Flash Fiction: Hunger and Socks

A lot of my flash fiction is stored on a tumblr blog. I fell out of the habit of using tumblr before they started censoring my fun but sometimes head over there to scroll through my old posts. There are nearly 50 slices of story there, many of them ideas for something greater.

I’ve been transplanting my favourites here and I was surprised to note that neither of these two had made it over yet. I love these stories. “Hunger” because it’s creepy and didn’t start out that way. The idea in my head when I first looked at the picture disappeared as soon as I started to write, the story below happening instead. “Socks” is me at my sentinmental best.

Continue reading “Flash Fiction: Hunger and Socks”

Parenting in the Time of Zombies 

I recently finished playing The Last of Us. A writer friend, Mason Thomas, recommended the game to me. Being that we’ve had similar emotional reactions to a number of other games, I suspected I was in for a trip through the “ringer.” I wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t the trip I expected, however. I’ve played a number of BioWare games, so I figured I had the experience of moral ambiguity. Not so much. The Last of Us takes the player on a very different journey and it’s very, very dark.

***I’m not going to give away the ending here, but I will warn you that in my defense of Joel and the decisions he makes throughout his journey, I may step into spoiler territory, so read on at your own risk.*** Continue reading “Parenting in the Time of Zombies “

Review: Morningside Fall (Legends of the Dustwalker, #2) by Jay Posey

Morningside Fall (Legends of the Duskwalker #2)

At the end of Jay Posey’s debut Three, the first book in ‘The Legends Of The Dustwalker’, I got the impression the titular character, Three, couldn’t possibly be the dustwalker of legend, which both surprised and saddened. He was a compelling figure and the entire plot hinged upon his actions. Three embodied the role of the brooding loner who repelled all comers with one of a variety of weapons, mental and physical. Cass and her son, Wren, got under his shell, however, and together, they completed a journey across the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Posey’s imagination. The interwoven plot threads led to an exciting conclusion that simultaneously unravelled and deepened every character involved.

Then something unexpected happened. I’m not going to elaborate here, as that would spoil the book for new readers. Suffice to say, Three does not head the cast of ‘Morningside Fall’ and that is pretty much the major problem with the book.

Once again, Cass and Wren are compelled to journey across the wasteland between sanctuaries. Tension is running high in Morningside. The residents are not happy about the influx of people from beyond the wall and the reawakened Weir returned from a zombie-like state to almost human. There is also a plot afoot in Morningside to wrest power from the new young governor. After attempts on his life, Wren gathers those still loyal to him and sets off to find a safe place to hide. His mother, Cass, meets them on the road.

This time, the Weir are smarter and weirder. They’re coordinated and more vicious than before. They have also acquired chant, the meaning of which saves this book from mediocrity. In the last quarter, we finally ‘meet’, properly, the blindfolded figure from the front cover, and learn who is organising the Weir. From that point, the battle is on.

Not that there isn’t enough hack and slash in ‘Morningside Fall’. There is. It’s the stuff in between that is lacking. A lot of Cass and Wren reassuring one another, which, I’m sorry, got old after the first fifty pages, and I’m a mother. I think what their relationship highlights is the fact Wren is young. Too young to be governor of Morningside, regardless of what power he holds. He’s a kid and while post-apocalyptic settings are great for robbing childhoods, Wren still felt too much like a lost child to really lead the book.

I wanted Three or his replacement. I wanted the guy in the blindfold from the front cover. Until the last quarter, the book lacks the leadership of a compelling character, one that I could probably empathise with.

Still, the concluding pages of ‘Morningside Fall’ are pretty epic and set up the next chapter very well. It’s just a pity it took so long to get there. Despite my disappointment in this book, I will be reading on. Posey has constructed a really unique world, one that steps to the side of the usual zombie tropes and provides an apocalypse that’s at once unfathomable, but also believable. That’s no mean feat.

Written for SFcrowsnest.

 

Review: The Remaining by D.J. Molles

The Remaining (The Remaining, #1)

The Remaining isn’t just another zombie apocalypse novel. Actually, it is, but author D.J. Molles has tweaked his re-telling of a fate worse than death enough to make it fresh. I just read that sentence over. Really, there’s nothing fresh about a zombie apocalypse. Zombies are disgusting. Two distinct facts separate this story from the rest, however.

First of all, the time-frame is very compressed. After meeting Captain Lee Harden and covering a quiet month in his bunker, where we learn the how and the why of the apocalypse and his mission, Molles pushes the fast forward button. The greater part of the book, the ACTION, spans about three terrifying and tense days.

Debating with his conscience, Lee leaves the bunker a few days earlier than his detailed instructions dictate. From the minute he steps outside his front door, what can go wrong does go wrong. That’s the second difference. There are no cosy campfire scenes in this novel. Little reminiscence regarding what was. There is no spark of attraction between two world-weary survivors. Lee does begin to collect a merry band, but he’s missing several integral ‘types’. There’s no ex-con, no slut and no gun crazy guy or girl who constantly threatens everyone else’s safety.

There are marauding bands of hooligans with guns, however, and gobs and gobs of zombies. (Is there a collective pronoun for zombies?) The world outside Lee’s bunker is also suitably apocalyptic. In other words, the setting is just right.

Given more than three days to cope with the end of the world, Lee might have managed a passable cast of characters. I, for one, am glad he did not. With furious zombies battering at every door, the story had enough tension. Palpable tension! I ripped through the pages at a furious pace and finished the book in a single day.

Folks who read my reviews regularly know I love a good apocalypse. So, I enjoyed this book. I loved the pace and quite liked Captain Lee Harden. He’s a well-constructed character. He’s a soldier, through and through, and far from being an emotionless git. I felt his balance of rational thought and emotional involvement was just right. He spared a thought for the fate of the world and for those he cared about, but continued to put his mission first, even when it meant sacrificing himself. Very noble of him, I’d say. Without the recrimination and doubt, he’d have been a bit unreal. Instead, he’s just a guy, one specially chosen by the United States government for a very special task, one brought to life by Molles. My only complaint concerns the ending, which, like all the things that go wrong, I am not going to give away, suffice to say, it’s not an ending at all. It’s a cliff-hanger of the most bald variety. Nothing to cling to AT ALL!

‘The Remaining’ caught me up and carried me along well enough that I would have picked up the next book anyway. I want to continue adventuring with Lee. Still, I don’t like being told what to do and tend to take a dim view of books that don’t give me a whole story. Feels like an upsell. If I’d wanted fries with my order, I’d have ordered the damned fries to begin with. Actually, I kinda needed fries with this order. But while I think ‘The Remaining’ could have had a more satisfying conclusion, hinting at or even serving up the next adventure, I will read on. This wasn’t just another zombie apocalypse novel. It’s a well written, taut adventure novel with characters that definitely make a mark.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: To Sail a Darkling Sea

In ‘ To Sail a Darkling Sea’, the sequel to ‘Under a Graveyard Sky’, the Smith family continues doing what they do best: killing the infected and reclaiming the world, piece by bloody, zombie-ridden piece. As they recover ships and rescue survivors of the plague, Wolf Squadron becomes something more than a rag tag fleet of vessels. It becomes a machine (not well-oiled) representing the blood, sweat and tears required to raise a civilisation from the ground up. Or, in this case, from the ocean.

Stripped back, this book is about logistics and in that respect, it’s a fantastic read. The aftermath of any apocalypse is likely to be messy. Zombie apocalypses in particular. Dead or undead, zombies have atrocious manners and little respect for personal hygiene. Any space left in their care is soon going to stink. They don’t mind, but the survivors do…and not just because of the smell. Unsightly messes aside, rotting bodies will breed new and wonderful diseases. It would be a shame to survive one apocalypse only to succumb to the next super bug.

Steven John “Wolf” Smith already ran a tight ship (nautical cliches are a must for this one). He and his family – wife Stacey and daughters Faith and Sophia – began clearing ships and rescuing people just two weeks after disaster struck. But as the contingent grows, so does the need for order, and this is where ‘To Sail a Darkling Sea’ excels. The details. John Ringo covers everything from likely conditions for survival, for both the infected and the uninfected, patterns of behaviour, transition to the world after, and finding a job and a purpose within in the fleet. He examines politics and government, which are two entirely different things, economy and order, how to mesh civilian and military discipline, and how to raise children in a world that is not their own.

There is also the matter of the disease that caused the problems in the first place. There are plans for a cure, but plans take plans and those plans take plans. The world isn’t going to save itself and organising more than four people can be like herding cats. Hence the introduction of military discipline.

I reveled in these details, particularly the careful instruction of guns and ammo with a meticulous breakdown of damage per weight – how many zombies they can kill with the ammo they are carrying. In a video game, the value of a weapon (and ammo) is generally determined by a DPS (damage per second) ratio as compared to what you are killing. It’s the same principle, and the discussion of ammunition types is also fascinating. I’m a writer (and some time housewife). I don’t own a gun. But I’ve been killing stuff for thirty odd years on my computer. I know the differences between 5.56mm and 12 gauge and in the face of a zombie apocalypse, I’d be kissing a box of 12 gauge.

The structure of Wolf Squadron is fascinating. A place must be found for everyone they rescue. A fighting force needs support staff; cooks, cleaners, administrators and caregivers. The list is endless. Someone has to print up ration chits. Someone has to design them. They need mechanics and engineers. Mariners and pilots. I found it amusing that they had a surplus of solicitors.

The scale of the disaster is represented well, as are the problems of the reemergent civilisation. The military action is superlative. The zombie killing and clearing scenes are gripping. So, what’s the problem with this book? The women. In particular, Faith and Sophia, ‘Shewolf’ and ‘Seawolf’. The daughters of Steven Smith. They’re thirteen and fifteen, respectively, and they are BADASS.

I had a lot of difficulty suspending disbelief here. I tried. I tried really hard. I more of a problem with Faith. As a caricature, she’s kind of funny, but the author’s love for her comes across as sycophantic at times. It made me uneasy. Faith is an idea, not a person. She does make for an entertaining read; I had images of ‘Lollipop Chainsaw‘ in my head; young girls swearing and swinging weapons around, barely bothered by the gore splashing back at them. There is a playlist for every action and Faith could fire and reload in time to the music, whilst dancing. Neither Faith nor Sophia get seriously injured, however. Even after being ‘dogpiled’ by zombies. They handle the death of comrades and the aftermath of the apocalypse with grit and determination. They gain the respect of every man, even those more than four times their age. They are inducted as marines, without training and given rank, command and medals.

That their father let them carry on the way they did bothered me. He did respond to some of their antics with a combined father/commander talk, but then he turned around to smack down anyone who crossed his daughters’ paths. That their mother apparently had no say bothered me more. Stacey Smith is conspicuously absent from this book. I understand she will get a chapter of her own in the print version. I doubt she will be upbraiding her daughters for their unruly behaviour, from flirting with men twice their age, swanning around in bikinis, drinking at thirteen and swearing like the proverbial sailors.

It’s the end of the world and the old rules don’t apply, obviously. But with Steve Smith paying so much attention to the other aspects of rebuilding a civilisation, I would think he’d be more protective of his children. Of their reputation and well-being, at least. If not their psyche.

In general, women are not flattered by this novel. I’m not a rampant feminist and I did appreciate the author’s attempt, at times, to blur the line between the sexes, to insist women could be as BADASS as men. But did they have to wear bikinis while doing so? Did they have to enjoy having sex with four different men whilst being trapped in compartments for six months awaiting rescue? I think a lot of men would find these passages unflattering as well, as they indicate a guy can’t keep it in his pants (or in hand) for more than a couple of weeks.

Then there is the container of Paris-original dresses that Faith nearly sacrifices her unit for, because she needs something to wear to the Marine Corps ball. She’ll never get to prom, poor thing, because, you know, zombie apocalypse.

Stepping back, I can say ‘this is a story’ and leave it at that. It’s the author’s interpretation of events. His world, his rules. As a writer, I can appreciate that. But as a reader, I find it hard to enjoy a book that is constantly poking my more delicate sensibilities. Not sure, yet, if I am likely to read forward. There is a plan in place to reclaim the world and kick start our civilisation. I would like to see what happens next and I can hope John Ringo has a plan to mature the girls. But will I like it? Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

(Featured image taken from the original painting by KMI Studio, LLC)