Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Dark Moon Presents ZOMBIES!

Dark Moon Presents

Dark Moon Digest brings us the special edition of Dark Moon Presents ZOMBIES! It has 15 short horror stories featuring zombies. A good number of them are quite entertaining and enjoyable to read. The others, not so much. But, like with most anthologies, there are some stories for you, and some stories for the other guy to enjoy. I'm putting the stories I don't care for into the latter category.

First I'll cover the stories I liked in the Good, then the ones that are OK but I didn't care for in The Bad, and the worst written ones in the Fugly category.

The Good:
"Broken Down Lives" by Kendra Lisum 
"Broken Down Lives" by Kendra Lisum captured my attention with the first brooding paragraph. This short story is perfectly paced, with small reveals fed to the reader at just the right time: puzzle pieces that all slide into place at the very end when single mother Kathryn tells Jake what happened, and why she did it. Reminded me of Stephen King's "Pet Cemetery", but in a good way. Kendar Lisum uses the senses and carefully picked words to weave a creepy tale of a mother's love, and just how far it can take you. The theme is similar to that of the movie "Grace." Just remember to be careful what you wish for, or in this case, pray for...

Here's an excerpt:
I HAD been walking for the better part of three hours. The swaying
tree branches on either side of the highway clicked together, like
the bones of a dancing skeleton. The clouds had thickened to block
out the stars; winter lightning—the kind you can feel like a shiver—
backlit the distance. Thunder rumbled, and the breeze carried a smell
of rotting leaves.
I passed a white cross on the side of the road, weather-beaten and
faded artificial flowers wrapped around its splintered frame. Then, it
began to rain—a cold, heavy December rain. I pushed my hands
deeper into the pockets of my coat. An eerie, bouncing luminescence
lit the rain to falling embers, but I didn’t hear the car until it slowed
beside me, its window rolled down.
“You want a ride, mister?” A woman’s voice.

"I, Zombie" by A. E. Stueve
"I, Zombie" by A. E. Stueve is about survivors of a zombie plague. A cure is found for the virus that turns people into zombies, and brings them back from the dead, leaving them half-dead, half-alive. Not fitting in with either the dead or the living, these poor souls are forced to endure AA type meetings, and being lied to by the government. They are even forced to live in an encampment, an un-undead ghetto. The characters are rich in detail and act realistically. I rather liked this one. By the end of the story, I really cared for the main character Billy. And you will too.

"Thicker Than Law" by John McMullen
Elizabeth Ling-Ling Bennet is an adopted daughter. When her parents had a child of their own, and it was a boy, he became the center of their universe. They doted on him constantly, up until the very end.

In "Thicker Than Law" the zombie virus only effects children. That's right. Kid zombies. Doesn't get much creepier than that. A great twisted tale, with enough gore and violence, and a shocking ending that you have to read for yourself. Absolutely the best story of this anthology by far.

This story is dark and twisted. It displays some of the more sinister aspects of being a parent, and the choices that one is forced to make: let a zombie kid live and eat your adopted daughter, or let her kill him. "Thicker Than Law" has an intense pace and an ending that will shock you.

"The Five Rules: Diary of a Survivor" by Kate Putnam
Vodoun is the writer of the diary. She goes through the days of the week, giving an example of the hell that it is to live after a zombie apocalypse. Really good tight story telling about four young women that were attending college when the world collapsed around them and reality as they know it broke for good. Man! All she wants is a cigarette! Is that so much to ask for?

"Death on the Newsfeed" by C.D. Carter
Facebook and zombies. Poor unemployed Kevin Webb is addicted to FaceBook.  All his FaceBook friends are coming down with a strange bug, everybody's getting sick. Then his neighbors start killing each other. He witnesses the zombie outbreak via his Facebook news feed during SNOWMAGEDDON. And is so obsessed with his FaceBook that he can't even pull himself away from his computer to run out of the house once the zombies start breaking through the windows. Poor, poor dead man.

"Sound Set Off" by David A.E.T.
David is stuck in his house. He's had to tie up his zombie wife, and his home is under attack. His only hope is his brother... who he can only get into contact with via texting, as the cell phone signal is crap where is at. The tension is great, the set up nice, and the ends leaves you knowing that David is going to make it after all. Wonderful little short story that would make a great short film. (Hint, hint)

The Bad

"Legio Mortuus" by Jason Shayer
Roman Legion vs. Zombies. 'Nuff Said.
However, the dialogue and narrative comes off as a bit forced and doesn't flow as well as it could. It's not really that bad, but it's not good either. Just sort of in the middle.

"Gingerbread Man" by Barrett Shumaker 
Quadriplegic Andre used to be a football player. Now he's stuck in an electric wheelchair that is running out of juice. He is chased by Mr. Persistent (who I guess is supposed to be a zombie. Not sure on that one...) and then killed. That's all you need to know.

"I Am a Candle" by Roberta Kowald
This one is not about zombies, but about a friendly teen-age ghost that after learning how to make people see her becomes bitter and decides to haunt the crap out of people. It's not a terrible read, but not really my thing, so it goes under the bad category.

"Step Right Up" by Rebecca Snow
Snake oil salesman Montague arrives in town from zombie infested Outerworld. This time he is selling zombie repellent. His brother is the shill, pretending to be a zombie that is repelled by the miraculous concoction. A heartless tale with little value.

"Hail to the Chief" by Stan Swanson
The Zombie Freedom League wants zombie rights. The current presidential election is riding on this issue. Presidential hopeful Senator Jonathan Brooks, touches a sick child, catches the zombie illness and dies. Turns out that the current president who is up for re-election set him up to die. This one I didn't find very entertaining at all. It came off cliched and was very predictable.

"Hail to the Chief" reminded me of the Masters of Horror Episode "Homecoming," you know the one where the soldiers come back from the grave to demand their rights? That one. But hey, if you're into that sort of thing, I'm sure you'll love it.

The Fugly

"Bouvier Des Mort" by Shannon Farrell
Bouvier Des Mort by Shannon Farrell is about a nameless dog, with a nameless owner. Nameless dog  stays ridiculously loyal to its owner. When she becomes a zombie, he unrealistically follows her throughout the city and countryside, even though he is starving, because he a noble creature. A show dog, turned zombie herd dog. Not the most original story (read it in a comic once. I'd name it but I can't remember the title of it. Sorry.) and not very realistic either. Show dog or no, once a dog gets hungry enough and realizes that you aren't going to be feeding it, it's not going to stick around. It'll run off and become feral.

And really, having to read "the dog" over and over again (even though it clearly is a prized pet which would have a name and is smart enough to be able recognize it and his owner's name) and having it constantly referred to as a he, when it should be an "it" when it doesn't have a name, really got to me after a while.

"Black Friday" by Dennis McDonald
Two dudes working at a thinly veiled Wal-Mart analog (ValMart Superstore) are attacked by zombies on Black Friday, the morning after Thanksgiving when all the nut jobs line up at 3 am in the morning to trample over each other to grab the cheapest deals of the season. Yeah. I've always thought those people were zombies. I have a nagging feeling that Dennis McDonald used to work for such a hellhole. When I worked retail, I had these kinds of stories popping in my head as well. Just didn't write them, because seriously, who cares? The characters are flat, one dimensional, and cliched.

"Papa Doc's Zombie and the Ugly Black Mambo" by G.K. Hayes
This one would've been a good read, if it had been written in first person with actual dialog with another character instead of having the narrator speak as though you are having a conversation with her. Ugh. The style is jarring and hard to get into, and seems to trip up what little tension there could've been in this short story.

Here's an excerpt so you see what I mean:
"COME on up here on the porch, child. Sit yourself down in that
rocker and tell your Granny Dee why you wearing such a troubled
face. What, child? What you mean? “Is they zombies for real?” What
give you a notion like that, asking me is zombies for real?
Oh, some of your friends, huh?
I just bet it was that Lavoina Dubois and her big sister Lilly too,
ain’t I right?
Um-hum, you girls been talking about things better left unsaid. I
just bet them girls tried to scare you to thinking that some night, some
big ol’ smelly, rotten zombie was going to come up out of his dark
grave and reach out with his dusty, grey grabbing hands clear in
through your bedroom window and chomp down on you with his big,
yellow, slobbering teeth, or maybe drag you screaming back to his
secret land of the dead, now didn’t they?
Well, don’t you worry none, child. Ain’t no zombie ever going to
bother you, not while your ol’ Granny Dee is around, no ma’am. Now,
hush. I don’t care one flaming flip what that Lilly Dubois says. She
don’t know much as a bayou gator about zombies, no she don’t."

The accent seems about right for someone in Louisiana, and the local colloquialisms are used correctly as well. But it's just too darn hard to get into a story when it's written like that. Really, who the heck was Granny Dee speaking with? What were they saying, really? Because to the reader it seems as though she is a crazy old hoot talking to herself while she sits on her rocking chair on the porch.

"All the Rage" by C.W. LaSart
Take the rage virus from "28 Days Later," mix it with the Dedites from "Evil Dead" and you get the zombies from "All the Rage." Get it? The rage?

The story is so annoying that it made me do a face palm.

The zombies in this terrible tale are sentient, and pissed off. Hence, the title "All the Rage." They can scream at you, tell you all the nasty mean things they ever thought of you, and kill you at the same time. Of course, here you don't need to be bit or scratched. You just die and turn into a raging a-hole zombie. Ugh.

"All the Rage" is about a group of stereotypical high school kids raiding a house for supplies and shacking up for the night during the zombie apocalypse. The group consists of the very pregnant slut, the glasses wearing nerd, the boozing jerk jock, the nice jock that knocked-up the slut, and the horror writer geek. The usual temper tantrums and childish antagonism ensues. Yay.

There is a lot about this story that makes no sense, and in reality would not happen, even in the most direst of situations. My biggest pet peeve with this one is that the jerk jock rules the roost and bullies everyone to the point of submission. When you are in a live or die situation, would you really stick around someone like that? Cause I know that I'd ditch him the first chance I got. I mean come on, he's trying to kill you!

The Five Worst Things about "All The Rage":
1. One does not "silently cover the doors and windows" while "breaking off cupboard doors and nailing them to the windows." All right? Even if you were careful, the pounding of nails into the door and window frames would be loud. Such is the nature of carpentry work.

2. I find it hard to believe that a very pregnant girl would be able to "brave the stench" of decaying bodies to check for supplies. She's pregnant and would be heaving up her lunch the minute she got within smelling range of the rotting corpses. Come on!

3. Zombie baby was so 2004.

4. A dead narrator? H.P. Lovecraft managed to pull that one off, but this story needs some serious work to get up to his caliber.

5. It isn't clear that the narrator is writing this in a journal. And the last entries gave me flashbacks to playing "Resident Evil" on PlayStation and reading the diary in the gardener's house and the last entry is: "Itchy. Scratchy. Tasty."

All in all, ZOMBIES! has enough good stories to make it worth reading, and I recommend that you do. You can pick up your own copy here

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