Friday, November 27, 2009

Rot, (Skullvines Press), by Michele Lee

When a genre convention is hot, there's the temptation for writers to jump on the bandwagon and cater to that convention wholesale, in the hopes of “riding the wave”. Concurrently, zombies are the vehicles of choice in horror fiction for many writers these days. There's Star Wars zombies, (decently enough done), literary zombies, and even zombie haiku.

“Rot”, Michele Lee's entry into the zombie pantheon, does something a bit different with zombies. She personifies them, gives them emotions and feelings and a painful humanity...then stuffs them into nursing homes and leaves them there, neglected, abused...left to rot.

Retired from the military, Dean is no stranger to death. Here at Silver Springs Specialty Care Community, however, he's faced with something that gives him pause: not death, but the reanimated dead. Silver Springs is a special kind of nursing home housing corpses reanimated by grieving family members.

Like many traditional nursing homes, however, these residents are kept “alive” more to assuage their family members' guilt than for their own welfare. They're treated with a dismissive, wary neglect, or in worst cases they're often abused, both sexually and physically. Dean's job is simple. Calling upon his military background, he's prepared to deal with a zombie's inevitable loss of control over their cravings for human flesh.

Slowly, Dean gets acquainted with two zombies freshly reanimated from the grave, Patrick and Amy, who work at Silver Springs in a voluntary capacity...for now. Until they become too “hungry”. In them, Dean sees a humanity lacking in their keepers; also comes to understand what it means to be reanimated, then discarded. And, when Amy turns up missing and Dean discovers the rotten core that festers at the heart of Silver Springs, his relationship with these two discarded undead leads him on a mission to expose the undead's plight to the world.

Whether the social commentary on nursing homes in general is intentional or not, Lee does the best thing a writer can do with an often-used convention. She twists it back upon itself and uses it as commentary on the human experience, but in the process she doesn't “de-fang” zombies. Their hunger for human flesh is inevitable. They are, indeed, still monsters, but in this case Lee asks readers to consider which is worse: the undead, or those who reanimate them.

Visit and Buy it today.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Harlan County Horrors, (Apex Publications), edited by Mari Adkins

“Harlan County Horrors” is an eclectic collection of chilling tales set deep in the hills and coal mines of Kentucky. Edited by Mari Adkins, it features fresh voices and some very unique stories. As is true with most short story collections, not all the entries have the same resonance, but there's enough here to guarantee time well spent in the haunted hills of Kentucky. Among the best are:

“Psychomachia”, by Geoffery Girard, in which a boy watches a creeping, dark madness overtake his family and everyone else working in the mines. “Yellow Warblers”, by Jason Sizemore, which tells of the deadly consequences of an isolated town's xenophobia, in an alien-occupied Earth. “Kingdom Come”, by Jeremy C. Shipp, a tale of manipulated identity, where memories can't be trusted – Shipp at his usual, mind-twisting best. “Trouble Among the Yearlings”, by Maurice Broaddus, recounts the inevitability of dark family secrets. “Greater of Two Evils”, by Stephen L. Shewsbury, is an excellent Lovecraftian tale told in a contemporary voice.

“Harlan County” ends with perhaps its strongest story, “The Witch of Black Mountain”, a dark, enchanting bit of folklore written by New York Times Bestseller Alethea Kontis. Here, a young woman scorned undertakes a dangerous journey in search of death, resolution, revenge – but instead encounters and inherits an ages-old legacy, one which gives her new, dark purpose.

“Harlan County Horrors” is certainly more than worth a look. Visit and purchase it today.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Futile Efforts, (Cemetery Dance), by Tom Piccirilli

To say the fiction of Tom Piccirilli often defies convention or genre labeling would be a grand understatement. Better to say Piccirilli creates his own literary space, in which inhabits beings of a dark but strangely beautiful grotesqueness, characters that offer readers twisted, warped reflections of themselves.

To look away would be the safe thing, but to stare overlong into these darkened corners would be to tempt our own darkness in a way synonymous with one of Frederick Nietzsche's most popular quotes: 'when long you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you.' It's fair to say the same can be said of Tom Piccirilli's fiction – that it looks deeply into us, probing the things inside we most want to keep hidden.

The work contained in his upcoming Cemetery Dance collection “Futile Efforts” certainly does that and more. They run the gamut, proving what most already know: that Tom Piccirilli is a skilled and versatile wordsmith: a dark fantasist with the heart of a crime/Noir writer, a sculptor of oddities, and a gifted poet, also. However, for all Piccirilli's strange, melancholic grace, the sharp edge of steel isn't far behind. Among the best stories in the collection:

“Fuckin' Lie Down Already”, a story of a man who won't die – literally – until he has his revenge, a tale that twists heartstrings even as it turns the stomach. “Alchemy”, a terribly disturbing – yet fascinating – tale of what happens when feeling dissolves and apathy reigns among old friends who can't stand the sight of each other or living. “Voice C” plays a switch-up from those caustic stories, weaving a good old fashioned ghost-story haunting.

“Around the Sumac It Still Grows” is a bittersweet, humorous story of trying to find something lost in the days of high school and youth, long ago. “Shadder” twists the 'return of the prodigal son' into something dark, sharp and dangerous. “Thief of Golgotha” blends dark religious fantasy with crime/Noir, and “Two In the Eyes” is a surprisingly touching – and satisfying – story about a brother who avenges his sister's murder. “Jesus Wrestles the Mob to Feed the Homeless” is a masterful blend of crime/Noir, science fiction and humor, while the novella “Jonah Arose” ends the collection in a twisted, dark world of fantastical proportions, a true “carnival of the grotesque”.

Visit Pre-order “Futile Efforts today.