Monday, January 6, 2014

January, 2014 Reviews

(NOTE: The "smell ratings" at the end of some reviews rate the actual SMELL of the book and have nothing to do with the story. Smell Ratings: 5 = excellent, 1 = odorless, 2-4 = you figure it out. Book Key: hc = hardcover / tp = trade paperback / mmp - mass market paperback / rarer forms described.)

(NOTE: Authors and/or publishers looking for submission info, please see the very bottom of this blog page. Thank you).
DARK FUSIONS: WHERE MONSTERS LURK! Edited by Lois H. Gresh (2013 PS Publishing / 270 pp / hc)

This is the first time I've reviewed an anthology that features one of my stories, so I'll politely SKIP that one and get to the other 17 pieces that make up this collection edited by the great Lois H. Gresh. Obviously the theme here is monsters, but the scope of what makes a monster here is quite wide.

Among some of my faves are opening tale THE REST IS NOISE by Nicholas Kaufmann, in which a couple of gents learn the true, dark meaning behind music; Norman Prentiss' BENEATH THEIR SHOULDERS, where we're introduced to a very strange race of people; Cody Goodfellhows bizarro-horror hybrid THE FLEA CIRCUS is one of the wilder carny tales I've read in a while, complete with what is arguably the finest prose in the collection (which includes some well-timed humor).

My favorite of the collection comes from Ann K. Schwader: WHEN THE STARS RUN AWAY is a bleak, terrifying apocalyptic vision featuring a smart young girl and her father as they face the ultimate end; Lisa Morton's eerie GOLDEN STATE will give you a whole new look at the "gold rush," and Yvonne Navarro's FACELESS gets my vote for scariest story of the lot, as a woman has to deal with a feature-less man no matter where she is. If this one doesn't get your goosebumps going you must already be dead.

Christopher Fulbright's heartbreaking DEATH EATER deals with a father confronting a Lovecraftian beast in order to save his daughter from cancer, then Mark McLaughlin brings some sinister chuckles with AUNT PALOMA, a funny fairy-tale-like monster romp.

I didn't find a slow tale in DARK FUSIONS, which features everything from Miskantonic terrors to undead detectives, from epic monster fantasies to unusual situations in the workplace and among the clergy. These tales are varied so there's something for everyone, which could be hit or miss with some readers, but one thing holds true: these tales (even those with a dose of humor) encompass a very dark side of speculative fiction. Lois Gresh has harvested a fine crop here...

Smell Rating: 5
-Nick Cato

SANTA CLAUS SAVES THE WORLD by Robert Devereaux (2013 Deadite Press / 176 pp / tp & eBook)

Next up, on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas … you will most decidedly not be seeing this holiday special! Not even on HBO. Maybe not even on any of those eXXXtra channels … because this is a Santa that would make the raunchiest ones in those cute little cartoons they have in Playboy blush redder than his own suit.

Readers of the previous two in the series might wonder if there’s any possible way to pack yet more sexy goodies into Santa’s sleigh. Oh ye of little faith. It’s nookies and milk galore for St. Nick. Not only that, but, the addition of many lovely ladies to the toyshop means he isn’t the only jolly old elf at the North Pole this year!

See, poor Santa, after working so hard to conquer the homophobes, discovers to his dismay that humanity is weaker, more backslidey, and self-poisoning than he’d realized. It’s some fundamental flaw in the very psyche that will require a more extensive fix, one that Santa can’t manage on his own.

Not, of course, that Santa’s eager to try. Never a fan of adults in the first place, he’s less so now after having witnessed more of their innermost hatreds and failings. Assigned the task, he’s quick to foist it off on some of his helpers while hoping not to have to get involved. Besides, it’d mean spending a lot of time in proximity to Aphrodite … yes, that Aphrodite, goddess of love, sex and beauty.

Well, you must admit, it’d prove a challenge for Santa to remain focused. Not only being around Aphrodite, but also surrounded by the glorious golden nymphs of Hephaestus … and of course the Tooth Fairy has not forgotten their previous affairs … and some entities are in favor of sabotaging the efforts …

Regardless, something’s got to be done, because society is well on its way to destroying itself. The resulting plan is, well, fairly ambitious and epic, and entirely plays to Santa’s particular skill set, shall we say. There’s also some new, disturbing additions to the Tooth Fairy’s forces … and some revisits with the Easter Bunny.
All in all, it’s another wild holiday romp that maybe does get uncomfortable at times with the message and overtone … I’m all in favor of consenting adults (real or mythic) doing whatever they like in whatever numbers and combinations they like … I’m less in favor of the implied suggestion that there must be something terribly, pitifully defective and wrong with people who aren’t having loads of poly sex all the time.

-Christine Morgan

SERIAL by Tim Marquitz (2013 Samhain Publishing / 69 pp / tp)

A serial killer dubbed the Desert Ripper has terrorized El Paso, Texas for ten years, but has so far remained on the loose. Detective Isaac Grant has been pulled off the Ripper case for a new one. Corpses are turning up mutilated and it’s not the Ripper. Thus begins a pissing contest between two serial killers for the right to torment the city and its surrounding neighborhoods. The battle moves through the press, with letters and messages from one killer to the other and escalates quickly.

Once again Tim Marquitz shows his mastery of the serial killer story. Always inventive, this latest novella is not to be missed. The characters are well-developed, and even the Ripper is likeable—to a point. The horror is palpable throughout the book and never over-done. What I truly loved about SERIAL is the ending that I never saw coming. I was flabbergasted and quite giddy when I read the last page. I strongly encourage you to pick up SERIAL.

-Colleen Wanglund


RONNIE AND RITA by Deborah Sheldon (2013 Cohesion Press / 101 pp / eBook)

Not since Robert McCammon’s MINE has a book of this kind hit it this hard. Okay, yeah, King’s was pretty good, but I think RONNIE AND RITA pretty well leaves BLAZE in the dust.
This nerve-twisting suspense thriller goes right for the ultimate parental horror –kidnapping of a baby – as well as some of the most insidious fears of just how much a guy can trust the lady in his life.

In this case, the guy is Ronnie, kind of a loner and a loser, well-meaning enough but with no friends, no family, not much of a life. Ronnie works as a groundskeeper at an upscale retirement facility. One day, his path crosses that of Rita, a housecleaner. To his dubious surprise, she’s interested in him. Or she’s playing with him. No, she might be really interested.

Before he can decide for sure, they’re in bed together and that would seem to settle it. Suddenly, Ronnie’s got a girlfriend. He’s in love, complete with sex life and plans for a future together. He and Rita imagine how it’ll be, including coming up with detailed fantasies about raising their daughter, Lulu.

Things are finally good. Perfect, even. Ronnie can overlook some of Rita’s quirks, like her mysterious lack of a past, or the way her employers know her by a different name. He’s happy. He’s content. He’s optimistic about being a dad.

Except for one slight problem … Rita can’t have children. But why let that interfere with their dream? After all, Ronnie’s neighbors are expecting. They just need to wait until the baby’s born, and, if it’s a girl, they can finally have their little Lulu.

Ronnie’s reluctant, but how can he say no to Rita? What if she left him? What if he lost her? He’s really got no choice but to keep playing along, making their what-if plans, stocking up on baby supplies. Then the time comes, the baby is born, and Rita is determined to make their getaway with Lulu.

It doesn’t go very well. Ronnie finds himself on the run with Rita and the baby and hardly anything else but the clothes on their backs. He quickly discovers that keeping Lulu is more important to Rita than anything else … after what she had to do to kidnap the baby … and how expendable Ronnie himself might be in the greater scheme of things.

A tense and tight novella, with Australian lingo that was unfamiliar enough to me as an America reader to notice, but natural and contextual enough that it hardly tripped me up at all, RONNIE AND RITA’s a harrowing and creepy good read.

-Christine Morgan


BABY TEETH: BITE-SIZED TALES OF TERROR rdited by Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray (2013 Paper Road Press / eBook)

Inspired by an internet post about the creepy things that some children can say, BABY TEETH developed into a flash fiction anthology for a charitable cause. Twenty-seven writers from New Zealand combine for thirty-seven creepy stories.

Among my favorites are "Backyard Gardening" by Jake Bible about a boy wanting to create a Stephen King-like pet cemetery to bring his dad back from the dead; "Practice Makes Perfect" by Sally McLennan about a boy who practices killing, based on the advice of his grandfather; "Caterpillars" by Debbie Cowens about a young girl obsessed with caterpillars and butterfly wings; "Peter and the Wolf" by Lee Murray about a boy afraid of a wolf hiding under his bed; "Lockdown" by Piper Mejia about a lockdown at an all-girl’s high school that may or may not be a test; and "Teach Your Children Well" by Lee Murray about a murderous little boy using history being taught to his sister.

Other very good stories include "Dad’s Wisdom" by Eileen Miller about a boy taking advice from his dad on what to feed a dragon under his bed; "Blonde Obsession" by Jean Gilbert about a boy’s obsession with the yellow lab puppies; "Because I Could…" by Celine Murray about a disturbed budding serial killer; and "Winter Feast" by Elizabeth Gatens about a family living through winter, plague, and starvation.

As with all anthologies, not every story is a hit, but for the most part, the stories are well-written and suitably ghoulish. BABY TEETH is a collection worth getting….and the proceeds go to a good cause.

-Colleen Wanglund


SOMEONE WICKED edited by J.M. Reinbold & Weldon Burge (2013 Smart Rhino Publications / 406 pp / tp)

Okay, bias admission time again, this is another anthology I’m privileged to have a story in … one of my gorier Viking tales, in which warlord "Sven Bloodhair" really wants to earn a fearsome reputation and gets a lesson in being careful what you wish for. I really had fun, and I love that story!

Sven, definitely someone wicked, is among good company in this book. It’s chock full of wicked someones, twenty-one tales of them. They span history and genre, realism and magic, villains of quiet subtlety and full-on raging maniacs. I was also pleased to see that the list of authors is almost evenly matched between ladies and gents.

My personal favorites include:

"Impresario" by Maria Masington … it’s always a gratifying thing to see mental illnesses and personality disorders done so hideously, insidiously right!

Shannon Connor Winward’s "The Devil Inside" touches upon the new mother’s fears of what-ifs, failure, post-partum problems and bonding … … while J.M. Reinbold’s "Missing" takes a parent’s worst nightmare somewhere even worse.

"Despair" by Shaun Meeks brings some very clever, agonizing and unexpected twists to the story of a man grieving for his lost family … and "Mirror Mirror" by Chantal Noordeloos brings an elegant style to brooding gothic ancestral secrets.

Doug Blakeslee’s "The Flowering Princess of Dreams" and "Sisters: A Fairy Tale" by Liz DeJesus both take familiar folklore and turn them upside-down and inside-out in decidedly un-Disney ways.

For dark humor, Carson Buckingham’s "The Plotnik Curse" is just all kinds of fun when a rare find brings new business to a fancy jewelery shop, and a restaurant owner runs up against unwelcome competition in Ernestus Jiminy Chald’s "The Tail of Fate."

Epic fantasy and dark fairy tales, love-gone-wrong, madness, obsession, cold-hearted revenge, singular incidents and making a grim habit of murder … with so much to choose from, there’s an evil little something to suit every taste.

-Christine Morgan


THE GOSPEL OF Z by Stephen Graham Jones (to be released 1-7-14 by Samhain Publishing / 267 pp / tp)

It’s been ten years since the zombie plague first struck. Civilization has continued to inch along with the military and the Church leading those people left alive. Jory works in a factory that produces handlers—frightening beings that are supposed to help save the world by tracking and killing new zombies. Jory is upset that his girl left him and went up the Hill—to the church where no one ever returns from. After a mishap at work with a handler, Jory is put on one of the lowest jobs possible—a torch, who goes out hunting for new zombies. If the handler finds one, then the torch is supposed to incinerate the body, destroying the virus.
In a chance meeting with one of the top priests in the Church, Jory is told he is special. He is now determined to save his girl from the church, but both the church and the military have other ideas for Jory and his future. Along the way, Jory discovers the truth about the past and the virus itself.

I’ve read many zombie stories the last few years…MANY….and I can honestly say that THE GOSPEL OF Z is one of the best. Jory is a compelling character that I could relate to immediately. He’s struggling to survive while dealing with a past that would break most people if they thought about it long enough. Somehow Jory finds the strength to get beyond his suicidal tendencies. The other characters are just as well-rounded, mostly disillusioned people listening to their late-night radio broadcasts to keep just a little spark of hope alive. The story is a visceral one, keeping me reading well into the night—I did not want to put this book down. Jones lays it all out in a way that is intriguing and entertaining, and it’s anything but predictable. Jones’ style is emotional and anything but conventional. He weaves a bleak world but leaves the reader with a touch of faith that life will continue in the face of adversity. I can’t recommend this book enough.

-Colleen Wanglund


THE DUNWICH ROMANCE by Edward Lee (2013 Deadite Press / 184 pp / tp)

Oh, to know what H.P. Lovecraft would think if he could read Lee’s stuff … the mind fairly boggles. Scandalized might be putting it mildly. Shocked? Outraged? Offended? Aghast? Probably … because Lee’s Lovecraftian works take all the cosmic, erudite, otherworldly horrors of the Mythos and squelch ‘em up good with oodles of graphic, gooshy smut.

In this one, Lee revisits and puts an altogether new twist on "The Dunwich Horror" with the other, unseen side of the story. Readers will remember the Whateley family, with the big house and albino Lavinia and the promise that some day one of her children would be heard calling his unearthly father’s name.

They’ll remember Wilbur Whateley. Tall, odd-looking, inhuman Wilbur, with his visits to the library at Miskatonic and his unfortunate fate.

But Wilbur Whateley wasn’t only a scholar, no, not in this version. In this version, he’s got his needs and urges, like any other man. Sort of. Okay, maybe he’s not exactly like any other man. Not with the, uh, physical differences he inherited. He’s well aware that women would run screaming at the sight of what hides under his clothes. He still has the needs and urges, though.

Sary Sladder is no stranger to the needs and urges of men. That’s how she makes her living. When they bother to pay her, or don’t beat her up and take back their money after, or dish out some other sort of abuse. She’s no stranger to that, either. A curvaceous young woman of the "butterface" variety, she’s on the receiving end of yet more abuse when Wilbur Whateley decides to intervene.

It’s a new experience for Sary. The first of many. Being defended, being treated kindly, being stood up for, being a guest. Being not expected to repay favors with her body. Being talked to like an actual person.

Oh, sure, Wilbur may not be much to look at, but then, Sary’s aware that neither is she. He’s nice, she thinks. Shy. Polite. He’s also sweet on her. She’s never felt cared about before. Curiosity and affection soon overpower any sort of repulsion. She wants to get to know him better.

And yowza but when she does --! Talk about new experiences! Wilbur’s differences do things for Sary that she’d never even imagined possible. She’s glad to stay with Wilbur as long as he’ll allow it, and he for his part is in no hurry to see her leave.

The other residents of Dunwich – including Sary’s father, and former customers – are another matter. Plus, there’s the business of Wilbur’s old books … and whatever’s in that house on the hill …

Yeah, you’ll never see Lovecraft the same way after reading Lee. And I, for one, can’t get enough! Brilliantly done, squamoushly delicious!

-Christine Morgan


THE GATE THEORY by Kaaron Warren (2013 Cohesion Press / 96 pp / eBook)

With an introduction by author Amanda J. Spedding, Kaaron Warren’s THE GATE THEORY is a collection of five short stories that delve into the horror that resides within all of us and the pain we try to hide.

Included among the five are "That Girl", a compelling story about a girl living in a mental hospital in Fiji who kept insisting she was the girl who was brutally raped and then dumped at the hospital. The cab drivers of the area know all about the girl’s story. When the girl at the hospital dies, her ghost leaves seeming to seek some measure of revenge.

"The History Thief" is a subtly creepy story about a man who dies but isn’t buried because no one missed him. His spirit travels about, entering people and experiencing aspects of their lives and feelings. He seeks out a young woman whom he had met whose husband was killed in order to comfort her, but it doesn’t work out well for him.

My favorite, "The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall" is about a woman who works in the illegal dog trade. She captures rare dogs and delivers them to the highest bidder. This particular story was glaring in the people’s cruelty toward animals and really affected me.

"Purity" twists the phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine’ into something truly dark and macabre, while "Dead Sea Fruit" deals with a boogyman that causes anorexia in young women. All of the stories are beautifully written and subtle in the real horror they depict. Kaaron Warren’s style is dynamic and thought-provoking—it is the epitome of quiet horror. If you like your horror with an understated quality, then THE GATE THEORY is for you.

-Colleen Wanglund


SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD by Ryan Harding, J. F. Gonzalez, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Edward Lee, Shane McKenzie, Brian Smith, Nate Southard, Wrath James White (2013 Deadite Press / 196 pp / tp & eBook)

What happens when you get nine of the awesomest authors in the hardcore horror scene and turn them loose on a collaborative effort for a good cause?

More than you bargained for, probably, if SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD is any indication.

The good cause in question is to benefit Tom Piccirili, all proceeds from the book going toward helping with medical bills. Not only the authors, but the artists and publishers and everybody involved have generously donated of their valuable time and talent.

If that’s not reason enough to buy it, well, there’s also the story to consider. The title is the address of a house with a history, which has perverse and pervasive effects on whoever lives there. Or just visits. Or simply drops by or drives past.

It starts off at full-throttle depravity and never looks back. Clearly, the spirit of one-upsmanship, out-doing each other, and writing the next guy into a tight spot only egged on these gents in their gleeful chapter-go-round.

Let’s just say that if hobo puke fetish porn isn’t your thing, do be warned. And if hobo puke fetish porn is your thing, well, you’ve picked up the right book. If you’re looking for stuff more extreme, you’ve still got the right book.

On no less than four occasions while reading this, I found myself thinking something along the lines of, "oh, no, they wouldn’t really go there, would they? they’re not taking it that far, are they?" Every single time, yup, they did. They did and then some.

By the time you get to about the last third of the book, you might figure you’re ready for anything. Guess what. There’s surprises in store. Sheer WTF surprises that go beyond meta. Phrases like "fourth wall" and "self-insertion" … yeah, this doesn’t just break the fourth wall, but drills a glory hole through it. As for the self-insertion, YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD is basically the best in the biz doing what they do best and having a rip-snorting good time with it. Another reviewer may have said it was too disgusting to read. I found it too disgusting NOT to. I enjoyed every sick, revolting minute of this book. Laugh-out-loud, groan-out-loud, puke-out-loud good times.

-Christine Morgan

THE TREE MAN by David Bernstein (to be released 1-7-14 by Samhain Publishing / 84 pp / eBook)

Thirteen-year-old Evan sees something one night that scares him senseless. A man is dragging a woman through a field toward a massive oak tree, to which the woman is then fed. Evan decides to tell his best friend about what he saw and enlist his help in destroying what he perceives as evil. Evan doesn’t understand what the man, Serus, has been doing, and that will have some very grave consequences.

I read THE TREE MAN in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s well-written and keeps a good pace. The characters are succinctly and skillfully developed and Evan in particular is very relatable. It’s a frightening story that I highly recommend.

-Colleen Wanglund


ATTACK OF THE B-MOVIE MONSTERS! Edited by Harrison Graves (2013 Grinning Skull Press / 342 pp / tp & eBook)

No matter what decade we were born, no matter how old we are, in our hearts of hearts we are ALL children of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Our inner kids are the spawn of the silver screen. Drive-ins and Saturday matinees. We love us some schlock. Especially some classic creature-features. Give us giant monsters, give us guys in rubber suits and stop-motion Harryhausen magic and tarantulas juxtaposed against Vasquez Rocks. Give us Godzilla and Rodan, giant bugs, tentacles pulling down the Golden Gate Bridge –

Look at the cover of this book. Tentacles. Look at the title of this book. Monsters. This is the book for those inner kids. This is the book of cheeseball special effects. Nature strikes back against pollution, or nuclear testing. Scientists meddle. Things rise from the deep seas or descend from the skies.

You know how this works. You know it’s true. We can never get enough. Even when it’s bad. Sometimes – looking at you, SyFy – especially when it’s bad. So bad it’s good. Ed Wood badgood.

And in this book, they’ve gotcha covered. Here, for your shameless enjoyment, are twenty-one tales of exactly what you’re expecting … in ways that will still surprise and delight you. These giant monsters range from the ridiculous to the sublime and back to the ridiculous again.

Most of them are done with the total feel of the era, as well. Complete with the plots, the sexism and stereotypes, the cliché dialogue, the works. Done on purpose, with tongue very firmly in cheek, with SCIENCE!!!

If you’ve ever thought, "How come there’s never been a story with a giant (blank) attacking a town?" then I have some good news for you. Here’s those stories. Here are some of the things you NEVER figured would be grown to enormous size, chomping people right and left, flattening buildings, and generally running amok.

I don’t want to say too much about the specifics because the best part of reading this was having so many reveal moments of oh-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me hilarity. Some, okay, the titles let you know what you’re in for – "Day of the Prairie Dogs" by John Grey, for instance, or Nicole Massengill’s "I Was a Fifty Foot Househusband."

Others keep you hanging a while longer with more teasery titles like "Night of the Nanobeasts" by D. Alexander Ward … or stupefy you to blinking double-takes, like Jay Wilburn’s "Giant Mutant Tiger Slugs Vs. Salty Angel Gimp Warriors in Leather." I mean, come on, who’s not going to have to read something called that?

There may be some bias in my admission that two of my top faves of the book are stories I was privileged to beta-read ahead of time. Those are "Gams" by Tracy DeVore (a poignant tale of an old man and his faithful decidedly-not-a-horse) and Doug Blakeslee’s wonderfully absurd wait-what? story of "GRONK!"

I’m also partial to Kerry G.S. Lipp’s big-budget summer blockbuster "BFF," which goes for the ARMAGEDDON approach and nails it, especially with what I think may be one of the best lines of prose ever written. And, in the battle for sheer WTF-iest category, Brent Abell’s "Stone Cold Horror From the Stars" edges out Lachlan Davis’ "The Taterific Tale of Coral Beach" by virtue of a toothy grin.

One final recommendation, though, would be to pace yourself. Don’t read them all at once; if there’s such a thing as giant monster overload, I was feeling it by the time I got to the end.

-Christine Morgan


THE HUNGRY 2: THE WRATH OF GOD by Steven W. Booth and Harry Shannon (2012 Genius Book Publishing / 244 pp / tp)

THE HUNGRY 2 continues the story of Sheriff Penny Miller and her handful of survivors after the zombies came to Flat Rock, Nevada. After spending some time in a Las Vegas penthouse, Penny, biker Scratch, ex-husband Terrill Lee, and military doctor Sheppard are being sent back to Crystal Palace—the base they managed to barely escape from and place of origin for the zombie virus. They are sent with a Special Ops team to rescue data and a possible antidote. Things go horribly wrong and they just manage to get out of the building, but the powers that be have decided to nuke the secret base, covering their own asses and killing anyone within the vicinity. The rag tag group hitches a ride in a Winnebago with Father Abraham, the leader of a group of religious zealots, who has plans of his own for Penny and her group.

I love the continuing story of Penny Miller, feisty redhead who fought off the zombies in a wedding dress in the first book, THE HUNGRY. Penny is as energetic as ever and recovering from exposure to the zombie virus and then the supposed antidote the group is looking for. Booth and Shannon write a rocking zombie tale with many twists and turns, but the story never lags or gets routine. The story flows nicely and packs quite a bit of action and gore. The characters are great and Father Abraham is particularly sick. This is a zombie series that you must read if you have any love for the shambling eating machines.

-Colleen Wanglund


THE SLAB CITY EVENT by Nate Southard (2013 Sinister Grin Press / 177 pp / limited edition hc)

It’s classic cars, hot rods and hot babes, rockabilly, and wild times out in the desert, at The Slab City Event! Loud music and louder engines, big hair and bigger egos … it’s just one nonstop party!

For Tyson, headed that way with his biker buddy Mack, it might also be his chance to reconnect with his dream girl, Stella. She’s one of the Boom Boom Sassies, a bodacious dance-troup of vinyl-clad cheerleaders who tour with the Revolvers, appearing at the Event. He’s eager to get there, and not thrilled with any delays along the way.

When Mack insists on stopping in the little town of Niland for breakfast, Tyson’s annoyance is about at the limit. But they both soon come to realize things aren’t quite right in Niland … it’s quiet, seeming as empty and abandoned as a ghost town.

Seeming, that is, until they find an injured man crawling in the street. Injured, and obviously sick, what with his eyes being all yellow and bloodshot. Their first instinct is to try and help. They might have done better to go with another instinct, such as getting the hell out of there in a hurry.

Too late. The rest of the Niland population choose that moment to appear, a throng of them emerging from hiding in a way that suggests some kind of crazy trap. Like the first man, their eyes are bloodshot and weird, they’re spattered with gore … and then they attack in a maniacal, clawing, biting mob.

It’s sudden cannibalistic feeding frenzy time. Forget bonds of biker-buddy loyalty; in a heartbeat it’s every man for himself. Tyson scrambles for his bike and roars away at top speed, hardly looking back. He heads for Slab City at top speed, hoping to warn people and find Stella.

The warning people part doesn’t go so well; it’s early after a raucous night, and nobody’s inclined to take Tyson very seriously. The finding Stella part doesn’t go so well either, because before he has a chance to start looking, the crazies burst onto the scene.

If there’s an explanation given for what caused the outbreak, I missed it, but that’s totally fair because none of the characters have a clue either. All that matters is it’s on, it has hit the fan in a big way. It’s a dust-cloud of blood and tooth-snapping chaos.

The rest of the story jumps around from one person to another, showing snippets of the unfolding carnage through their various viewpoints. It’s a blast. For some, there’s nobility and sacrifice. For others, it’s cutthroat survival of the fittest, civilization and decency right out the window.

Great fun, a rollicking ride with a rocking soundtrack, a grisly action mash from start to finish! Bonus points if you’re a car buff … or then again maybe not, since some of those lovingly-maintained cherry babies might get a little dinged up.

-Christine Morgan