Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Comet Press Release Great Book That I'm Not In

While it's totally against the unstated policy of this blog and everything I personally believe in to praise any magazine or anthology that doesn't contain my work, I'm going to make a brief exception to mention the most recent release from Comet Press, the delightfully titled Deadcore, because a) it's was really good and b) I was published alongside fifty percent of the featured authors in Comet's last collection, The Death Panel, so in a way, I figure I'm kind of honorarily, or perhaps spritually, or maybe just emotionally, in this one too.  Or some damn thing.

Anyway, while I'm breaking one age-old rule, I'm strictly adhering to my other, oft-stated policy, which is to find things to post about here in the most lazy ways imaginable.  So here, word for word, is the review I recently posted on Amazon.

First up, I should probably confess that I bought this for a particular story - David James Keaton's Zee Bee & Bee - after seriously liking his tale in an earlier Comet Press antho, The Death Panel. I'm not such a fan of zombie stories these days, since the subgenre's been done to death and back over the last two or three years. So while I was greatly looking forward to one of the four novellas here, the others I approached with a little trepidation.

That bit of bias out of the way...

For me, Randy Chandler's Dead Juju wasn't a great start. Chandler's writing is sharp and stylish, but the story he presents and the targets he seemed to be aiming for just didn't work for me. Dead Juju is a string of gory, in places wildly tasteless vignettes strung together with a fairly weightless story. In terms of zombie movies, we're in Braindead and Return of the Living Dead territory here, only this isn't half so tongue in cheek. Chandler seems to be going flat out to shock, but that obvious determination in itself takes away the edge. There are also some weird technical problems, with character arcs beginning too late in the game, disappearing for too long, or ending in wildly unsatisfying fashion. All of that said, I'd be quick to admit that this just isn't my kind of thing. So if you're happy with a high gore-and-shocks to story ratio then you may find Dead Juju the highpoint of the whole collection.

I've already said that I bought this for Keaton's Zee Bee & Bee, and it didn't disappoint even a little bit. Keaton combines smart, subversive high-mindedness with flat-out genre thrills like no one working today, and Zee Bee & Bee pulls off that balance about as well as you could hope for. It works just as well as an odd, slightly silly, weirdly romantic horror comedy, a heartfelt love letter to the width and breadth of zombie culture, and a wild and witty deconstruction of everything that's come before it. It reminded me a lot of my favourite zombie story, Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead by Joe Hill, and I'm not sure if it hasn't even supplanted it.

Having read what I came for, the last thing I was expecting was to hit another novella that I liked just as much. So Edward Erdelac's Night of the Jikinki came as a hell of a surprise. Samurai? Zombies? Child-eating monks? All played completely straight? Yup, and not only that, Erdelac writes with an elegance, clarity and clear passion for the relevant history that keeps his twisted creation firmly on the rails. If Kurosowa had ever made a zombie movie - well, even that probably wouldn't have been quite this cool.

Lastly, we have Ben Cheetham's Zombie Safari, perhaps the toughest of these tales to rate. It kept me entertained, Cheetham's writing was fine and his descriptions vivid, I liked the creepily implicit back-story and there's a fantastic battle sequence towards the end. But there were stylistic hiccups that irritated the hell out of me, like the narrator's incessant to-camera exposition or the way every abbreviation was then explained in brackets, and the whole thing was dragged down by a lack of fresh ideas. So, a pleasant enough read, but not a standout.

To sum up, then: a couple of stories that didn't quite work for me, a couple that thrashed the zombie genre like a red-haired stepchild and laughed while they do it, all collected in a very nicely presented tome. Or, to put it another way - a much-needed reminder of why I've always thought zombies were the greatest of all horror monsters.

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