Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Zombocalypse Now" by Matt Youngmark

While I am a fan of dark fiction, I have to admit that the genre has a tendency to take itself pretty seriously. I mean, for a genre of writing that focuses primarily on ghosties and ghoulies and vamps and weres and zombies, it does sometimes feel as though horror and fantasy related books and stories often seem to act as though they are above their station. So, when I was contacted by Matt Youngmark (the author of the cleverly named Zombocalypse Now, which is published by Chooseomatic Books) and offered the chance to review what he referred to as an “adult choose your own adventure” with a zombies take over the world theme, I was intrigued indeed. And then when I realized that the book is actually a parody not only of itself, but of virtually every other zombie holocaust-themed book ever written, I was hooked.

Those of you less nerdy than myself may be scratching your heads at my reference to choose your own adventure books. They were (and continue to be, actually) a series of books in which the plot plays out in numerous different ways, depending upon the order in which the book is read, which is governed by choices made by the reader. They used to be incredibly popular among bookworms the world over, and new volumes are still being released today. Generally, they plots are horror, action/adventure, or mystery-based, and the main character is you.

In Zombocalypse Now, however, you happen to be a love-starved, pink stuffed bunny just trying to get a little action.

On page one, you are sitting in a restaurant, awaiting the arrival of your most recent blind internet dating acquisition. When they arrive, something about their slack jawed demeanor seems a bit off (although it is not much more “off” than any of your other recent blind dates). Things steadily go downhill from this point, as zombie mayhem begins to ensue, as it undoubtedly will in the not so distant future.

From page three, you begin to make decisions that will shape your adventure and overall success or failure in the new, zombie-ridden reality in which you find yourself immersed. Choice one: ditch your date (whose BO has become increasingly offensive), or continue with dinner and see if the evening can be salvaged.

All in all, there are a total of 112 different possible outcomes, each one shaped by the decisions you make while facing the zombie scourge. And, as the book’s cover points out, there are 7 endings that do not result in your zombie-related demise. That’s about a 5% chance of surviving the zombie apocalypse, which (according to my preliminary calculations) is much better odds than you would have when the zombies really do take over the world.

Not to mention that some of the decisions that you are forced to make in the book will likely help to ensure that you are at the top of your mental game when the zombies actually do take over. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

All in all, this was a fun and entertaining read. In fact, it actually became a group project at my house. My daughter and I were reading aloud and trying to find each one of the endings (we are currently up to about 30, although I have read through the book for the sake of review purposes [and possible to cheat a little.]) There were some hysterical lines and fabulous ways to die, many of which I would never have dreamed up in a million years. One of my favorite paragraphs of the entire book:

"The street in front of the restaurant where you left your date is now a chaotic mess of the living dead. Zombie shoppers attack random passers by, and many of their meals reawaken to join the growing horde. Two zombie policemen on zombie horses chase a pissed-off looking woman down the street. It’s madness.”

Not to mention the fact that you die a full 105 times over the course of reading this book in its entirety. Meaning that the author had to come up with some pretty creative death scenarios. They include (but are not limited to):

*Zombie polar bears.
*Zombie mackerel (you know, the fish).
*Death by humanoid zombie, only to rise again as a pink stuffed bunny zombie.
*Being eaten by zombies while burning to death. Worst. Death. Ever.
*Bludgeoning by soccer trophy.

Honestly, a review can’t really do a book like this justice, simply because it is so entertaining and in so many ways. I heartily recommend that you go find yourself a copy of Zombocalypse Now, and suggest that you read it with a friend (or a group of friends). While it’s billed as being intended for adults, it is really not that objectionable and IMO is appropriate for teens as well. 5 stars.

(A tip from the author himself, one that I employed: Mark off the choices that you’ve already made with a highlighter so you can find all of the endings without wasting too much time.)

Alas, if you prefer your zombie novels to be a little more above themselves, take the literature route and trudge through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. You'll be sorry...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Debris" by Barry Napier

I was recently contacted by horror author Barry Napier and offered the chance to review his recently released collection of short stories and poetry, Debris. While I am a huge fan of dark fiction and horror, I have been let down by a lot of my favorite authors recently (like Bentley Little and his pandering and incoherant "His Father's Son, which I impatiently waited for for a year), so I have really enjoyed broadening my horizons recently. I had never heard of Mr. Napier, and was unwilling to let myself get my hopes up, but I requested an ebook review copy of Debris nonetheless.

I was blown away.

This was one of the best collections of horror stories I have read in years, each story and poem was better than the last, and I was able to devour the entire book in a few short hours.

The collection consisted of 20 distinct stories/poems, and while they were all excellent in their own way, they each had their own flavor.

The first story in the collection, Grave Seasons was the story about a legendary backwoods cabin, located in an area where transients and thrill-seekers alike were known to vanish without a trace. The cabin is occupied by an unassuming elderly woman and a young man who is something of an apprentice to her life's work. When unexpected visitors arrive, the story takes a macabre turn for the worse.

(While I very much enjoyed Grave Seasons, it [presumably unintentionally] reminded me of the hilarious Britney Spears South Park episode. Because of that, I took the story with something of a TIC attitude.)

In Notes on how it all Ended, Mr. Napier capitalizes on the ever-popular themes of rampant biological plagues and goverment cover-ups and conspiracy theories. A resident of a small town in stricken with an unexplainable and horrific illness, which grows more virulent and life-threatening by the second. Cut off from the outside world, the story is his account of his declining health and the events that coincide with it.

While I totally loved the entire book, A Collection of True Evils was my favorite story of the entire collection. It is the tale of a fabled book, believed to have been cursed by an admitted witch and passed down among murderers and madmen for generations, each new owner adding to its power to bring death and destruction to any who attempt to read it. According to the legend, no one had ever read it in its entirety, and all who had tried had died mysterious and untimely deaths.

The book falls into the hands of a group of friends, one of which happened upon it while cruising an internet auction site. The friends had been meeting twice a week for five years in secret to discuss occult literature, and finding the seemingly-mythological tome book was a dream come true.

Or so they thought :)

In addition to the terrifying and fantastic selection of short stories, Debris also contains some of the best dark poetry I have ever read. Most memorable, Abandoned Bridges, which ever-so-eloquently lays out the consequences of fruitless trees.

All in all, Debris was hands-down one of the most entertaining and enjoyable collections of dark fiction I have read in years (and I read A LOT of dark fiction). If it is any indication of Barry Napier's usual style of writing, I have found a new favorite author. He was able to weave surrealism, horror, and excellent plot lines to create some of the best short horror I have come across in a very, very long time. If you haven't heard of him yet, you will soon.

Solid, 5 star read!!!