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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Deadcore: Four Hardcore Zombie Novellas (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

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1) Randy Chandler is the author of the two solo novels Bad Juju and Hellz Bellz, and authored Duet for the Devil with T. Winter-Damon. Randy has previously worked as a magazine editor/publisher, a freelance book reviewer, a mental health worker, a gas-pump jockey, an ambulance attendant, a soldier in Vietnam and a funeral home flunky.

2) David James Keaton’s short fiction has recently appeared in the Comet Press dark crime anthology The Death Panel, as well as Plots With Guns, Thuglit, Espresso Stories, Big Pulp, Six Sentences, Pulp Pusher, and Crooked. He is a contributor to The College Rag and the University of Pittsburgh’s online journal Hot Metal Bridge. He’s also a graduate student in the MFA program at Pitt.

3) Edward M. Erdelac was born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, and lives in the Los Angeles area with his family. He is an award winning screenwriter, an independent filmmaker, and sometime contributor to Star Wars canon. Author of the Merkabah Rider series, his weird westerns that have found audiences on both sides of the pond. he’s way pleased for the opportunity to take a left turn and give rein to his rabid admiration for old school chanbara movies, Romero, and the great Kazuo Koike here.

4) Ben Cheetham’s short fiction has won awards and been published in numerous magazines and anthologies in the UK, US and Australia. Most recently Voice From the Planet (published by Harvard Square Editions) and Fast Forward: The Mix Tape, A Collection of Flash Fiction. He’s a 2010 Pushcart Prize nominee. He’s also completed his first novel and lives in Sheffield UK with his family.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: What do the undead have in common? They're dead. But that is where the similarities end in Deadcore. Join authors Randy Chandler, Ben Cheetham, Edward M. Erdelac, and David James Keaton as they unleash the carnage while breathing new life, and death, into the genre with four unique and zombie-licious novellas.

DEAD JUJU - He's the mystery man on the news. Where he shows up, the shit goes down. The dead are rising, the immigration issue has reached the boiling point, the living are screwed, and unspeakable acts are being performed upon all involved. In this tale of Zombies Gone Wild, yes the dead walk but just where the hell are they going and why? Dead Juju gives you the hardcore truth, if you're ghoul enough to handle it.

NIGHT OF THE JIKININKI - After a comet is observed in the western sky of feudal Japan, a murdered inmate rises from the dead and attacks his fellow prisoners. Three disparate men: a casteless bandit, a mad, child-eating monk, and a renowned but sadistic samurai band together to escape the walled and moat-surrounded prison as it fills with the walking and ravenous dead.

ZEE BEE & BEE (A.K.A. PROPELLER HATS FOR THE DEAD) - At a "Zombie Bed & Breakfast" tourist trap, guests pay for the thrill of a staged zombie assault during an apocalyptic scenario, acted out by sluggish hotel workers who are well-versed in the zombie genre. But soon the script doesn't go as planned, the guests become uncooperative, and the actors are taking their roles very seriously these days.

ZOMBIE SAFARI - Survivors of a zombie apocalypse have carved out new existences on islands, only visiting the mainland to hunt zombies. But things start to go wrong. Zombies don't die as they should. Hunters go missing. A trip that's supposed to be fun turns into a struggle for survival as four men makes a discovery that causes him to question not only what it means to be a zombie, but what it means to be human.

FORMAT/INFO: Deadcore is 217 pages long divided over four novella parts. Narration is both in the third-person and first person for the different novellas. The book is edited by Cheyl Mullenax. September 30, 2010 marked the e-book and trade paperback publication of "Deadcore" via Comet Press.

ANALYSIS: Deadcore is a book which was released last year and was completely missed by me and most reviewers. I happened upon it on Goodreads a couple of months earlier and upon seeing the blurb details, I was heavily intrigued by the variety and the imaginative spectrum offered. One of the authors Ed Erdelac kindly offered a review copy and since I was already a fan of his Merkabah series, I was extra excited to see how his historical story would match along with the zombie safari, the bed & breakfast story, etc.

The first story is Dead Juju by Randy Chandler and is the longest novella of the collection. It’s a pretty hardcore zombie story detailing the beginning of the apocalypse. Of course the tipping point in this story is the presence of a gigantic eye in the sky which has blinked and causes all sorts of weird stuff to begin. The story has been divided into 29 further sections which has various characters interacting and facing off against zombies and ghouls. The story is mostly set in Arizona and a bit in Mexico as well. The story totally sets the tone for the book as it has action, gore, violence, sex in enormous amounts and begs the question as to what is truly happening and is it the end of the world? It also brings faith & religion in to the equation of life but not in a way which upsets they rhythm of the story. A wild ride and with an ending which leaves the readers as shocked as it does with its opening. Dead Juju opens Deadcore with a visceral thrill which is hard to ignore and equally tough to stomach.

The next story is Zee Bee & Bee, it’s a story set in first person about a bed and breakfast where newly and otherwise married couples go to "pretend" attacked by zombies. While on the face of this story, it sounds a bit silly however kudos to David James Keaton who manages to upstage the settings with his ferocious pace as well as the nods to the various zombie odds and ends which have populated so many movies and books. The story is majorly about the characters who play various types of zombie and the narrator vividly describes the scenes adding his own sense of understanding which brings another layer to the proceedings. A little less violent than the preceding novella however Zee Bee & Bee has a rather dark ending which again matches up the story to the earlier one in its grimness.

The third story of the book was the one which I was looking forward to the most called “Night of the Jikininki” by Ed Erdelac. This tale is set in 1737 feudal Japan and features three remarkably dark characters, all of whom are stuck in the Fukuyama han prison for various reasons when a comet passes by and awakens the dead. Thereby setting off a horrid turn of events to which none are spared. The author has discussed quite a bit about the origins of this tale on his blog which makes for a fascinating read by itself however readers should be warned as it has minor spoilers for the story. Whilst keeping it horror-tinged, the author has very smartly also included commentary about the feudal situation in Japan and especially about the downtrodden class that is known as the “Eta”. Cleverly merging Japanese folklore and societal structure in a thrilling race to survive, the author’s efforts clearly make this tale a special one and one to be savored. Clearly this tale became my favorite based on its inventive approach and suspenseful handling of its twists. The ending again in line with the collection is a very dark one and potentially underlines the cruel nature of fate.

The last story is Zombie Safari by Ben Cheetham and one which will interest the hunters among all the readers. Set in the post apocalyptic near future wherein zombie hunting has become a favorite of the surviving humans. The narrator of this story is a person called Mikey who’s recently lost his dad who was a great hunter and passed several valuable nuggets of information. The zombie classification in this tale is also something in line with the hunting and scientific themes of this novella world. The story is spread out over seven days set in the hunting reserve and the author has cleverly populated this story with various characters who are stereotypical in such situations but has also riddled the story with a couple of twists which will stun the reader as they read them. The story starts as a typical one wherein things go off-kilter for reasons revealed in the story and the ending twist was the best one amongst all the stories of this collection making it the second best novella for me amid the four stories. Poignantly written scenes are interspersed with hunting minutiae to make it a rich story and keep readers thoroughly entertained. Ben Cheetham’s contribution rounds off the collection nicely and savagely in its own way.

All the four stories have one thread in common with the title of combining hardcore elements with zombie stories, these stories are vividly written and are definitely not for everyone. Especially certain scenes in the first two novellas have a certain stomach turning quality to them without being overtly revolting. The remaining two stories do not fall far behind in gore and action sequences wherein one’s imagination will be stretched by the generous descriptions. Lastly I believe these stories were chosen for their imaginative settings and clever twists to zombie stories. Therefore this collection is definitely a standout one because of this very reason however by that very reason it also becomes a book which is definitely not for everyone’s tastes.

CONCLUSION: Deadcore is an enigmatic collection which Zombie enthusiasts have to read to see the verisimilitude showcased within. Taking zombies and mixing with a heady mix of violence, social commentary, human attitude and various other emotions, Deadcore manages to surprise and shock its readers thoroughly. It is a collection that will stay in the reader’s mind for a long time to come.


Jessica ( frellathon ) said...

Sounds fantastic

Tim Marquitz said...

Ed Erdelac is always a great read. Thanks, Mihir.

The Reader said...

I concur Mr. Tim :)


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