KEZZIE OF BABYLON by Jamie Mason (2015 Permuted Press / 190 pp / eBook)
Another zombie apocalypse novel … after the last few I’d read, I was a little nervous, but not ready to give up on the genre yet. I figured, every streak has to end some time. And, I’m glad to report, I was right. This one, Kezzie of Babylon, does it nicely.
For one thing, the opening like is a grabber. “Never fall in love with a stripper,” the book tells us, then goes on to unfold the messy series of unfortunate events in which our protagonist kind of accidentally helps destroy the world.
It’s a cautionary tale of how the perils of drug addiction can lead to increasingly bad decisions and worse crimes … until you’re somehow on the run to the wilds of Canada with a friend you hate, on the trail of a dream girl you’ve never met, and the place that seems like sanctuary turns out to be run by a complete psycho.
Welcome to Zack’s life. Oh, and by the way, now with zombies! Not even ones that can be dispatched with a sound headshot, either. Really persistent takes-a-licking-keeps-on-ticking zombies. It doesn’t help that Kazzie, the psycho leader, is wrapped up in a bundle of religious zealotry and the resurrected dead figure into her new worldview.
Fast-paced with fresh twists, well-written, an engaging bunch of dysfunctional characters stuck in an increasingly worsening spiral of crazy, this one was just what I needed to remind me again why I love a good apocalypse.
In the near future, America patrols the globe with "Tin Men," over-sized, super strong and armed drone robots run by soldiers from underground locations around the world. Each soldier's brain is "mapped" onto their robot's internal computer, essentially giving the 'bots the traits of their human controllers.
An economic summit in Greece (attended by the Presidents of the United States and Russia) comes under attack by "anarchists" at the same time an electromagnetic pulse throws the entire world back to the stone age. A platoon of Tin Men working in Syria have orders to rescue the president, and on their trip to find him they must protect the teenage daughter of an American ambassador as well as the head of the terrorists (or "anarchists" as they're refered to, although it's quite obvious they're Muslim extremists. And if they're not, they're uncannily close to being so).
Despite the world now being powerless, these sophisticated 'bots had safeguards, and have survived the EMP assault, although their human controllers are now "trapped" inside their metal shells until they can get back to the nearest base in Germany.
Golden's scifi thriller reads like a summer popcorn Hollywood blockbuster. It's filled with non-stop action, international intrigue, and a huge cast that may or may not be back for another installment (this seems like the start of a series). The novel digs into the hatred much of the world has for America's involvement in foreign affairs, and a surprise truce between America and Russia's presidents could lead to interesting storylines should the author continue with his latest creation. TIN MEN is a fun and exciting choice for your summer beach reading.
Now, I’m not saying that the bizarro genre is the literary equivalent of recreational substance abuse … and I don’t have much personal experiences with recreational substances to begin with … but – bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this, I think.
Anyway, if it WAS, then the works of Garrett Cook would tend to be your high-end laboratory-grade LSD. Probably not something to start your experimenting with. Maybe need some gateway drugs first to ease into it.
Once you’re to that point, though, get this book and prepare for some serious bigtime Timothy Leary level psychedelic surrealism head-trips. You Might Just Make It Out Of This Alive is the title, and not inaccurate … chances for “alive” are pretty good, though “with your sanity and reality intact” are more iffy. And you will certainly be left questioning all of the above.
Nitty-gritty-wise, it’s a collection of stories that opens with one the author pitched as a diversionary joke but the publisher went for it, so he then had to write it – if there’s a moral to the whole bizarro genre, that may just be it. Money where your mouth is, pal, or keep your mouth shut.
That particular story is “Re-Mancipator,” a sweeping novella which is exactly what it sounds like … zombie Lincolns … and also exactly not like anything you’d ever expect.
And it’s followed with “Assorted Salesmen at the Birth of the Antichrist” at less than a page long … just to give you an idea of the variety here. You’ll find a selection of drabbles about Julie Newmar (yes, that Julie Newmar), and conjoined carnie porn. The end of the world, the ultimate sacrifice, allegorical abortion, an internet forum about the dangers of ‘shrooming in fairy rings … all this in one book.
“The Wake at the House of Dead Hogs” was when my brain just unraveled like a cheap sweater given to a litter of rambunctious kittens. I’m still trying to re-ball my mental yarn after that one. Wow.
“Along the Crease,” is a doomed love story and another of my favorites. Imagine being told you were about to meet your perfect soulmate, but, you couldn’t get together at all costs or it’d destroy the world. What a monstrous, beautiful, terrible, delicious work of cruelty!
Wonderful stuff. Wonderful and weird. No surprise this guy’s an award-winner! Okay, yeah, could be a bit much for beginners, or even seasoned readers, but don’t let that stop you!
While White Noise Press usually delivers serious horror fare, in their latest offering they've unleashed another tale from the always twisted mind of Jeff Strand. This time we meet Klaus, who runs a meat store that makes the best bratwurst in Germany ... only for some reason sales have been horrible. His one employee, Stefan, tries to get him to change the recipe, but the idea angers Klaus.
One day a mysterious man arrives at the store and tries to convince Klaus to make bratwurst from human corpses he will supply, only to be kicked out when Klaus thinks the man insane. But when a patron accidentally gets his arm stuck in Klaus' meat grinder, things take a turn for the absurd and Strand amps the goofball sickness up to 10 ...
Yes, this here's some silly stuff. But I dare you not to laugh as BAD BRATWURST becomes a hilarious riff on EATING RAOUL, housed in another beautiful-looking White Noise chapbook any book collector will drool over (the end papers look like they came from an authentic butcher shop!). Strand completists, act now at White Noise Press.
I tried to enjoy this one. Bits of it, I did. Some of the gore was pretty good. Overall, though, I just couldn’t get into it. I found more not to like than to like, and had to force myself to keep reading in hopes it’d get better.
My biggest problem was with the dialogue, or, more precisely, with the way the characters were constantly addressing each other by name every other sentence or so. People don’t really talk that way in real life, and it clangs of author nervousness.
Then there was the slow starting pace … a too-perfect heroine who spends most of the book being less “zombie girl” and more “that chick from Heroes only sometimes she eats people” … overwrought teen emotional angst … overall general implausibility …
But, anyway, story summary – Eve and her friends go on an archaeological dig, Eve sneaks off and gets bitten by something, then begins having unusual symptoms such as rapid healing and loss of appetite thanks to a nasty super-virus. She mostly manages to hide it at first, but things eventually get out of control, with conspiracies and cover-ups. Meanwhile, mean-girl rivalries and murders lead to campus-wide carnage, and only Eve can save the day.
I don’t know. Maybe the subsequent ones improve and this suffered from first-novel syndrome? I just couldn’t connect with it. Sorry. Your mileage may vary.
THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will return on May 25th with a look at the mammoth collection: