Audiobook Review: 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden

6 05 2013

Zombob2ZAM

2013 Zombie Awareness Month

21st Century Dead edited by Christopher Golden (Check out the Full Story Listing After the Review)

Read by Scott Brick, Cassandra Campbell, Bernadette Dunne, Paul Michael Garcia, Kirby Heyborne, Malcolm Hillgartner, Chris Patton, John Pruden, Renée Raudman, Stefan Rudnicki, Sean Runnette, Simon Vance, and Tom Weiner

Blackstone Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Zombie Anthology

Quick Thoughts: 21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. Some of the top tales come from new to me authors like Mark Morris and Amber Benson with a special shout out to Chelsea Cain. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts

Grade: B+

So, I was thinking about a good way to explain an excellent and diverse Zombie anthology, because I know the concept is so complex that it needs explaining, and the phrase that popped into my head was “Zombie Smorgasbord.” Oh, boy. When I was in high school, back in what some people refer to as “the 90’s” or what many of my fellow bloggers may call “before I was born” I worked for a now defunct Buffet restaurant. I started as a dishwasher, worked my way up to pots and eventually became a skilled line cook. I never made it out of the kitchen of course because, as my boss at the time explained it, “You have a face for back of the kitchen work.” Back then, I really wasn’t that into Zombie lit. It would be about another 12 years until I read Brian Keene’s The Rising and became a huge Zombie fan. Yet, it was about the time I was working my way through The Stand, and Swan Song for like the third time each, and I totally thought that working at this Buffet would give me a leg up when it came time to load up on supplies for that cross country apocalyptic road trip. So, where was I… oh yeah…? Zombie Smorgasbord. So, when this phrase popped into my mind, so too did wonderful variety of images. I pictured a bunch of Zombies shuffling past a serving table full of entrails, brains and a variety of limbs. I see a plainly decorated establishment where a zombie works the carving station, carving [insert grotesque image here]. I see stalls full of zombies available for the choosing, carefully managed by the FIFO system where the nastiest maggot infested zombies are at the front and the fresher, nearly human looking zombies are in the back. You see, this illustrates my point, a good Zombie anthology is full of a variety of awesome and disturbing, but mostly awesomely disturbing stories for our twisted flavorful brains.

21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology edited by Christopher Golden full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. This anthology is packed full of some of my favorite authors including Brian Keene, Jonathon Maberry and Thomas E. Sniegoski, some authors I have always wanted to read including SG Browne, Amber Benson and Duane Swierczynski and new to me authors that I must now check out like Ken Bruen, Mark Morris and Stephen Susco. So, now onto the stories. The anthology started out with an intriguing tale of a society adapting to a world with zombies called Biters by Mark Morris. It was a wonderful start to the anthology and put me in the right mind. Then it hit me in the head with a creepy and a bit sardonic poem by Chelsea Cain which, along with the performance of the narrator Cassandra Campbell was one of the highlights of this audiobook. Since there were about 20 tales in all, I won’t mention them all, but for there’s something here from all zombie fans. There are more traditional Zombie Outbreak tales like Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry, Couch Potato by Brian Keene and The Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen, some interesting twists on the undead like Devil Dust by Caitlin Kittredge, Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski and Tender as Teeth by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynsk, and some really bizarre tales like The Drop by Stephen Susco, Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson and Carousel by Orson Scott Card.  Sadly, not all the tales were winners. Two of bigger draws for this anthology, Kirt Sutter and Daniel H. Wilson were a bit of a disappointment. I thought Sutter’s tale was simply bizarre, and not in a good way, and while Wilson’s tale, which takes place in the world he created in Robopocalypse, started off well, it lost its way. Yet, most of these tales were a lot of fun. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts.

Like the author list, 21st Century Dead was a mix of narrators, many of whom I am familiar with, while others I have wanted to experience for a while. As I said earlier, Cassandra Campbell’s reading of “Why Mothers Let Their Babies Watch Television: A Just-So Horror Story” was delightful and my favorite moment along the way. Scott Brick’s reading of The Drop creeped me out, making a strange story just a bit stranger. It was nice to once again listen to Tom Weiner read a Jonathan Maberry tale. Really, this anthology was just full of excellent performances, including tales read by Chris Patton, Bernadette Dunne, Simon Vance and Paul Michael Garcia. It was a little interesting to hear Sean Runnette reading a non-Tufo Zombie tale, but the story was perfect for his sense of humor. The biggest kudos for this production must go to whoever cast the audiobook. Blackstone did an excellent job placing just the right narrator with the right story.

FULL STORY LISTING

Zombies are good for you: an introduction by Christopher Golden
Biters by Mark Morris
Why mothers let their babies watch television : a just-so horror story by Chelsea Cain
Carousel by Orson Scott Card
Reality bites by S.G. Browne
Drop by Stephen Susco
Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson
How we escaped our certain fate by Dan Chaon
Mother’s love by John McIlveen
Down and out in dead town by Simon R. Green
Devil dust by Caitlin Kittredge
Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen
All the comforts of home : a beacon story by John Skipp, Cody Goodfellow
Ghost dog & pup : stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Tic boom : a slice of love by Kurt Sutter
Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry
Tender as teeth by Stephanie Crawford, Duane Swierczynski
Couch potato by Brian Keene
Happy bird and other tales by Rio Youers
Parasite by Daniel H. Wilson

Note: Special Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Chimera by T. C. McCarthy

8 08 2012

Chimera by T. C. McCarthy (The Subterrene War, Book 3)

Read by John Pruden

Blackstone Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 57 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Chimera is gritty, uncomfortable science fiction at its best. McCarthy’s post Subterrene War world is both recognizable and unique, and his characters are just a bit too realistic to actually like. The true beauty of this novel is the way it pulls together all the elements of the world he has created in a truly unique fashion, and showing us very well what out future may be.

Grade B+

If you are anything like me, over the past few years you are beginning to feel series and trilogy fatigue. It seems every time you find a new interesting sounding book, you discover that it’s book 1 of the Elves of Cleveland series, or the start of The River of Fudge and Friendship trilogy. Quickly, a single interesting novel turns into a commitment, and, really, in this day and age, who isn’t a bit wary of commitment. They promise you a trilogy, but end up actually making it a 13 novel series with three spin off series and a Graphic Novel. Well, today I am going to explain to you why, despite it being a series, you should check out TC McCarthy’s Subterrene War series. Unlike most series where you follow the exploit of a few characters, in The Subterrene War series, McCarthy has created a brilliant and frightening near future world, told in three loosely connected stories taking place in this world. Any of the three novels can be read separately with its own self contained story within. All three novels are told from the perspective of a new character, examining McCarthy’s world from a different angle There are no unnecessary cliff hangers, or novels that keep building up to some big climax that just seems to be continually pushed back. Yet, all three novels fit together in such an intricate manner that it enhances his world piece by piece. It’s a wonderful exercise in world building and storytelling that very well should take its place among the classics of the genre. McCarthy does what many authors should strive to do, telling three brilliant stories that also manage to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The Subterrene War is over and Stan Resnick finds that home is no longer the place for him. His wife is pregnant with another man‘s child, and every day his privacy is invaded by the surveillance government, for his own good. . He only every feels right when he is out on missions, hunting down escaped Genetics soldiers and terminating them. When rumors of a new type of genetic soldier surface Resnick is tapped for the mission. It’s a mission he will complete, even if it means working with those he once hunted. While McCarthy may never be known for writing likable heroes, he once again, in Chimera, creates a compelling realistic portrayal of someone not so successfully bordering the edges of stability. In Stan Resnick, he may just have outdone himself. Resnick is simply a mess, a bubbling caldron of instability. All his connections to normalcy have been stripped away and his rage has made him into a tool for dealing death to the prey he considers less than human. Yet, what is fascinating about Chimera is that when things are the worst, when the situations are so unbelievably desolate is when you truly begin to understand Resnick’s character. Chaos is his element, where he excels, and his country has no qualms about using this to their advantage. While in many ways Stan Resnick is a monster, the true monstrous thing is just how scarily real McCarthy’s world feels. McCarthy’s post Subterrene War America is a dystopian setting that sort of sneaks up on you. You can find elements from many of the classics of the genre like We, 1984 and A Brave New World, yet updated for the unique issues and science of modern days. There is even the darkly humorous sloganeering that explains the degradation of rights by simply stating, “We don’t want to go back to those days” despite the fact that most can’t even remember what “those days” were. In all honestly, I don’t think I connected on the same level with Resnick as I did with the characters in Germline and Exogene. Yet, where this book probably excels from the others is the way he managed to tie all the elements of the first two books together. It’s done in such a unique and fascinating way that I just couldn’t help but be in awe. As a separate experience it somewhat pales to the first two novels, but it truly is the piece that pulls it all together. This is the exact kind of science fiction I love, realistic Earth based tales that serve as both great adventure and a cautionary look at what very well may come. Chimera is gritty, uncomfortable science fiction at its best. McCarthy’s post Subterrene War world is both recognizable and unique, and his characters are just a bit too realistic to actually like. The true beauty of this novel is the way it pulls together all the elements of the world he has created in a truly unique fashion, and showing us very well what out future may be.

After two amazing performances by Donald Curren and Bhani Turpin in the first two novels of this series, I was a little let down by the narration of Chimera. John Pruden did many things well. He handles a huge international cast, differentiating between characters and giving the majority of them authentic and well thought out voices. Yet, what didn’t work for me was his portrayal of Stan Resnick, and I think this may have affected my ability to connect with the character. Pruden read Resnick in a stilted, almost mechanical voice. His emotional resonance was at best muted. His reading would have been fine for a cold, emotionally stunted character, but I felt that Resnick was more of a man teetering on the edge, prone to emotionally inappropriate outbursts. I just never felt that boiling pot of angst and rage in Pruden’s reading. I wanted him to scream, shout and rage against his world, and instead, he simply just was. One of the major problems that came out of this was that, since the novel was told from Resnick’s perspective, the pacing of the action was just off. It felt more as if Resnick was recounting something that had occurred to him instead of something he was  actually living through. In the end, this was very well likely me, being an insatiable consumer of audiobooks, just wanting something a little more out of a narrator.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.