By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I, Joseph Nassise, Harpoer, ISBN 0-06-204875-2, 345 pgs., $14.99

The Red Baron

The Red Baron (Photo credit: jarrodvk)

It’s 1917 and the Kaiser‘s scientist’s have stumbled on a new type of gas to be used in the trenches–one that turns the dead into zombies. They’ve also discovered that if they use it on a battlefield devoid of their own living then all of the reborn dead attack those who are living, primarily the enemy soldiers. But there’s an oddity as well, and that is that occasionally, one of the new-born dead remains conscious of thought. One of these is the Red Barron, who continues to fly and shoot down British planes even though he died in a crash. When veteran American Ace, Major Jack Freeman is downed behind enemy lines and taken captive, Captain Michael, Madman Burke is recruited to go in and get him back.  Burke, and his merry band of oddball madmen, have to work their way behind enemy lines, break into a prison camp, and then return with Freeman to the allied front.

Okay, so Zombies in World War One may be stretching the whole zombie experience a bit too far, but, hey, if it’s fun then it’s worth it.  Nassise does a credible job with taking what could be just a really silly premise and keeping it pretty straightforward.  A couple of the characters are pretty stereotypical but no more so than you would find in any war movie of the period.  Making the Red Barron one of the aware zombies is a bit of a stroke of positive intelligence as you get not only a known name villain but a pivot point for some of the action.

It’s an interesting book, entertaining, fairly tight in it’s plotting with decent characters.  There is one major error in the book however. At one point the allies have one of the bad guys tied to a chair in the prisoner of war camp and they are working him over for information.  One of the Americans says, “let’s shoot him.”  And then there’s a noise outside, they leave the room.  Never to return.  I assume the guy is still sitting there, tied to that chair.  Kind of a bone head error.  I assume the book was read at least 3 times for errors so it got through each time. I read that passage 5 times just because I was sure I was missing something, some word, some thought, that would make this behavior okay.  Nope, not in there.  Ah, well, I suppose when zombies are involved you have to expect the occasional brain error.

I’d recommend it but only conditionally. If you’re not a zombie fan then there’s not going to be much here for you.  Otherwise, it’s worth picking up.

And, to get your own copy, just click here: By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I

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Raising Stony Mayhall, Daryl Gregory, Del Rey, ISBN 9780345522375, $15, 448 pgs.

English: A zombie

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One day, in the middle of a snowstorm, a woman, and her daughters, find a dead girl and a baby on the edge of a field by their drive. Neither the girl nor the baby is breathing. And yet, the baby opens its eyes and looks at them–and then he begins to move. They take him inside and, against all better judgement, they begin to raise him rather than turn him over to the authorities who would destroy him for the zombie he clearly is.

Seems there was a viral outbreak in the late 60s that turned people into zombies and it was only beaten back by dramatic action in the part of the government. But there is more to the baby than meets the eye. Unlike other zombies who are frozen at the stage they became infected, Stony, for so they have named the babe, begins to grow. Years pass and Stony continues to grow–and learn. He makes friends with his sisters and with a neighbor boy. But then, when he is 18, things change and Stony needs to run or be destroyed. This is the first time he learns that there are others like him. Many others. And they are organized. And some want to infect the world as a means of survival.

I have to say that this is one of the more interesting zombie novels I have ever read. It comes in five parts: raising Stony, the underground, Prison, the future, and the end. Each part is a logical progression of the previous although it is not necessarily immediate. Gregory has taken the zombie world and turned it on its head. These are not the mindless zombies of Romero, although they do go through that phase, but, rather, people who have been zombified and have come out the other end, sometimes the worse for wear and sometimes just different. The book is well crafted, extremely well written in an understated style that works extremely well with the subject matter.

This was a fun book to read and Gregory does not hold anything back. The narrative moves between positive and negative with fluidity but always moves forward step after step. On top of his writing ability, Gregory has developed zombification in a way that I have never seen before. In some ways, it carries a lot of the belief suspension required when dealing with the subject. Gregory does a masterful job at this and the book is interesting and compelling. I highly recommend it and I would search other anything else that Daryl Gregory has written. I know that I am going to.

To get a copy for yourself, click here –> Raising Stony Mayhall

Kill the Dead, Richard Kadrey, Eos, ISBN 978-006-171431-3, 434 pgs., $22.99

 

Illustration of the devil, page 577. Legend ha...

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This is the second book in Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. Stark is back and trying to put the pieces together after escaping from hell, exacting a certain amount of bloody revenge, and saving the world in the process. He still has the animated head of a former peer living with him–part of that bloody revenge, and he’s still living above a video rental store in a sleazy section of Los Angeles. This time though Stark is offered a job being a body-guard for Satan, if offered is what you would call the demands of the Devil, and is trying to figure out how best to return to Hell and finish up on the revenge he started. Before he can get there though he meets a Czech pron star who turns out to be a zombie hunter, gets involved in trying to figure our why so many people attached to the families related to the supernatural side of LA are turning up dead, and where the sudden surge of zombies might be coming from. He gets help from many of the characters in the first book and from a few new ones as well. It seems the world, or at least LA, once more hangs in the balance and Stark is the only one who can stop it.

Kadrey writes with a raw energy that translates well to a protagonist from hell with an attitude to match. The action is violent and often messy and the language is strong and straight. Stark is an interesting anti-hero, struggling with a past that includes a lot of torture and serious personal loss. Kadrey adds emotional layers to Stark so that the character is both intriguing in terms of internal conflict and interesting in terms of attitude. There is a lot of dark humor here as well which helps to take the edge off what amounts to a lot of killing and dismemberment.

I really liked the first book in this series and so I had really high hopes for this book. I have to admit to be slightly disappointed, more so with the beginning of the novel which seemed to rehash old material in a way that was not as good as the original. Or perhaps it was just that Kadrey set the bar so high with the first book that there was no way he was going to match it with this one. As I read deeper I did find myself enjoying it more but it still seemed flat in places. I would still certainly recommend the book and if you have not read the first book, Sandman Slim, then you should definitely go out and get that one first. It’s hard to know whether this book reflects a mid-series slump, which often happens with the sequel novel, or a case where all the good stuff occurred in the first book and there’s no where else to go but down. I’m hoping for slump and will definitely read the next book in the series.

Brains: a Zombie Memoir, Robin Becker, Eos, ISBN 978-0-06197405-2, 183 pgs., $13.99.

Zombies as portrayed in the movie Night of the...

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Zombies seem to be the new vampires.  I mean that it seems like these shambling undead have taken the spotlight in the supernatural fiction genre away from the bloodsuckers.  Whether or not it will last remains to be seen.  Zombies seem, to me at least, a hard sell character wise.  But maybe Robin Becker has found a solution.  Her idea is that in any typical Zombie outbreak there are bound to be at least a few zombies who retain an ability to think.  Her choice for the book is one Jack Barnes, college professor.  So, not only do we get a zombie that retains some ability to think (this is assuming you believe academics retain that ability to begin with) as well as some ability to analyze and adapt to the change.  So, we have Jack Barnes, who is now zombie Barnes, trying to do three things: survive, find other zombie thinkers, and get to the guy who created all the zombie havoc in the first place, Howard Stein.  The problem is that Stein is in an entirely different part of the country than Barnes and, what with his deteriorating body, a cross-country trip is going to be problematic.  And that’s the basic idea of the book–following zombie Barnes as he tries to make his way to Howard Stein, the zombie God.

The basic problem with zombies is that they are dead things.  This means they decay.  And, depending on what sort of climate you are in, this decay can be rather rapid.  The more important point is that they don’t breath and you need breath to make sounds or to talk.  Becker gets around at least one of these issues by positing that there will be special zombies who retain some human skills. So, there is a nurse who remembers how to stitch (which comes in real handy when things start falling off) and a zombie who can run and another who retains a fast reaction time, and they all end up with Barnes, heading toward Chicago.

This book is all about balance.  Balance between the inherent problems of zombies and story; balance between the stuffiness of the main character and the need to have an intelligent main character who can also chronicle events; balance between a need for a quest and a need to trivialize alternatives to a cross-country trip.  For the most part the uniqueness of the idea keeps discrepancies to the side. I mean this may be the first zombie novel told from the perspective of the zombies.

Ultimately, though, this may simply be a one-off.  Zombies just aren’t very sympathetic as characters.  They eat babies, they chew through peoples faces, they fall apart at the most inopportune time, and they tend to be single-minded about who’s got the brains.  I liked that book overall. It’s short which works to its advantage, it’s fairly fast paced, and it’s novel as a novel.  Kudos to Becker for coming up with the idea and managing to actually put it into print.