Underneath by Dan Dewitt

It is a pleasure to introduce our second Guest Reviewer, Jackie Keller. She is currently a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and her major is Psychology. She hopes to attain her B.S. in said science by the end of the year. When she is not delving into the minds of murderers and lunatics she can be found either either reading horror literature and exploring the underlying emotional processes behind them or sewing the skin from her victims into a human skin suit. We hope to have many more reviews from her in the coming weeks!

Just in time for Halloween, it is my pleasure to present you ravishing readers with my review for the short story collection, Underneath. Underneath is a collection of unique horror tales by author Dan Dewitt. The stories presented are “true” short story length, ranging from 1500 – 4000 words, making it very quick and easy to read. They draw on many themes such as family, marriage, technology, and of course, zombies.

Dewitt switches between first and third person for his different stories, but has an overall realistic style. That is to say, even in third person, the writing style clearly and directly conveys the thoughts and emotions of the characters, even the more “coarse” ones. It’s a good choice for short horror, in my opinion, because it allows the reader to more easily sympathize and empathize with the characters as the tension rises in their respective plots.

That said, the “thought style” presented for nearly all the main characters, as well as many of the supporting ones, tends to be very masculine. I realize that authors tend to write characters more along the lines of their own gender identity, and since Dewitt is male, it is more probable that many of his characters are going to be more masculine. However, this style in which he portrays many of the characters almost makes them blend together – nearly all of them drink and smoke cigars, are tough, even if unsuspecting heroes, protective fathers, etc. Seriously, this guy seems to have a cigar fetish or something, the characters smoke them in at least two or three different stories.
I can’t completely dump on gender representation in Dewitt’s work, though. The only female protagonist in any of the stories is an intriguingly dark character, though here I am mentioning that she is the only female main character. As for the supporting female characters, however, the vast majority of them are smart, strong, definitely capable, and have at least some backstory of their own. One of the only possible exceptions being the character Dahlia in the Father-Daughter Dance story, but let’s just say that she has a… certain physical condition that we can cut her some slack for.

Gender issues aside, I greatly enjoy Dewitt’s style for the way that it plants you right in the character’s heads and hearts. He even still does it well with multiple character perspectives in the book’s final story, Orpheus which is DeWitt’s unique take on the traditional post-zombie-apocalypse tale (and has actually been created into a full-length novel).

Allow me to get back to the Father-Daughter Dance tale for a moment. This story follows one of many emotional trials of a father grieving over his lost daughter. Though Dahlia is arguably presented as a weak female character, the story itself is a strong parable of a parent’s love for a child, and how far a parent can and will go to try to save their child. This story is also one of the only stories that tap into more of a fantasy or “mystical” element. The only other story being How Many Years of Bad Luck Am I Up to, Anyway?. The occult themes in this story are a great style change from many of the more “realist” and contemporary styles of his other stories. It’s also pretty action-packed, and does keep you on the edge of your seat, but in my opinion, the ending falls a little flat. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t skip this one.

Speaking of contemporary style, allow me to finally introduce to you my favorite story in this book, Terror by Text. Yes, it’s a monstrously cheesy title, and the author admits it himself, but don’t let that turn you away! The protagonist of this story is a sort of horror blogger who tells the story of his trip to an abandoned hospital entirely through a series of Tweets. You’re probably thinking, “Oh God, a story out of Tweets? What trend is this guy trying to latch onto?” And hell, even one reviewer on Amazon was reduced to bibliophilic tears, bemoaning what literature has become. Ignore your initial inclinations, and definitely ignore bibliophile snobs. Anyway, our protagonist uses Tweets to document his haunting hospital tour, as well as an encounter with a strange, evil online figure who isn’t exactly a welcome commentator. What is it about the Tweet-style that makes this story the scariest, in my opinion? I’ll be honest, I’m not certain. It probably does have to do with the fact that I am a generation Y kid, and this story is written in a bite-by-bite style that appeals to my attention span-deficit young mind – or so the elders might tell you. I’ll go ahead and tell you that it’s to do with the fact that it creates a “pace” for the reader to follow. We know where the protagonist is going, how he’s feeling, and how fast the story is going, even at only 140 characters at a time. And yet, that text line length creates not only an “out-of-breath” tone that seems to match the trekking on of the protagonist, it leaves us enough mystery as is necessary in a ghost story, for us to wonder what exactly happened in that particular ward…

Underneath is free for the Kindle on Amazon, and the paperback price is also extremely affordable, so if my review hasn’t piqued your interest enough in Dan Dewitt’s work, the price may as well! Obviously, if you aren’t a horror fan, it’s probably not going to be up your alley no matter what. But if you like mystery, a bit of the occult, contemporary drama, or even just zombies, I highly recommend getting this book, especially now that we’re entering the haunting season.

Vampire Nation by Thomas Sipos

Spoilers!

It is said by many Conservatives that Communism is an ideal in which the government lives off the lifeblood of the people. To simplify, the state is a parasite, sucking the blood of its host till there is nothing left. One author took this idea and took it to the next level, both in scope as well as in satire. In Thomas Sipos’s Vampire Nation the Communists are in fact vampires, drinking the blood of the populace to survive. This book is a rich mixture of Ayn Rand, Van Helsing, and documentary on life in a communist country.

The book takes place during the Regan Era just before the fall of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. It tells the story of an American sent to Communist Romania to scout future locations for a movie about witches he has written. He isn’t in the Romanian capital of Bucharest for long before he discovers that he is not only being constantly watched and bugged, but also that his hosts are more interested in what’s running through his veins rather than helping him make his movie. He falls in with a supposed CIA agent/vampire hunter, who brings him along in her independent mission to kill the king of Romania’s vampires: Nicolae Ceausescu. During their mad dash across the broken and lifeless city of Bucharest they encounter many of the real horrors that were Romanian Communism. They see scores of orphans starving in the streets, numerous attempts by the government to hide the level of poverty the country is experiencing (in one case plants are painted green to look fresh, even though it’s winter), and horrific abuses of power by the upper echelons of the Romanian government.

It should be mentioned that while the vampire aspect of the book is completely false the other aspects and descriptions of starving masses and abuses of power are not. Much of what is described by the Sipos actually happened or, in the case of the orphans, is continuing to happen to this day. Much of the historical facts about Ceausescu and his regime, are taken from the book Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescus’ Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption by I.M.Pacepa. Pacepa was a foreign intelligence chief for the Romanian government during the fall who defected. His work helped to document many of the abuses of power that took place in the Ceausescu Regime as well as many of the problems that regular people experienced every day. When one looks at Communist Romania it is easy to see a parallel with what is happening in North Korea today.

This books is exceedingly well written and it’s a very easy read. One should take note, however, that many Conservatives views are expressed by the characters. If you like your books politically neutral this book may be a bit of a hard sell for you. As an action and horror story, though, it is quite amazing. It may also appeal to history buffs who enjoy a comical twist on the usual historical events.

White Flag of the Dead Series by Joseph Talluto

Spoilers!
If you read as many zombie novels as I do, you may have come to an unsettling conclusion. The more books that are written and published on the subject the lower the quality of the stories become. Very few novels in the Zombie Genre can compete with the holy book of Zombie Literature, World War Z by Max Brooks (My review for which can be found here:https://jhame085.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/world-war-z-by-max-brooks/). This may be because I get all my zombie books off of Amazon Kindle and their standards are lower or maybe it’s because I’ve read so many that they’re all blurring together. I desperately hope the latter is not the case because I genuinely love this genre and I don’t want it to get boring for me. Either way I was pleasantly surprised after reading the White Flag of the Dead series of books as the author, Joseph Talluto made an obvious effort at showing a new aspect of the genre and he thankfully succeeded.

The story starts out as most zombie stories generally do, with an unknown virus causing the dead to rise along with the usual fall of society thing. This part of a zombie story is my favorite for I enjoy seeing how different authors see the civil and military authorities handling the rising of the dead. This aspect of White Flag is somewhat brief, only a few chapters, but the way Talluto portrays it is very realistic and believable. The aspect of this series I loved the most, however, is that all the books take place after the fall of civilization and portrays the broken pockets of humanity slowly adapting to the zombie plague and eventually joining together to reorganize and rebuild a semblance of life before the fall. Now, the way humanity rebuilds in the White Flag series is very different from how humanity rebuilds in World War Z. While large areas around the surviving pockets are cleared and pacified numerous zombies still room the land, mostly around former cities. Also, most populated towns and villages are surrounded by either walls, fences or moats. Further technology is on a more late 19th-early 20th century level rather than on the modern level portrayed in World War Z. Something I found amazing was that a somewhat organized USA is reborn a number of years after the original fell apart. I say somewhat, for while the government is more or less the same as the real life US, the fact that there are large spaces between populated towns that governing the new country is more like how the country was run in the days of the Pony Express.

The story follows the actions of John Tallon a former school principal and all around bad ass as he strives to keep his new born son safe in this new and terrifying world. As he defends his son he inadvertently becomes the catalyst for the surviving pockets of humanity to rally behind and reorganize themselves. Later in the series he becomes a folk hero to the survivors, something akin to a combination of George Washington mixed with some Tom Henry and Paul Bunyan. At times some of the things he does seem more than a real life person could actually do, but this really doesn’t detract from the overall realism and excitement of the story.

This series was a very fun and interesting read. I readily suggest it to fans of this genre that I really hope is not decomposing with time (Get it? Because zombies decompose! Haha!)

The books in the Series are:
White Flag of the Dead
Taking it Back
America the Dead
United States of the Dead
Dead Surge
Last Stand of the Dead

World War Z (The Movie)

Spoilers!

To start off this is a movie review and I understand that since this is a book blog it’s rather odd to do this. However, in my review of the book World War Z  I promised that I would post my thoughts on the movie after I had seen it. After having seen it I can confirm that the movie was what I had feared. Something Awful.

I feel that the writers of this movie essentially took a copy of World War Z, threw it in the air and hacked it up with a knife, and whatever pages the caught (which wasn’t a lot) was put in the movie. There were only about three instances from the book that were actually in the movie. It begs the question of why even give the movie the same title as the book. The only thing the two had in common was the fact that they had zombie, and even the zombies in the movie were different from the book! In the book the zombies are literal walking corpses that decompose as time goes on.  They can’t run and hold no superhuman abilities.  This is not the case in the movie. In the movie they’re more akin to the zombies in 28 Days Later. They’re fast moving and are capable of feats that a normal person is not capable of. Also while the zombies actually eat people in the book, in the movie they just bite and run off. It is is also worth note at the lack of blood or gore in the movie. I’m not saying that they needed the same amount of gore as they had in the Saw Franchise, but if you’re being bitten in the thought you usually tend to at least spirt a tiny bit of blood.

Another problem with the movie when compared with the book is the movie’s complete lack of political scope. Half the point of the book was the problems that arise for the still existing government when dealing with the undead hordes. In the movie it’s mentioned in passing that the US President as the Vice President and several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are dead and that’s it. Well How are other countries faring and who the hell is in command of the US? While the movie makes it seem that most governments are collapsing the UN is still functioning, at least with the help of the US military. In the book the UN is more or less destroyed and is only brought back to functioning capacity years after the war against the undead begin. I find it hard to believe that in this situation that the US military would devote any resources to a failed organization such as the UN.  Only two other countries are mentioned, Israel and North Korea. Israel somehow builds a superwall around much of their nation. This does happen in the book, but in the movie it’s built within a month, while in the book it takes at least 6 to year for them to set it up, which let’s be honest is more realistic for a country rather than a single month. North Korea’s answer to the problem is to pull out the teeth of every single citizen so when one person is infected they can’t bite anyone. At this I actually leaned forward in my seat, shaking my head trying not to scream in the theater. In the book the entire population disappears. Most in the book believe that the entire population went into underground bunkers and continue to live there. I like this situation much better than the one discussed in the movie as it leaves a lot of potential open for future use.

Another problem with the movie was the main character, played by Brad Pitt. The character, Gerry Lane, is a completely hollow individual who, after having worked with the UN for number of years, somehow has the same capabilities as a Navy Seal. Some of the things he does in the movie are just so far above and beyond what a normal person could do that it seems like he can solve the entire global problem on his own. The character isn’t helped by the fact that Brad Pitt can’t act, but then again in an action movie all you need to do is be able to run and read so I wasn’t expecting too much from him in the first place.

To put it simply, the movie was an abortion. They had a chance to redefine the entire zombie genre and they blew it. This is unforgivable. I would not recommend this movie.

World War Z by Max Brooks

To put it simply, this is a generation defining book. Like it or not, that is an undeniable fact. It can be argued that this book along with its semi-prequel The Zombie Survival Guide, have single handedly started the present zombie fad. This is quite simply one of my favorite books and since it is being made into a movie (one that will most likely fail to live up to its written form) I felt that it would be a good time to give my review of it. If you haven’t read this book yet please keep in mind that this review may have some spoilers in it.

The writing in this book is rather different from most other books in that it is actually a collection of short-stories in the form of interviews. The premise of the story is that the author has gone across the world as a UN agent to interview survivors of a recent global war on zombies that humanity barely won. Each interview helps add to the larger picture of the global struggle against the undead as well as adding a distinct human element. Each story is radically different from the last. One story, for example, will be about how human trafficking in Asia helped to hasten the spread of the undead, while the next story will be about a housewife in the USA and how she and her family narrowly avoided being slaughtered in their home. The fact that the author chooses to focus on the world at large rather than just the US or some other country as most other zombie novels choose to do adds to the wide appeal of the book.

Another beautiful aspect of this book is the fact is that the story has several important themes that make this book surprisingly adult. While being a fun read about the undead it also a rather lesson in political theory. The book is decidedly anti-isolationist and also deals extensively with how countries deal with large scale disasters. It is because of this as well as for other reasons I have heard that, at least at the University of Pittsburgh, it is being used as an actual text book for political theory classes. Unfortunately I have no way of confirming this as I do not go to said school.

One of the sillier aspects of the book is that it is written by a decidedly “liberal” author, while the book is actually rather “conservative” in nature. The idea of individuality and self sufficiency is heavily pushed in many of the stories. It should be noted, however, that many stories also discuss team survival, but the the individualist stories are much more detailed and more memorable than the latter.

While this is truly an amazing book, I have serious doubts as to the movie. I admit that I have yet to see the movie (I will update this when I have) but from what I have seen in the form of previews that it will most likely only be World War Z in name only. While this is a book about deep ideas about humanity as a whole, the movie looks like a simple action flick. What can you expect from someone like Brad Pitt though? Even the author, Max Brooks has expressed doubts about this movie in at least one interview, which can be seen here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QEq-ud0NIc . Will I still see the movie? Yes. Will it be an abortion? Most likely. Hopefully I’m proven wrong.

Hungry by Dan Parme

I feel that it is a very good and wonderful thing to take pride in the place you were born and have lived most of your life. Afterall the place you call home will have an amazingly large impact in who you are and how you develop into a full fledged member of society. What sports team you like, what foods you eat, even how you talk is influenced by where you grow up. In my case I am from the “Paris of Appalachia”, Pittsburgh, PA. Being from Pittsburgh (a city which in my opinion is often overlooked in good literature) I will occasionally read books that take place in my home. It’s fun to read descriptions of places and things that you already know or have already visited. This is one of the things that drew me to the book Hungry by Dan Parme. Much of this easy read is located in or around my fair city, namely in the downtown and drinking district.

The second thing that drew me to this book was the plot. In short its about cannibals. The main character is the sole survivor of a devastating plane crash in Alaska, where he is forced to eat the remains of his friends to survive. Upon being rescued he becomes an instant celebrity. It is then that he inadvertently falls in with a secret society that has some rather unsavory secrets.

As I said above this story is a very easy read. It’s also light hearted with a dash of seriousness. It also shows a side of Pittsburgh that has nothing to do with the sports teams its known for and takes time to show people as they are rather than with their terrible towels. The characters are also believable and likeable. I highly recommend this book for a quick relaxing read. It’s a very enjoyable work and a great starting novel for the author, Dan Parme.

Cell by Stephen King

This is the first book I have read by Stephen King. This is for numerous reasons. As a person I find Mr. King rather immature. His essay on the disgusting act of violence that occurred in Conn. is proof of this. I found the essay to be a manifesto of hate against a group of people who merely disagree with Mr. King. This was a most unfortunate act on his part. I also found some of the topics of most of his books uninteresting to me personally. Carrie which I’m certain is a good book just didn’t appeal to me as a book I would enjoy. The same goes for his other works such as the The Stand and Tommyknockers. I must admit that Misery does sound like it would be a very comical book and I may work my way around to it one day. It should also be noted that I have found the miniseries based on his books good, but they left me with no real ambition to read the books they’re based upon. My significant other suggested Cell vehemently to me as I enjoy the Zombie genre immensely.

I’m going to be blunt; Cell  IS NOT a zombie novel. It may appear to be, but it is anything but. The zombie aspect can be easily misinterpreted by anyone and it’s easy to see why many people consider it to be such. In this story most everyone who has a cell phone is “infected” by something known only as The Pulse. The Pulse turns those subjected to it into temporarily animalistic killers, eventually known as phoners. This quickly brings society crashing down within a 24 hour span. We are left with a small group of people in Boston who decide to go north to Maine in order to find one of their own’s child. They eventually notice that the phoners are only active strictly during the day so they and other numerous groups of survivors travel solely at night. They also notice that the phoners are a part of a hive mind. After a few strange and sometimes scary encounters with the phoners the small group of survivors reach their destination. There they have a final, more climactic encounter with the the phoners that sets a new tone for the story in motion.

As I said before this is not a zombie book. The phoners aren’t zombies, they’re people being controlled by something against their will. It’s not a disease and it is exceptionally easy to kill them, no shot to the head is needed. They don’t feed on the living and when they die they stay dead. It was a alright book. You could at least tell that Mr. King tried hard. I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened and the characters were likable enough, although it must be noted that two of the characters are fairly young adults in their early teens and it was easy to forget this fact as they talked like college educated adults which was a bit unrealistic. Also, Cell is a good reminder to try new things even if you’re not that good at them, as Mr. King demonstrated here.