Horror writer David Moody runs “Infected Books,” a publishing company devoted to horror fiction. Infected Books are completing a year long monthly series of novellas of zombie fiction by different horror writers. “The Plague Winter” is Rich Hawkins’s contribution.
I haven’t read Hawkins’s”Plague” novels that this derives from, but on the strength of this I will most certainly be checking them out. So not having read this this review will be not be informed by the wider canvas of this particular apocalypse. But from what we can gather from the novella, humanity is done, wiped out by a hideous infection that transforms people into deformed, tumescent, zombie like creatures. But that’s not all. Their flesh is likely to erupt at any given moment into gaping, extra mouths full of alien teeth and livid red, suckered tendrils. If you think “The Thing” meets “The Walking Dead” you won’t go far wrong.
In this novella a grandfather (Eddie) shepherds his grandson (Sam) through this nightmare landscape. The grandfather scavenges for food (and whisky to keep his alcoholic demons at bay), returning to the cottage where he guards Sam under lock and key. They apocalyptic setting, scenes of scavenging, and father/son relationship is reminiscent of “The Road,” and even has a staccato writing style not dissimilar to Cormac McCarthy’s. But it is a good, and skillful borrowing.
It is a brisk, riveting read and has a sucker punch at the end. Recommended, and a real hook to the rest of this series.
We’re Alive is a zombie apocalypse audio drama that ran for 4 seasons that ran between 2009 – 2014. A side story continuation ‘Lockdown’ finished has just completed as a podcast mini-series (April 2016).
And what a piece of work it is. Starting life in season 1 it immediately established its credentials as a high quality audio drama with laudable production values. An army sergeant Michael Cross (Jim Gleason) is pulled away from his studies on a college campus when he’s called up to deal with apparent violent riots. Said riots turn out to be the rise of the undead. Michael is reunited with his army buddies Angel (Shane Salk) and Saul (Nate Geez) and they realise that the established order is crumbling rapidly and they need to find a safe haven. Banding together with fellow survivors Pegs (Elisa Eliot) and Riley (Claire Dodin), and eventually stumbling across gravelly voiced veteran Burt (Scott Marvin), they hole up in a tower block which they turn into a fortress. This is the location of the first 2 seasons, which are centred on the defence of the tower block from monsters. These monsters are the infected, but also humanity at its most monstrous in the form of “The Mallers,” ex-convicts who occupied a Mall and represent human survival at its most vicious and violent. One of the Mallers leaders, ‘Scratch (Jenna McCombie),’ is a human nemesis whose battle with the tower dwellers becomes intensely personal when her brother is killed in an invasion of the tower. Scratch will take her battle to the very end of the finale of season 4.
So season 1 starts feeling pretty generic, survival horror with a military bent, a template that has been well established. As the story deepens over the next few seasons, however, we find that have bonded with main characters, and are engrossed with the developing lore and story arc of the series. The creatures mutate into a range of monsters, from lumbering behemoths to smaller faster creatures. They seem to be guided by a hive mind intelligence, and who is the tattooed figure who seems to appear as a watcher and leader of the undead army at key moments in the story?
The origin story of the creatures is hinted at in the early seasons and developed more fully in the later ones. Whilst I’m not convinced that all the strands of this hang together, it makes for an intriguing and suspenseful listen.
The series has some stand out set pieces that live in the memory; the initial outbreak; the discovery of a grisly arena where survivors are brought to die apparently for the creatures’ amusement; battles at the tower; encounters with the behemoths; a chase through a prison with hideously mutated creatures, and more. The story keeps its locations pretty tight and does not become too sprawling and fragmented. We move from the tower to a colony, a series of safe houses, and war-torn streets and locations in between.
The cast are uniformly brilliant. Michael is a solid lead, a sympathetic and very human leader who clings to his identity as a soldier. Burt is a memorable fan favourite. Gravelly voiced doesn’t begin to describe his tones. It sounds like he’s gargling with gravel. He’s an old school gun fetishist and veteran. There’s a scene where Scratch almost breaks Burt by torturing his gun (named Sheila after his dead wife) which is probably one of the series most suspect scenes. The female characters are varied and interesting and fight on an equal footing with their male counterparts (the apocalypse is an equal opportunities employer). Pegs is maybe overtly cookie at times but still someone you are always glad to get back to.
Scratch is a stand out performance, Hell-bent fury and icy cruelty.
What I love about this whole series is that it is an amazing achievement that is testament to the democratic creative power crowd funding today. Production values are cinematic in scope, and the intention to be a “theatre of the mind,” wholly immersive audio, is a successful one. The sound effects and musical score are solid and laudable and together with the top notch voice acting, pull you in. The snarls and roars of the creatures, especially the behemoths, are particularly memorable, and not what you want to hear in the dead of night. It’s great that we can enjoy the whole series free (get it here) and the whole enterprise deserves your support, if you care about stories and particularly love this genre. You can pledge support here.
Horror writer David Moody runs “Infected Books,” a publishing company devoted to horror fiction. Infected Books are roughly half way through a year long monthly series of novellas of zombie fiction by different horror writers. “Killchain” is Adam Baker’s contribution.
Adam Baker has written a four book series of novels that tell the story of an infection that literally falls in to Earth from the stars, and spawns a change in people transmitted through scratch or bite. They become a host to a mutagen that shoots tendrils, spikes and tumorous growths, all metallic in nature and appearance, through the human body, whilst the personality is destroyed and the creature becomes part of a hive mind and a ravaging, snarling inhuman killer. Book one, “Outpost,” is set on an oil rig in the Arctic as the infection hits civilisation, it is followed by “Juggernaut,” a prequel of sorts set in Iraq as a group of CIA hired mercenaries are tasked unwittingly to investigate one of the ground zero’s of the infection, Book three, “Terminus,” is set in an irradiated New York as a military hired rescue team go deep into the subway system to find a Doctor who just mind have found a cure to the infection, and “Impact” sees the crew of a downed military flight try to survive both the desert and the infected. For more on the books see the author’s website “Dark Outpost.”
There is little sign of hope that humanity will beat the infection in Baker’s stories. They are incredibly bleak in tone, in that you feel it is a given that the cockroaches are humanity’s successor. His lead character’s are usually female and they offer a tough goodness that offers some redemption as a testament to humanity, but it is a testament that is doomed not to be heard or remembered.
His prose style follows James Ellroy’s clipped staccato style. The invention, gore and nature of the monsters are all a cut above and reference the Thing, the ‘fast’ undead of World War Z/ 28 Days Later, and David Cronenberg style body horror.
In his contribution to “Year of the Zombie,” Adam Baker sets his story in another of his infection’s Ground Zeros, where the infection has fallen to earth from downed satellites and space stations, this time in Mogadishu. We begin in the home of a local resident, Daniel, who learns that quarantined infected has broken out of a stadium where they were being held, and the city is close being overrun. But before he can flee he is faced with the sudden intrusion of the CIA into his home in the form of agent Eliza, part of a kill-team tasked with eliminating a Russian Official, and her “Mechanic,” a mercenary named Ben. They are later joined by Sanjeev, an “asset” brainwashed into martyrdom through carrying out a human bomb mission against said Russian official.
The story of the infection in the city is the background to the story of Sanjeev’s mission, told in a tense POV from his hidden earpiece camera, watched carefully and guided by radio by Eliza. Then there are the bluffs and betrayals the trio in the room play on each other. As the situation in the city deteriorates, so does the situation between them in the room.
It’s a strong, black espresso of a horror story, gripping and bleak. A recommended read, but I would say for genre fans only.
Bill Wright is the journal keeping narrator of this, the first book in a continuing series (currently reaching Book Seven).
He is trapped in his London apartment with a broken leg. Why trapped? Outside a zombie apocalypse rages, having originated in New York, before inevitably reaching UK shores. Bill worked for the government and had a hand in designing an evacuation plan, which does seem to have gone catastrophically off the rails. Eventually escaping his apartment he begins a nightmare journey of survival, and he uncovers some frightening truths about his government and it’s agendas.
The book has a strong opening using a reliable convention of an injured and confined narrator coming to terms with a terrible new world (think Day of the Triffids, 28 days Later and The Walking Dead with their originally injured and confined protagonists), and strong scenes of the originating outbreak in New York. But there’s a lot of thuddingly generic survival horror as Bill moves from one siege situation to another, dispatching zombies (yes, with a blow to the head) and navigating a ruined urban and rural landscape. There’s a good set piece in central London where zombies breach street barricades en masse, but a lot of it Bill on his own foraging, fighting off zombie attacks and reminiscing. There is very little interaction with other characters. The book needs more narrative variation.
But Bill is a strongly likeable lead, believable and solid, and Tim Bruce’s good audio book narration suits him perfectly. The ending is also strong and satisfyingly bleak, as Bill uncovers the source of the outbreak and his government’s own agenda in the evacuation. There are the hints through the book as to where it is going, but nothing that makes the shocking denouement predictable.
At times I thought I would not read any more of the series due to the above described flaws, but onm teh final analysis this is a series I will be returning to.
Don’t read any further if you are new to Shan’s ZOM-B saga, as this review will be chock full of spoilers….
Beginning with the brutal betrayal at the close of ZOM-B clans, the ninth book in Darren Shan’s ZOM-B series sees B Smith taken prisoner by the vile Dan- Dan into a fortress at Battersea Power-Station. There she finds an unholy alliance between surviving members of the Board, the Klan, the army, Owl-Man, and her Father. Here at this base B must endure her most harrowing ordeal yet, one that will call on every ounce of her undead strength and living spirit.
B faces the emotional torture of facing up to her father and what he is, by showing him what has she become, a repudiation of all he stands for. B also discovers the fate of her mother, in one of the books many unsettling and shocking scenes.
B refuses to join this “axis of evil,” to borrow a phrase, and is so given into the clutches of Dan-Dan. There then follows an extended scene of torture which is pretty audacious for a young adult title. I kept expecting an imminent rescue or reprieve, but B finds no short-cuts from this. It’s not a literal crucifixion but follows the slow torture of this execution, without the reprieve of death. I would caution more sensitive readers (although those most easily offended won’t have made it this far in the series)! However, the scene is not salacious, or cheap, in any way. The focus is on B’s mental, emotional and spiritual endurance, and her repudiation of Dan-Dan’s evil.
Following this, there are more scenes of gladiatorial combat, more wrenching loss, and at the denouement, a siege which for B means out of the frying pan, into the fire…
This is probably the toughest and most unrelenting book of the series yet, but a gripping little page turner that once again shows how Shan is adept at switching from fast paced gore and action to pretty weighty moral content. It’s the latter that is so refreshing. Shan’s treatment of racism in particular, and the theme of the battle of the individual’s moral choices, is utterly refreshing, and timely, in today’s particularly xenophobic, other-hating political landscape.
Roll on” ZOM-B Bride.”
ZOM-B Clans, the eighth in this epic saga of what will be twelve books, does two things very well: it develops the origins backstory of the zombie epidemic including some details on the malevolent Mr Dowling and sinister ‘Owl-man,’ whilst raising the stakes and accelerating the pace as the series progresses towards its denouement.
The book begins with the closing moves of the battle at New Kirkham, a survivor settlement in the country. Shan is good at the theme of difficult moral choices, and B here must decide how to fight for Owl man’s remaining prisoners, and how to deal with the prisoner he and her friends take, the loathsome Dan-Dan. His repellent human villain makes a satisfying return and one of the joys of this series is wondering who, from previous instalments, will pop up next, and how. There is also a tense scene where the New Kirkham survivors debate on the fate of those who have remained ‘neutral’ in Kirkham’s fight with human and non-human monsters. Again, the best moral choice is not the easiest, and as with our most serious choices we have to sweat blood to get there.
Back at County Hall Dr Oystein has more revelations on this war with Mr Dowling and the undead, and some exposition on its origins. Events move to the prisoner exchange at Battersea power station, where a brutal act of treachery and another massive shock for B propels us on to pick up the next book.
As usual the writing is clear and the narrative is fast paced, whilst managing successfully to tackle some weighty moral themes.