Dave's Free Press: Journal

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Sun, 26 May 2013

Already Dead, by Charlie Huston

I bought this book because some other author recommended it on their blog. That's a great way to find good things to read, and you should do it too. Most authors, at least in so-called genre fiction, have one these days, and I recommend that you track down those of your favourite half dozen and read them occasionally. You'll learn a lot about reading and writing, about how the publishing industry and book trade work, but most importantly, you'll learn about more authors to read. In this case, I wouldn't have bought the book without a recommendation, because a cursory glance at the description on Amazon makes it look like a vampire book. And even worse, it's a mis-spelt "vampyre" book.

The "vampyres" of this tale aren't, thankfully, some magic walking corpses, but are people with a disease - one caused by the also annoyingly mis-spelled "Vyrus" - which makes them crave blood and be unusually sensitive to sunlight. The hero of the tale, one Joe Pitt, is one of them, and manages to live alone instead of in one of the vampire "clans" that make up the criminal underworld of his city, by doing odd jobs for the clans and working as an enforcer and private investigator. So really it isn't a vampire tale at all, it's a noir crime thriller.

It has all the clichés that you'd expect in that genre - the loner hero, violence, fast-talking, double-crosses, femmes fatales and so on - but rises above being cliché by extremely sharp writing, great humour, and a wide variety of characters (there are few mere cardboard cutouts) with distinctive voices. There are a couple of somewhat irritating questions left unanswered at the end, for which I deduct a star, but perhaps they are answered in a sequel, of which there are four. Overall, I recommend this book.

Posted at 20:50 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | crime | horror
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Sun, 19 May 2013

The Apocalypse Codex, by Charles Stross

This fourth book in Stross's Laundry series is, apparently, like the previous ones, written in a pastiche of some other author's style, but this time it wasn't one that I recognized. It's also a damned fine read.

Many series get tired after a while, as the characters stop developing or worse, develop into one-dimensional archetypes. This doesn't happen here. We learn and see more of both the characters and institutions. We also have a well-developed antagonist, one who is (of course, this is a Laundry book) utterly evil, but for the best of reasons and thinks he is on the side of the angels.

However, I feel that the ending was rather rushed and not particularly believable. No sensible bad guy would leave one half of his Doomsday Device utterly unguarded, especially when he knows that the opposition are in the field. And the idea of the double double-cross and subtle but quick manipulation by the Black Chamber of institutions and individuals is frankly silly. For that I deduct one star. I'd deduct more except that the rest of the book is so gloriously fun to read, deftly combining horror, action and comedy as we have come to expect from the series.

I recommend this book, provided that you have read the previous installments. If you haven't, then you should read them first.

Posted at 19:07 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | comedy | horror | sci-fi
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Sun, 2 Sep 2012

I, Zombie, by Hugh Howey

There have been far too damned many zombie books and TV series recently, most of them not very good. They're a simple formula that sells: good vs evil, black and white, no shades of grey, and a cheap excuse for relentless action without much thought. There are occasional exceptions. Max Brooks's excellent "World War Z" pretty much brought the genre back to life, and was also the high point too, with everything since being at least unoriginal and almost entirely dreadful.

"I, Zombie" breaks out of the mould, and is almost great. It could so easily have surpassed World War Z. But it doesn't.

As its central idea it turns the zombie story on its head, telling it from the point of view of the zombie. This is, of course, impossible: we all know that zombies are mindless automatons, with barely more sentience than an arcade-game bad guy that you can trap in corners, driven solely by their insatiable all-encompassing desire for human meat and inability to do even the simplest of forward planning. Such creatures can't possibly be the view-point characters of a story. But Howey looks beyond the shambler and considers what happened to the person it used to be. In most zombie stories, that person is simply dead, but in I, Zombie, they're still there, experiencing everything but utterly unable to do anything, and forced to go along for the grisly ride.

The book is redolent of genius. As the "locked in" characters can't interact with each other, or (at least intentionally) with their surroundings, all we are left with is their internal monologues, their memories, and their experiences of becoming and being a zombie. These are without exception handled beautifully. I would never have thought that you could get such fine writing about shitting yourself (zombies, of course, have no control over their bladder or bowels) or the feel of having fur stuck in your throat from the cat you just ate and not being able to cough it out, but Howey does this gloriously.

So why only three stars? It goes on for too damned long and the things the different characters experience are repetitive. As a short story, just about any short section of the book would be brilliant, but as a full-length novel it doesn't work very well.

Posted at 20:09 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | horror
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Wed, 14 Mar 2012

World War Z, by Max Brooks

With this book and its prequel "The Zombie Survival Guide", Brooks pretty much brought the zombie genre of horror back to life, if you'll pardon the expression. And it's jolly good.

The author uses the conceit of documenting personal tales for a history of "the zombie war", as a counterpoint to the dry official history of facts and figures, and it consists of multiple "interviews" between the author and individuals from all walks of life who recount their experiences from immediately before, from during, and from the ensuing cleanup after the war. Most of the interviewees have very similar voices, but their experiences differ widely, and most of them have a strong human element to them. And while some are merely about killing zombies, many are about terror, fear, and hope.

By being broken down into short interviews instead of one long narrative - although the interviews are arranged roughly chronologically and there is some interaction between them - it is particularly well suited to reading a bit at a time while commuting with all the other gray city zombies.

Posted at 22:18 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | horror
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