye.

Apologies for the P.D. Eastmen reference in that last header but I couldn’t think of a clever way to end the review section and the post without an abrupt pause so . . . that is what you get. Also, definitely thought that was from Dr. Suess, but apparently it’s Eastmen (so glad I looked it up). Anyway, Mountain Dead appears to still be free on Amazon so definitely give it a look if you liked any of what you’ve just read. Until next week.

Goodbye . . .

Goodbye . . .

Short Fiction Review: Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields

Well, it’s October finally, which means Halloween is fast approaching. It also means that for the next month, we (pop culture) will be celebrating all things that bump in the night. I enjoy a good ghost story, or a good werewolf flick. I can always be regaled by the tale of a lonely vampire or a Frankenstein’s Monster. However, one particular type of ghoulish creature (‘dead’ giveaway right there) has fascinated me as of late. He (or she) shambles. He’s dirty. Pretty dumb really. Hangs out with a bunch of buddies and roams around hoping to chance upon a rabbit or a deer, or better yet, a person if there are any of those still left. Yes, I’m not afraid to admit it.

I’ve fallen in love with Zombies!

Just can’t help it really. And while there will be all sorts of creepy crawlies and ghastly . . . other things that start with the letter G, I’ll be keeping my eye on the zombies. So, for my fiction review this week, I decided to go back to the source. Go back to where it all started: William Buehler Seabrook’s Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields. This piece (I believe) was originally part of a larger work by the same author called The Magic Island, and from what I can gather, is an account of Seabrook’s visit to Haiti, way back in 1929. I’m sure it was embellished some, and I’m sure that its contents were probably expanded upon and used by others who had a taste for the occult.

Great image from: http://survivingthedead.wordpress.com/

Great image from Mike Kloran via survivingthedead.wordpress.com

*Fun Fact: Apparently Seabrook had the taste for humans. Reportedly, he stayed with a cannibalistic tribe in West Africa, and eventually tried a ‘roast’ of actual human flesh back in America. Compared it to veal. Thought the tastes were so similar that all but the most discerning pallet would likely not be able to distinguish the difference. At least that is the myth.

 However, Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields is the first story to ever use the Z-word (zombie). The story isn’t long. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone with an extra half-hour to kill. Was really quite interesting to see the similarities, and differences, between this seemingly archaic conception of a zombie, and what we now perceive them to be.

A Master of Puppets is Pulling the Strings . . .

Seabrook’s zombies are the vacant, dumb, shambling creatures we are familiar with but with one very important difference: They are not their own vacant, dumb, and shambling creatures. What I mean is they must be told what to do. In Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields, the narrator (and through narration, the reader also) is told of corpses that are ‘dragged from their graves’ to go work in the fields. In Seabrook’s account, our precious zombies aren’t killers or cannibals themselves but simply work the fields and follow orders. Slaves really. They are kept away from the other workers because the master doesn’t want them to know that his workers are corpses. He’s afraid that someone will recognize a brother, sister, or other family member and demand (perhaps violently) that they be returned the afterlife.

Interestingly enough, the zombies are cooked separate food that has neither salt, nor meat in it. The superstition here is that should the zombies eat salt or meat, the food reminds them they are dead and they wail until they are back in their graves. Personally this seems like a rather silly picture in my mind but I’m sure it would be quite frightening to actually witness. I’m also wondering if the more modern, flesh eating zombies we are familiar with today are some kind of misappropriation of Seabrook’s own cannibalism and the horrific creatures he wrote about. No way to know for sure.

Zombie Keebler elves!

No, this is a Keibler elf, not a Keebler elf.

No, this is a Keibler elf, not a Keebler elf.

One similarity between Seabrook’s tale and more modern zombie sagas, is the presence of large corporations at work either creating the zombies, or using them in some way. In Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields, the narrator hears that Hasco or Haitian-American Sugar Company, is using the zombies to work their fields. The narrator then compares Hasco to Nabisco (ok not Keebler sorry) and some other large American corporations and announces his utter surprise  at hearing such strange business. I think about movies like Resident Evil and perhaps some others, which all use big corporations as the ‘bad guy’ who is responsible for the zombie outbreak. I marvel at the fact that this is the thing that stays the same when so many other zombie tropes have changed and mutated with time. I suppose if you wanted to get down to it, perhaps the essence of zombie fiction lies somewhere in the betrayal of big corporations. Not sure just yet but certainly something to think about as I read more zombie stories.

Anyway . . .

I suppose I’ve written all of this to say something much simpler and that is: “Get excited because it’s October and let’s talk about zombies.”

Give Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields a read if you have the chance. There isn’t a lot to it, but it is at least interesting to know what got this whole zombie thing started. I guess that is all for now. New story next week. Bye!

These guys still crack me up!

These guys still crack me up!

Posting on Vacation.

Yea this boat right?

Yea this boat right?

Ahh the guilt! I wasn’t going to post this week. I’m on vacation in Stone Harbor and have been greatly enjoying some much needed R&R. But alas, I couldn’t hold out. I’ve been catching up on a lot of reading because the only thing to do here is sit on the beach and read (it’s amazing!). I’ve been reading novels mostly. I finally finished Highmage’s Plight, so there will be a review on that later (I’ll post it during the BBF so stay tuned). I also started World War Z which has been great so far. But then the guilt . . .

A short fiction post every week. That was the deal I made myself. My Kobi posts are all but non-existent (I miss that little guy!) since I moved out and if I don’t keep up the short fiction posts then everything I’ve worked so hard (well medium hard) to  attain will collapse into ruin.

Dramatic much?

Well without further adieu, I suppose I should begin this week’s short fiction post. It’s about George R. R. Martin’s Meathouse Man. I’ve come to understand George R. R. Martin is fairly popular these days. Certainly a household name. I’m pretty sure you can get a good deal through a conversation just by mentioning his name and spouting out a few random facets you’ve happened to pick up along the way. It works even better if you’ve seen an episode or two of his HBO series. You don’t even really have to have read any of his work. I never had and I’ve been getting by pretty well (granted I did start watching the show and am pretty much caught up as far as that is concerned).

So, at the beach I was skimming through a zombie anthology and saw his name. It seemed like an opportunity.

I won’t comment on any literary aspect of the writing except to say that it was superb. Everything measured and tempered for maximum effect. Very well done there although I expected as much given the nature of the criticism surrounding his other work.

What I would like to comment on is the content of the piece. It’s horrifying. I often forget how good horror makes a reader feel absolutely uncomfortable while reading. At each break between sections I stopped and seriously debated whether or not I would continue.

Let me explain.

Aww

Aww

The premise of Meathouse Man is rather simple. It is the story of a man who is in search of true love. A man who struggles to rise above base pleasure, above anonymity , above being numb. Something along the lines of having loved and lost being better than having never love at all. He eventually decides that the world is built to break men down and that to believe anything else is just and intricate deception constructed by those too weak to see the truth. Depressing huh?

If that isn’t hard enough to take, please also consider the universe this man lives in. He is a Corpse Handler. Basically, he controls the bodies of six people who are already dead with the aid of synthetic brains (something of a techno-necromancer I suppose). Now the ability to control the dead is fully integrated into this society. Dead men work in the fields, the mines, the forests. They act in theatres and shows. Worst of all, it is dead women who pleasure their customers in the whorehouses.

Yea, pretty revolting stuff.

I think I’ll end the post here and let that sink in. I’m not upset that I read it. Nor am I upset that it exists (freedom of expression and all that). I’m a little bit grateful to be put outside my comfort zone. However, I am still upset; that’s really all I can say to express my feelings after reading it. Perhaps that is the point. I’ll let you decide. Please comment if you can.

Strike two for Ray Bradbury!

Hey all. This week’s short fiction post is about Ray Bradbury’s short story The Emissary. I suppose it might be necessary to explain how or why I even know about this story, and decided to post about it. So here’s the skinny on that:

– Recently I’ve received a few mentions on my twitter account from a particular author who writes zombie fiction (check out Devan Sagliani. He’s awesome.  You can read a review of his book, The Rising Dead, which I wrote here). He’s been using the hashtag #FF to get the word out about different twitter handles and he’s mentioned me two weeks in a row (like I said he’s awesome). He usually just tweets out a list of handles he thinks people should follow; usually they have some relevance to horror or zombie fiction. I’ve been following most of them and getting super excited about zombies all over again.

– So, last weekend I go to Barnes & Noble and drop $50 on zombie books and anthologies (Psh. Who says bricks-and-mortar stores are dead?). I didn’t even feel remotely bad about it even though I definitely can’t afford to be doing that often. Nor did I look through the table of contents for the anthologies. Just dropped the cash and left.

– Now I’ve been slowly eating through some of the stories (Braaaiiiinnnssss!!) and I’ll admit, I was a little surprised to see Bradbury’s name in the lineup. Certain authors I had no trouble digesting. Stephen King, Max Brooks . . . even Neil Gaiman wasn’t too much of a stretch, but Ray Bradbury? Really?

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

This is the Bradbury I know:

A sort of nerdy looking science fiction writer. We had to read Fahrenheit 451 in high school. While I didn’t think the novel was incredibly engaging, he seemed to be a good writer and it was cool that he predicted ear-buds or whatever.  I remember learning that he was born in the 20’s (1920 to be exact) and attributed what I thought to be an overly ‘literary’ aspect of his writing to the fact that he was from a different time. And while Science Fiction is probably one of my favorite genres of fiction, I wasn’t attracted to his writing. I thought it seemed dull and a little boring.

Imagine my surprise . . .

What I didn’t know (which I now do thanks to Wikipedia), was that Bradbury actually got his start writing horror. Apparently, he was a pretty voracious reader and while H.G Wells, and Jules Verne, seem to fit as influences for his work in science fiction, I was surprised to learn of his fascination with Edgar Allen Poe (I keep seeing Poe’s name in the zombie anthologies also). Bradbury actually tried to imitate Poe in a lot of his writing until he turned 18, at which point I guess he had developed the style he has come to be known for.

My thoughts on The Emissary:

Sorry Bradbury. This might be strike two. I’ll explain. The Emissary, much like Fahrenheit 451, was certainly well written. There is a way in which I feel Bradbury’s writing feels simple even though I know it isn’t. Like he’s delivering the scenes in their most basic elements. A bunch of individual units which can only be understood in any larger context after it has already been read. It’s like you sense the story instead of read it. It’s quite impressive. Certainly poetic to say the least. However, I felt like it simply wasn’t what I was hoping for. Like it kept building and building and then simply forgot to do the big reveal. Also, and this is likely the fault of the anthology’s editor not Bradbury’s, it didn’t feel like there were any zombies in it. At least not the way we are used to. It is suggested that the boy’s favorite visitor comes back to visit “from the other side” so to speak, but it just doesn’t feel like a zombie at all. Not the way we know them now. I guess my earlier assessment still holds. Bradbury and his work is simply . . . from another time.

That’s all for today guys. Hopefully next week my review won’t be such a downer. Laters!