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: A Cup of Joe

Well, it’s a new week which means a new review of short fiction.  This week’s pick is A Cup of Joe by Anita Ensal. Before we get on to talking about the short story, I want to take a moment to tell you how I came across this story. To put it simply, it was emailed to me. Zombies Need Brains LLC, is a fledgling publishing company using a Kickstarter to fund their first project entitled: Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens. In general, I’m new to Steampunk as a genre, but I think Kickstarters are pretty neat and I wanted contribute something to this new company (even if it was only $15) and this seemed like a good place to start. I backed the project. As a reward they have been emailing stories, written by authors contributing to the anthology, to the backers. I don’t believe A Cup of Joe will be contained in the anthology but I found Anita’s website here and it can be purchased on Amazon for like three dollars or something like that.

Love this Artwork!

Love this Artwork!

It’s worth the money.

When reading the story, I was immediately struck by the author’s voice. It’s easy to read, almost conversational. I was struck next by the construction of the world and the role of each character. These constructions were not necessarily subtle but still very tastefully done. For instance, there is a character called the Mother Board. It is clear from her actions within the story that she functions similarly to what we might expect from a motherboard in a computer. She governs the other components of the city and ensures that the ‘program’ runs effectively and efficiently. However, there is a way in which she also feels like a Mother, attempting to look out for her child, in this case, the human race. Perhaps, she is a little overzealous (ok she’s bat shit crazy) but that human aspect is there. It’s is especially interesting considering the fact that she isn’t human at all.

This is a world in which the structure of society values the mechanical and routine, over disruption and creativity. Of course, this cannot stand.

From here, all sorts of philosophical and ethical questions are raised. Is it ok to kill a few to save many? Are our lives predetermined or do we truly have a choice? Is it better to be happy in our ignorance or always seek the truth even if that truth is disturbing and painful? And of course how do we treat the environment? It isn’t a far leap to imagine this rigid, structured society as our own.

Candy??

Candy??

However, I think my favorite aspect of this piece is the love story. It’s simplistic (as a love story should be) and somehow reassuring. Now I think back on everything this piece has to offer and another story comes to mind. It reminds me an awful lot of The Matrix. It doesn’t have all the guns and shooting, but a lot of same elements are persistent through the story. When I first made this realization I was a little bit upset. But now, I don’t mind at all. I think that the story is still enjoyable to read because of it’s aforementioned qualities. The writing is good. Fun to read with good pacing. The characters are easy to care about. In my mind, the distance between David, Mother Board, Emily, and the reader is a lot less than between the viewer, Neo and Trinity. You’re in a new world, but it isn’t that far from what you already know.

As a short, I think it was perfectly done. Not a complete mind bender (or mind-fuck for that matter) but an enjoyable tale that gives you the opportunity to think about some interesting questions, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with them.

So, in conclusion, go spend the three dollars. Also, keep and eye out for Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens. 

Bye all.