Cover and Interior Art from NOWA FANTASTYKA, Apr 2015

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Earlier this year, Polish SFF magazine NOWA FANTASTYKA translated and published my story, “Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance”. The cover is above (click on it to see a larger version). It’s my first translation and my first international publication; I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.

I don’t have the right to scan/post the entire story, but I did want to share this bit:

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That’s original art, drawn for my story, by Maciej Zaganczyk. It shows a disgruntled Mr. Liu chasing after the dog who stole his arm. It’s the impetus for the rest of the tale: this risen corpse, this bad dog. (And we can all agree, it was a very bad dog.)

“Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” was originally published at Red Penny Papers, in their Summer 2012 issue, and is no longer available to read online. However, you can still get it as a part of my short collection, Women and Other Constructs, here (including free downloads).

What I’ve Been Watching: The Everybody Dies Edition

I haven’t done a movie review post lately, so this list covers a couple of months of watching. These should all still be available to watch streaming on Netflix and other services. As always, my reviews are mainly about the writing; though of course a film with a great script can still be shot poorly, the writing shines through, while a poorly-written script will still be obvious no matter how much money is thrown into the production. (See below, World War Z.)

Starting with the best:

 

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HOW I LIVE NOW, 2013. Saorse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay. Director: Kevin MacDonald

5/5 stars.

Originally a novel by Meg Rosoff, published 2004 (winner: British Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the American Printz Award for young-adult literature). I haven’t read the novel but from what I can tell, the movie doesn’t diverge from it much, only cutting out scenes/people to get it down to a 1h41m runtime.

This is a beautiful, haunting, and — most importantly — organically logical story of a teenage girl who naively chooses to stay in England on the eve of a war rather than go home to her American father and stepmother, who’d sent her away in the first place. It’s the story of kids who are left stranded when their mom gets called away and isn’t able to return, who are separated, conscripted, and ultimately have to fight their way back to each other. It’s about making a family, making choices, taking risks, and doing so while the adults around them either ignore what they need or actively try to hurt them.

The kids can’t possibly make all of the right choices, even though for a moment it seems they’ll be okay in their country home, away from the mess of the world. That summer paradise is ripped away by the advancing army, and serves as a dreamlike reminder of the innocent joy they’ll never have again. Truly, they never will: some of the kids are killed, and the rest are changed forever. Daisy, the MC, isn’t nice or likeable to begin with, but neither is she cruel. She’s an unhappy teenager, simple as that. She grows over the course of the film, becoming a mother and protector, but the change isn’t capricious. She fails in a lot of ways as she learns to get the important things right.

There are consequences to everyone’s actions. The characters have motivation and agency and needs, and while displayed subtly, they’re also obvious in the context of the story. The director manages to keep the pace moving without rushing too fast or dragging behind. There are no montages; there is nothing shown outside of the Daisy’s experience, yet the story is complete and bursting with detail. It’s tight 3rd person, excellently scripted, and I highly recommend it as an example of how YA storytelling should be done. I normally avoid anything with teenage main characters because it doesn’t speak to my life now, and I don’t get terribly nostalgic for my own past since what I have now is so much better. But I’ve seen this twice now, and would watch it again, because it’s not about “teenagers”. It’s about real, textured, people who just happen to be kids.

Continue reading

You Should Read: Mira Grant’s DEADLINE

I have just finished reading the second in a series of zombie-novels by Mira Grant (or, depending on your perspective, a series of political novels that have zombies in them, or, alternatively, a series about cutting-edge journalism in a world were politics are just as nasty as ever and oh, by the way, there are zombies too). Following in the style of the first, DEADLINE has a mostly-reliable first person narrator, if you can accept his cracking sanity doesn’t interfere with his ability to do his job. Shaun Mason is a journalist, and brother to Georgia Mason, who was the narrator of the first book, FEED. If you’ve read the first you’ll recognize the same basic cast of characters, though individuals have been replaced. Occupational hazard. More importantly, if you haven’t read FEED yet, why not? Go, buy FEED, devour it, be shocked, be sad, be happy not to have zombie eating your brains, and come back when you’re done. Or, if you’d rather finish this review first and then go buy (and read) both books, that’s fine too, but take a moment to watch the official FEED/DEADLINE book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUXWlXK985U&feature=youtu.be. It explains some stuff. I’ll wait.

Ok then. Ready?

Ow, does this book have sharp edges. First, there’s the horrible thing at the end of the first book which Shaun is struggling to recover from. He’s failing pretty spectacularly, in case you were wondering. Then there’s the exciting knowledge that maybe things could have been done differently, which, btw, Grant? Yeah, that was mean. Brilliant, perfect for the story, and … hard to take. That the zombie situation suddenly gets worse isn’t helping the fact that once again, Shaun and his crew spend most of their waking hours trying to avoid the people who’re trying to murder them while simultaneously trying to crack open a news story that might just reveal enough to save the world. Grant moves into a slower arc with this book, allowing her characters to face a more certain kind of villain, and to endure fewer number of sudden shocks. This doesn’t mean she’s being nice to them, or going easy on you, because the shocks are still there, and when they do come, they’re massive. She remains an author I want to hug for being brave enough to do terrible (but necessary) things in the course of writing these novels. Also, I want to poke her with a pointed stick for the terrible but necessary things that she does, because, did I mention the ow?

BLACKOUT, the third in the series, isn’t due out til next year and I’ll have to wait, but with DEADLINE Grant has proven herself (again) a storyteller worth waiting for.

You Should Read: J. P. Moore’s TOOTHLESS

Summary: Toothless is an epic tale of war and redemption set in 12th century Europe. An ancient evil is on the march. An army of demons and undead rampages across the countryside, spreading death and destruction. Judgment has come. The world of the living teeters on the edge of ruin. One knight, a failed Templar, returns to the battlefield to avenge his wife and daughter. The dice are cast against him, and he is slain only to rise in service to the very evil that he hoped to destroy. He is a gifted minion. But life is not done with him yet. (From DragonMoon Press)

Toothless is the story of a zombie hero, if there can be such a thing, set in a medieval Europe devastated by the advance of a demonic army. Riding ahead of this unstoppable mass of death is a plague which strikes any living creature. Behind the plague comes the army of risen undead, pulled from the recently killed soldiers who died trying to defeat it. Toothless is told by an omniscient narrator who gives us the stories of two outcasts: Martin, the dead Templar who’s second life as a zombie with no lower jaw is the subject of most of the book, and Lil, the deformed psychic teen girl who just happens to be protected by the church.

Part of what I love about Moore’s work is that he took a story which, on its surface, seems a little ridiculous, and made it not only believable but gripping. His world is darker and gets darker still with the introduction of a main character that you slowly realize is never going to become a better person. Toothless is a monster. That he may also save world is beside the point. As an exploration of humanity, Toothless is terribly exciting because, freed from the living Martin’s responsibilities, he devolves into a creature who does remarkably bad things, over and over again. At some point the not-yet-dead around him realize his potential as a saviour, and rally around him on his journey to defeat the source of the desolation, but that doesn’t make Toothless a good guy. He still kills, still thrives on the blood and energy he’s washed in with the death of every victim, and is still an unabashed drunk.

He simply aims his talent for murder in the direction of the bad guys for a while.

Moore’s book, which began life as a podcast, is not cheerful, and only barely hopeful. It exists in an alternate history of our own Earth, in a dark age we very nearly can’t climb out of.

I loved reading this book.

I am, admittedly, a zombie fangirl, and I’m always on the lookout for new takes on the decreasingly-original theme. J.P. Moore’s Toothless is startlingly original, with a breadth and depth unusual in a zombie novel, but one that only adds to the feeling of withering melancholy which rises up from this story the way Martin rose up and became Toothless.

Toothless is due out October 31, 2010.

J.P. Moore is @jpmoo on twitter, and the cover artist Scott Purdy is @scottpurdy on twitter

 

You Should Read: Roger Ma’s THE ZOMBIE COMBAT MANUAL

Synopsis: With over 300 pages and 90+ illustrations of zombie anatomy, weapons, and combat techniques, The Zombie Combat Manual is your go-to guide for fending off mobs of revenants in hand-to-hand combat. (From The Zombie Combat Club)

It’s safe to say that I love zombie books. Movies, I’m not always a fan of, because I prefer my horror to be suspenseful instead of gory, and most zombie flicks seem to think they can cover gaping plot holes with a pile of torn off limbs. Books, on the other hand, don’t usually have the option of typing [INSERT FLESH RENDING HERE] over and over again. There has to be plot, description, and character development, even if it isn’t very good. Zombies as a genre has become mainstream enough to include things like zombie poetry, graphic novels, adaptations from historical literature, religious thought, and cook books.

So I was pleased to see a book which promised to be both zombie-related and actually useful. Roger Ma foresaw the comparisons to Max Brook’s Zombie Survival Guide and swerved around them by focusing on the human body itself. It doesn’t assume that you have access to a variety of guns, swords, or other military weapons – in fact, among those it does list are notes as to how realistic it would be to assume that you could find one. It also handily points out the destructive power and flaws of the everyday items you might have at hand, saving you from making a risky attempt to get past a shambling horde for something like a chef’s knife, which would actually require a “very high” amount of skill to use. Make sure to take note of the lifespan of the items as well – it doesn’t do you any good to rely on something sharp and dangerous which will certainly break after the second time you use it to bash in a head.

If the undead apocalypse does come, there will probably be more than two zombies in it.

One of my favorite sections was Ma’s discussion on combatant body types. He gives the pros and cons for three kinds of zombie fighters (based on the tradition of diagnosing people as eco, edo, or mesomorphs), and follows it up with workout routines which can get you into fighting shape. His “Zombie Basic Fitness Circuit” can be done in a small room with nothing but your own body required. His “Combat Exercises” only require an old tire and a tree (to swing a small axe against). Even better, Ma gives you a reason for each of the exercises he recommends, showing how jumping jacks can save you from a broken ankle, and your deltoids are necessary for thrusting swords or spears.

I would recommend this to any serious zombie fan looking to expand their book collection, writers who want to add an authentic voice to their tales of the undead, or people hoping to spice up their workouts by envisioning themselves preparing for the next zombie war.

Roger Ma, The Zombie Combat Manual, Berkeley Press. 2010. Illustrations by Y.N. Heller. 300 pages. ISBN 0425232549