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A New Face, A New Terror…

Uh-oh! He found you!

Prepare for the arival of Suzanne Robb, who brings us a new vision of zombie mayhem with her debut novel, “Z-Boat”.  It doesn’t matter whether your buy the  book in Kindle format or traditional paperback, this is a must-read book.  Especially if you’re tired of the tried-and-true formula that the zombie genre has stuck to for so long.  Robb delivers a fast-paced novel full of government and interpersonal intrigue, a submarine too decrepit for it’s deep sea rescue mission, and a host of strange characters that is sure to delight.

It’s difficult to give a basic summary of such an intricate book, but here goes!  The Betty Loo and her crew have been commissioned to go on a rescue mission deeper than they’ve ever gone before.  Along with the usual captain and crew, a few new people are assigned.  A quick check of the personnel files shows that these people are anything but ordinary – and that all is not what it seems.  As (bad) luck would have it, the second they leave the dock and begin the mission, everything goes awry in the worst way imaginable – from mechanical failures and dueling spies to accidental crew deaths.  The worst is yet to come – the sub they are going to rescue is crewed by…zombies.  Unfortunately they aren’t the shambling Romero variety either.  Robb’s zombies retain a little intelligence, and a nightmarish pack mentality.  Do they make it out alive?  Does the plague reach the surface and the unsuspecting world?  Read Z-Boat and find out!

If you haven’t read any books by Suzanne Robb, now would be the time.  She’s a promising up-and-comer who has already published stories in multiple anthologies.  “Z-Boat” is her first published full-length novel, and there is talk of a sequel.  Her greatest strength as a writer is her ability to weave interesting characters into an even more interesting story line.  She began the book with a Prologue detailing the current state of the world, a first chapter with a not-so-desperate S.O.S. call, and then went straight into the characters and story.  The zombies don’t actually appear in full force until the middle of the book, but by then the reader is so deeply immersed in the political intrigue (and, let’s face it, trying to guess who’s going to make it out alive), they the zombies are an added treat, rather than the main focus.

If you happen to enjoy nitpicking books then I should warn you that there were a few grammatical errors along the way, but nothing worth getting in a tizzy over.  They didn’t impact the ability of the reader to enjoy the story.

On a personal note, I found that once I got through the first few pages, I couldn’t put the book down.  It drove me crazy trying to figure out who was going to die, where the zombies came from, and how the crew thought they were going to make it back to the surface in a busted sub.  And just to warn any prospective readers, I actually cried at the ending.  It was really sad, but really fit the book.  I think I’d have been really aggravated if the book had a different ending.

Now, stop reading this and go buy a copy of the book for yourself!  (And your friend!)

 

This is the car, moments after the crash.

Sorry for the lengthy wait before the new post.  I’m finishing a semester in grad school currently, which I can’t wait to end!  I’m only taking two courses, but one of them is considered to be the hardest class in the program.  I will be super glad when that class has come to an end.

This past Wednesday, I got into a car accident.  I rearranged the front end of my car on the back of a truck.  On it’s tow bar, to be exact.  The car in front of the truck did a sudden stop, and I’d have had time to stop if it weren’t for the slick road.  It had been raining for a few days, and that morning it was cold.  In any event, I have a concussion.  Last night was the first night that I was able to bear staring at the computer screen for any length of time.

Today, I figured I’d toss a post up real quick to let anyone visiting the site know that yes, it’s still very much active.  Once my semester from Hell ends, you can expect many more posts, and certainly on a more frequent basis.

In any event, just wanted to let you know where I’ve been.

P.S. Upcoming posts include reviews of a few haunted house attractions, and books by Paffenroth and del Torro.

The cover of World War Z

Pretty steady reading.

I figured now would be a great time to stop whining, suck it up, and read “World War Z” by Max Brooks.  It’s slated for theaters sometime in December, and I despise watching a movie before reading the book.  I’d stayed away from reading WWZ because, quite frankly, Max Brooks’ zombie visions scare me witless.

Oftentimes while reading WWZ, I tortured myself mentally for passing up the chance to see Brooks live in Buffalo in October.  What the hell was I thinking?!  In any event, that won’t happen again, if I can help it.

Back to the book though.  I read through it slowly, mostly because I wanted to really have time to think about what was going on, whether it could actually happen, and what it was saying about the human race.

In general, the book was pretty steady reading.  It wasn’t overly crazy, nor was it boring.  It kept a decent pace, and was set in many locales.  Brooks did an outstanding job of writing from different perspectives – it was possible to believe he was actually conducting the interviews with different people.  There were locales in Korea, China, Russia, the US, and several other cities.  Brooks’ focus wasn’t really on the plight of the zombies – most likely because that niche has been thoroughly (and thankfully) flooded with material.  He chose to focus on the interactions between the people in different countries, and the impact of racial, religious, and cultural differences.  I tend to agree with him in that humanity’s inability to occupy the sandbox peacefully will get us into trouble.  However, being the diehard cynic I am in that regard, I don’t share his belief that we will overcome the threat.  I see us bombing ourselves into oblivion instead.  (Sorry folks, I’ve never been the sunny kind of person  when it comes to these things.)

One section had me bawling my eyes out though.  There is a series of interviews with a man who ran a K-9 team during the War.  He talks about the struggles of working with your canine partner, and of the tragedies that accompany the line of work.  For a few days, I had horrible dreams of my dog Lily and I being part of those teams.  Only instead of us being victorious, I always wound up seeing her disappear beneath a swarm of gray hands, the last vision always being her looking at me pleadingly.  I had to stop reading the book for awhile.  It still bothers me, even while I’m sitting here writing.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a casual or avid zombie reader, or is interested in history.  Again, read the book before you see the movie!  (While I was looking for a trailer, I got rick-rolled.  Oops.  Well, maybe later when the fake and fan-made trailers are done taking over I will find a decent one to link.)  In any event – stop reading this and go see the movie!

This picture was lovingly and respectfully pilfered from the author's blog. <<http://gotld.blogspot.com/>&gt;

I finished Kim Paffenroth‘s “Dying to LiveLast Rites” a little while ago, but haven’t gotten the opportunity to give it the write-up it so badly deserves.

**Pre-Review Warning: You will cry your eyes out so hard when you finish this book that your chest will hurt.  Actually, I lied.  There are a few sections where you will cry your eyes out.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!**

It was a thought-provoking tear-jerker that left me thinking about the human race, and also introspectively about myself. It made me consider what I myself might be capable of under the right circumstances.  I’d like to think that I would be a good person, but when I think of what I’d do to save the ones I loved, my certainty wavers.  (So don’t sit there smugly assuming you’d be any better either…)

If you’ve read the two previous books in the series, you have already been introduced to the four central characters.  Rachel and Will, two humans who are forced to leave their community because of their treatment of Lucy and Truman, two sentient zombies.  The community they were living in doesn’t believe in executing zombies, but they don’t believe in coexisting in the same house either.  In any event, the last installation of the trilogy finds the four companions on a boat, with Rachel seriously ill.  Will, Truman, and Lucy decide to seek medical help from a town they find.  What happens to each and every one of them will test the boundaries of what most readers think humans are capable of.  You will find yourself sickened, pensive, and deeply heartbroken by the end of this novel, I guarantee it.  And then you’ll feel lost knowing that at this time Paffenroth has not announced any other additions to the series.

Probably the single greatest strength of this work is Paffenroth’s ability to create new and complex characters that work seamlessly with his well-established characters while at the same time never losing sight of the importance of the message. While many messages can be found in the book, I choose to take away the idea that a life built on greed and egotism leads to nothing. Conversely, a life built on sharing, self-sacrifice, loyalty and love may not always give you what you expect, but it will be more fulfilling. The best part? Paffenroth isn’t preachy about it. He sneaks up on you, his you over the head, and runs off into the darkness while you are left with a serious bump on your head and the echos of his laughter.

This photo was taken from the facebook page of District of the Dead.

This past Friday, my friend Steve and I checked out a new haunt in Buffalo, NY.  It’s called “District of the Dead”, and it currently resides in the old Don Pablo’s building on Elmwood Avenue, by the Regal Cinema.  You can check them out on the web here.  Now, when I review haunts, I take a few factors into account.  It’s not fair to judge all haunts by the same standard.  It’s important to consider:  How much did the ticket cost?  How many years has the haunt been in business?  What’s the purpose of the haunt?  Who works there?  When I was in college, I used to run the Haunted Hallway with Steve and the other members of the Astronomy Club.  I know how hard it is to plan a haunt, purchase all the props, and convince people to come to the haunt.  There’s a ton of work behind every haunt that people don’t always consider.

The haunt itself was interesting.  It had the obligatory chainsaw – always welcome, as well as the claustrophobia section that is common in haunted houses.  I thought that the haunt was pretty good.  I went through it and screamed my guts out.  I went back in again, and screamed just as much as I did the first time.  The actors seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, which is a big draw for me.  If the actors and actresses aren’t enjoying themselves, why should I?  The set design wasn’t very extensive, and there were no animatronic props – but remember, it’s their first year.  They still have time to build a larger and more extensive haunt in the coming years.  (Personal note:  I prefer live people to animatronics any day!  The stupid whirrr noise they make is very fake.  I don’t like being able to predict what’s going to happen next.)

The Old Don Pablo’s building made a pretty good first-haunt space.  It’s a small-ish building which added to the atmosphere.  Also, being small, the props and actors/actresses weren’t stretched too thin.  They were able to mix live action with props and scenery.

My only worry is the location.  Elmwood is a busy street, but it isn’t situated in a place where it can be easily seen all day long.  Competitor haunted houses in the area are on busier streets, and are more likely to be visited by a spontaneous crowd.  Next year they should opt for a more prominent place.  On a good note, they advertised on Groupon.com, and have a Facebook page.  The souvenir cups were a great idea – it will keep their haunt in the forefront of people’s minds.  It’s also something that sets them apart from the other attractions in the area.  They don’t have a concession stand as of yet, but I believe that will be something they will incorporate later.

After going through the haunt, Steve and I spent some time chatting with one of the minds behind the haunt.  Already, they are thinking ahead to how to change their haunt and improve it.  As it is, the haunt runs about 15 minutes, and will set you back $11.00.  If you show your ticket at the bar after the haunt, you get a free soda and a souvenir black light reactive cup that celebrates the haunt.  What’s more intriguing than an $11.00 haunt?  An $11.00 haunt that donates 10% of it’s profits for the opening year to Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo of course!  The haunt is staffed by volunteers who also do their own makeup, and a company was on site taking pictures of people at a strategic point in the haunt, and you can buy them after you get out.  The makeup the volunteers did will give most attractions in Buffalo a run for their money.  Some of them even had prosthetic wounds and other gory details like slashed and believably bloody clothing.

District of the Dead is certainly a haunt to watch!  I’m excited to see what they come up with in the coming years of their operation, and I will most certainly add them to my list of yearly haunts.  It will be fun to watch them grow from a small operation to a larger one.  If you’re in the area, I suggest you stop by.  In the meantime, bounce on over to Facebook.com where you can find their page, or just take this quick link.  You’ll be in the loop about tickets, pricing, and hours.  You’ll also be able to take a peek at the haunt in their picture section, and get updates on additional District of the Dead goings-on.

The Walking Dead - Comic-Con - July 22, 2011

Image by starbright31 via Flickr

It started out so promising, it really did.  The survivors made it out of the CDC alive (most of them), and then they find themselves horrifically besieged on a highway by a bunch of walking dead.  Awesome!  They hide under cars and almost make it out undetected, until little Sophia decides to prematurely come out from her hiding place.  She goes running off persued by walkers.  Still doing pretty well.

Then what the hell happened?!

They survive the horde of zombies.  Fine.  They loose the little girl Sophia, also fine.  Shane talks about (read: whines) losing Lori and how he’s going to leave the group.  Fine.  Then they find themselves looking for Sophia in a church, with a few faithful zombies inside.  The first thing I thought when I saw that was, “Oh boy – Danny Boyle anyone?”  That’s right people.  It felt like a rip-off of 28 Days Later – where Cillian Murphy walks into the church and is chased by a few enterprising zombies.  Of course, they group easily overcomes this obstacle, but then they hang around a little bit while a few characters go through a pseudo-epiphany.

The ending cliffhanger did it’s job and made up for some of the more ridiculous moments of the show.  I just wish they’d start working in some of the graphic novel material.  Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll see “The Governor”, and Shane is still certainly alive and kicking, so I’m not holding my breath.  I am hoping that the season stays away from kitschy moments – that would really kill the season.

The make-up effects were savagely on par with what I would expect some sun-dried zombies to be.  The actors were top-notch again, and the dialogue wasn’t stuffy or over-bearing.

Overall – I’m pretty much in the same spot as where I left off.  Hurrah that there’s a zombie TV show, boo-rah that it’s not as awesome as it could be. (Oh, and I keep hearing rumors that there will be a video game based on the TV show.  Not thrilled about that at all.  Some things shouldn’t be poisoned by a need to make money off of people who don’t know a good zombie when they see one.)

As always – let me know what you think!

Haunted House

Image by Metal Chris via Flickr

Sorry for the hiatus!  My sociolinguistics class is going to kill me.  I’ve been walking around like a zombie.  Mrgh.

In any event – I wanted to review a haunt that I went to last weekend.  My friend Steve and I have a tradition that we’ve kept up for the last five or more years.  We both love Halloween and we both love going to haunted houses.  Every year, we go camping with the Astronomy Club (we’re in the alumni chapter at the college we both went to) in the fall and in the summer.  Well, this fall we happened to be at camp during Columbus Day Weekend – which just happened to be the biggest weekend at Nightmare Hayrides.  Neither of us had ever been to this particular haunt before, but that made even more exciting.

Nightmare Hayrides boasts a haunted hayride, haunted barn and a corn maze.  When we got there, it was packed!  If you buy your ticket by 9:30 pm, they will continue to run the attractions until everyone who paid has gone through.

After buying tickets, we went through a haunted barn, and arrived at the hay ride.  After the ride, we had to go through another maze/haunted barn before we were done.  The set-up was pretty good.  It meant that there wasn’t much waiting and down-time, which seems to plague most haunted attractions we’ve attended.  There was always something to do and see.  The first half of the barn had the spinning tunnel with colored lights that you go through on a metal bridge.  As usual, I got gleefully disoriented and sort of fell out of the other side.  In the haunted barn sections (which turned out to be a barn that was sectioned into two parts), people in masks followed you, or jumped out at you.  In that way it was pretty standard.

The hayride left something to be desired.  I found out that weekend that I prefer not to be touched by the actors at haunted attractions.  They didn’t do anything wrong – but I think that the idea of almost being grabbed by a ghoul is scarier.  There were a few stops along the hayride path, where we watched a vignette, or someone jumped on the hayride and “attacked” us.  My favorite part was the tractor.  This huge tractor came after the hayride and tried to ram us on both sides.  For an added touch, there was a body attached to the front of the tractor.  Sheer awesomeness!

Overall, for $15.00 it was a great time.  It was a clear and cool night, and the apple cider afterward was the perfect ending.  It’s worth going through, and it took longer than most haunted houses, which Steve and I have noted only take about 20 minutes to complete.

If you’ve been to Nightmare Hayrides – let me know what you think!

A spot of news…

For those of you who may not know, my life changed rather drastically last week.  On Monday, I began Graduate School (I’m again studying Foreign Language Education).  On Tuesday at 11:30 am, I received a call from a school that had interviewed me for a Spanish position.  As it turns out, the position became part time and the other teacher quit.  I accepted the position.  So far so good.

Wednesday morning, I went to school to have a meeting with the other teachers.  I was wondering why we would be meeting again that night for “orientation”.  Silly me, it was actually parent orientation, or “Open House” as we said years ago when I was little.  Oops.  Luckily my room is off in a corner and nobody could find it, so I spent the night hanging up paper on my bulletin boards and worrying about how to arrange the desks.

 

All of this good news for me means that I will be swamped with work and unable to write posts with quite the frequency I was.  Don’t worry – I’m not giving up, I just won’t be on here as much for this semester.  (Oh – and also because I’m having to maintain a blog in Spanish for my linguistics class.)

Wish me luck and I will see you on the Dark Side of the Moon !

Not Your Average Joe

Joe Hill at a book signing.

Image via Wikipedia --> Author Joe Hill at a book signing.

I have now written this review three separate times.  I started with an anecdote about how I came to possess 20th Century Ghosts and Heart-Shaped Box, but I think that what I really want to tell you about is the author himself.  To be brief, I kept running into references about Joe Hill and what a master storyteller he was, but had neglected to add anything of his to my collection.  While in Maine, Chris picked me up 20th Century Ghosts, and afterwards a copy of Heart-Shaped Box arrived in my mailbox.

20th Century Ghosts is like no other book I’ve ever read in my entire life.  Reading it can be likened to an out of body experience.  From the very first page I got the strangest sensation.  I kept imagining myself sitting in a dark theater, just Hill and I, only he isn’t there at first.  He miraculously shows up just as the beginning of the movie comes to life on the screen.  He’s slouched down in the chair with a huge box of popcorn which he crunches noisily, eyes wide like saucers.  He is wearing a black knit sweater with a white undershirt and jeans, just a regular patron at a movie theater.  He leans over and tells me how excited he is and how he can’t wait to see what will happen next.  As we continue to watch the movie (living depictions of the stories) I gradually forget he’s with me.  Out of nowhere, he leans forward and says reverently through a mouthful of buttery popcorn, “Can you believe it?  I never saw that coming!”  Then he leans back in his seat and we continue watching, his eyes glued to the screen with a look of ecstasy on his face.  I’m sitting there slack-jawed, unable to tear my eyes away long enough to blink for fear of missing one little exquisite detail.

The entire book gives off this feeling.  The stories are written so naturally that the reader can’t help but feel more like a spectator.  Each story seems to have a life of it’s own, and just when you think you know the ending, it changes into a totally different scenario.  The stories are all wildly inventive, yet somehow plausible.  I think H.P. Lovecraft would have liked Joe Hill’s stories – they are all based in a very real and vivid world, with just enough of the absurd as to make them heavily unsettling.

Joe Hill is more than a writer, he is a master puppeteer.  He knows just which strings to pull to strip away his reader’s defenses.  With a few words he can pierce any reader straight to the heart.  When I first started reading 20th Century Ghosts, I thought I was in for the usual: the searching ravenous dead, or the unsettled dead that won’t leave the living alone.  What I found was far worse.  Ghosts come in every shape and size, and there are none more terrifying than those that inhabit every human’s conscience and soul.  Somehow Joe Hill knows exactly where to find those ghosts and how to bring them to light, often without the reader noticing until the pivotal moment.  Hill can elicit an emotional response over the weirdest and most absurd things, including an inflatable boy named Art, who just wants to live a normal life (“Pop Art”), or an idiot-savant who builds forts out of boxes that tunnel to different dimensions (“Voluntary Committal”), or a boy whose magical cape gives him the power to fly (“The Cape”).

Every story is wonderful and worth reading, and any story that I did not understand I attribute to my being naive.  My favorite story is “Abraham’s Boys”, about the famed vampire-hunter Abraham Van Helsing.  I have always taken it for granted that Van Helsing was a vampire hunter, but Hill explores a darker side.  What if Van Helsing were crazy instead?  How would his children react to his old world ideas and superstitions?  Meanwhile, Hill introduces a question that I still find troubling to this day, How is no proof somehow proof that something exists?  It’s like having a worm in your brain day after day, eating away at you.

Joe Hill is a peerless author.  He keeps a very interesting and informative website which can be found by following this link.  If you aren’t currently reading his stories, you are cheating yourself of an irreplaceable experience.  Personally, I have only read 20th Century Ghosts, but I can assure you that I will be following Joe Hill very closely in the coming years.  His stories and visions are classics in the making.

I’m a traitor.

Cover of "The Dead Zone"

Cover of The Dead Zone

I vehemently refused to go to another bookstore after Borders started it’s closing.  I wouldn’t go – none of them appealed to me.  I complained to everyone I knew about the “loss of my favorite place on Earth“…and where was I yesterday?  Barnes and Noble.  Looking for a specific book (incidentally, they don’t have it and I very well may be returning to another location of the same store in a few hours).

I fell from grace over a discussion of  a Patrick Wilson film.  Apparently, he survives an accident and upon waking, discovers he has a connection to the world of the dead.  My dad started talking about Stephen King‘s “The Dead Zone” which had a similar plot.  I was surprised that my father was going on about what a great book it was, because he isn’t as much of a reader as my mom or myself.

So now begins my feverish hunt for “The Dead Zone”.  My mom has a copy in hardcover, but I don’t want to read hers because I read in all the oddest places, and if something happens to her book I’m dead meat.  Plain and simple.

This may also be the start of another Stephen King hitch.  I have read tons of his books, but there are several (including the entire Dark Tower series) that I haven’t read yet.