Month: March 2014

The Weaponer

weaponer

I’ve read Proust. And I’ve read Siegel and Shuster. Like someone who appreciates both steak and sorbet, I understand the value of a palate cleanser. Eric S. Brown’s The Weaponer (Grand Mal Press, 2013) will probably not end up in the canon (though it has a cannon in it). But if you’re looking for action and horror with the fun of a comic book and the punch of a Grindhouse film, then it’s hard to imagine a better value. Welcome to a near future, where “old west” meets “zombie apocalypse” tale.

Alan builds weapons. He has a gun collection (antique models like the Glock and AK-47), but replacement parts are no longer manufactured. A craftsman, Alan builds six-shooters for nearby settlers, who are rebuilding after the zombies destroyed most of the world. It’s said that a thirty-foot construction called “the Wall” kept the hungry hordes out. But now, settlers face a new threat, and Alan is dragged (kicking and screaming) into the fray.

Alan is a loner. Not the Clint Eastwood cliché—he’s picky about his company and a little bit judgmental. He’s inept in social situations (“He’d never understood women, not like he did guns…”) He spends much of the novel frightened out of his gourd. All in all, a very believable and oddly appealing protagonist.

The novel has some secrets to reveal. Is the Wall real, or a legend? Who’s begun attacking the settlers? As I discovered the answer to these questions, I had to marvel at Brown’s imagination. The zombie sub-genre has always been somewhat limiting—the virus begins, survivors scramble to, well, survive, and then things end badly. This western/horror mash-up breaks the pattern, to surprising effect. Instead of characters coming to grips with what the reader knew before the book began (zombies on the cover tend to give things away), there’s a surprisingly touching scene where hardened New World pioneers speculate over a campfire, wondering what it must have been like for people waking up in the Apocalypse.

I found novel to be fast-paced, clever and endlessly imaginative. Warning—the novel has some gore. And Brown has never been fond of happy endings. That said, if you’re looking for a palate cleanser that tastes like…never mind. The Weaponer is a fun read. (Five stars out of five)

Falling Over

Falling OverScary books frightened the crap out of me when I was a kid. Children have no problem suspending disbelief, because kids believe everything. Adults have a difficult time tapping into the same pure vein. In an age of sexy witches, sparkling vampires and family-pet zombies, it’s getting harder to find a good scare. Authors must tap the eerie, the disturbing and the atmospheric. These are the words I’d use to describe James Everington’s Falling Over (Infinity Plus, 2013).

Falling Over is a collection of short fiction (one as brief as a few paragraphs; the others are longer). I found these stories horrifying, though they are not all strictly horror. The tile story is a case in point. Taken literally, Falling Over is a “body snatcher” story. Or it’s about growing up and finding your place in the world. Or it’s about losing your soul. Take your pick. The story is told first person; the author’s sense of voice is pitch perfect, depicting a college student suffering though a school break with a few fellow classmates.

Some of the tales fall into the category of supernatural horror, though never in a conventional way. Drones is a terrific take on modern warfare-from-a-distance. The final lines of the tale struck me as one of the best gut-punch endings I’ve read, in part because of Everington’s understated delivery.

Having worked in the corporate world as a mid-level manager, I found New Boy particularly disturbing. The story elements include a tragedy, a doppelganger and the usual raft of professional outrages, from whispers and plots to suspensions and terminations. As with each story in this collection, Everington’s prose matches the tale at hand. New Boy applies a straight-forward, no-nonsense style to increasingly bizarre circumstance. I had corporate flashbacks.

Sick Leave features whispers too—the secrets of school children. Emma is a first-year teacher who returns from a bout with an undetermined illness. In her absence, the substitute teacher worked a profound change on her class. A dead aunt, a class that behaves too well, a smarmy schoolmaster and the bubonic plague inform the plot. (Take a moment to reread that short list of ingredients to get a hint of how unusual these tales are.)

Everington’s stories are off. The everyday settings are deceiving, because there’s something abnormal lurking around every corner. Worse, the tales are sticky. They cling to you like flypaper.  I can’t promise these tales will scare you. But they sure as hell will disturb you. (Five stars out of five)