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.

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Audiobook Review: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

15 04 2013

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Read by Renee Raudman

Tantor Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Gunmetal Magic managed to defy my expectations. Despite some issues with the romantic storyline, it was a fast, fun urban fantasy tale full of some badass action, crazed death cults, angry old gods and enough dark humor and likable characters to keep me smiling for most of the listen.

Grade: B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

If you have been following along with my Armchair Audies travels, you will know that I have completed the Fantasy Category and have most of the Science Fiction Category done before the announcements were every made. So we are moving on to probably the most confusing, strange and at times, problematic categories of the lot, Paranormal. With the Fantasy and Science Fiction Categories, there is for the most part, a thematic shared element to the books chose, yet, Paranormal is such an ill defined category that it offers its own slew of problems. The category has 5 nominees, two of which I had already listened to, leaving three strange bedfellows. We have one nominee that is the 12th and final  book of a series I had never even considered reading, one novel about zombies, which let’s face it, is right in my wheelhouse, and finally, what I guess seems like the odd duck of the group, Gunmetal Magic. I have to admit I came into my listening of Gunmetal Magic with a lot of preconceived notions. You see, I have really been surprised by the lack of Paranormal Romance titles in the Paranormal Category, and I’ll be honest, when I read the book was about shape shifters, that the plot involved some troubled romance with some hunky were-something or other and was written by a woman, I made an assumption that this would be a Paranormal Romance title. This of course concerned me for a few reasons. I have nothing against Paranormal Romance, but many of my readers know about my history with sexy dragons. I have documented my personal issues sex in audiobooks and with romance on a few occasions, and simply put, I have a hard time connecting with Romantic plots and with novels where romance is the driving force of the novel. Yet, I was assured by some who I trust that this is an Urban Fantasy, with some romantic elements on line with most novels within the genre, and a hot and heavy animal shifting sex romp where our characters frolic and fornicate, only briefly stopping to handle some sort of plot related issue. Of course, there is still like kissing, and maybe some light petting so I was still wary.

Gunmetal Magic is a standalone spin off novel of Ilona Andrews’ popular Kate Daniels Urban Fantasy Series, which focuses on Kate Daniel’s Best Friend Andrea Nash. It takes place in a world where Magic has reappeared, often to nearly apocalyptic results, changing the world’s landscape, reawakening gods and altering many of its inhabitants. Andrea is a Shape-Shifter, a hyena beast-kin who never feels at homes in either the human or shifter worlds. When she is called to investigate a vicious murder that takes place at her sort of Ex-Boyfriend, the Alpha of the local were-hyena pack, job site, she finds her struggles to remain independent of pack increasingly difficult.  I have to say, I enjoyed Gunmetal Magic more than I thought I would It was a fast, fun urban fantasy tale full of some badass action, crazed death cults, angry old gods and enough dark humor and likable characters to keep me smiling for most of the listen. This is, of course, except for the parts that made me want to bang my head repeatedly against the wall to bash out the bad feelings saturating my soul. I found the world Andrews has created to be fascinating. As someone new to the series, it took me a bit to get my head around the changed world, and I wish there were a few more details about it, but since this was an established world, Andrews does a good job of providing just the right amount of information, without going into expositional overload for her returning customers.  I really enjoyed Andrea Nash as the main character. She was the right blend of troubled past, flawed personality, quirky sense of humor and take no shit badassery. My favorite parts of the novel had to be the deepening of her back story, and her internal and political struggles to find her place in the world. Andrews did a great job developing this character, and filling her story in with a bunch of quirky and interesting characters. I thought the overall plot well realized involving a decent investigational process, some cool fight scenes, and an overall mythology which although at times seemed a bit overly complicated, played nicely on the themes of the oblivion of the old gods. Where the novel bogged down, at times for significant portions, was the romantic elements. Simply put, I hated the romantic lead. Hated him with a fury I usually reserve for Martin Short movies and internet news story commenters. He was everything I hate about male romantic leads, the ultimate hunky alpha male, who is a huge arrogant controlling asshole who gets angry when the smart women he loves has a mind of her own, and doesn’t betray all her other relationships because her big manly man wants her to. Oh, but it’s all good, because they have chemistry, he looks really hot, and has enough money to buy her an expensive gift. That totally makes up for his treating her like property. Sure, part of his personality comes from the shape shifting pack mentality nature of his character, and I can see why many readers would like the dangerous brooding asswipe, but I simply wished a fiery death upon him and his essence he wiped from the annals of history so I never had to think of him again. Yeah, he was a bit of a douche. Yet, remove this total jackass from the mix, and I would have had a relatively frustration free, bordering on joyful experience with Gunmetal Magic.

This is my first experience with Renee Raudman outside of her work in a zombie anthology I listened to earlier this year. I found her performance in Gunmetal Magic quite interesting. There were times I felt she had the typical sexy sly delivery that you find in many urban fantasies that center around 20 something females. She infuses her characters with enough southern charm, where appropriate. At times though, her voice had something more to it, a sort of strange slur, that was unique and intriguing and gave the narration an interesting flavor. She managed to make Andrea’s Texas charms sound almost exotic. Her voice really stood out for me, separating her from the typical and making my listening experience that much better.  She also managed to convey the slow delineate manner of Andrea’s thought process, while still giving the action the rapid fire pacing it needed. All together, it’s clear to see why this title was nominated for an Audie based on Raudman’s excellent performance.