Reviewed by Elaine Lamkin
Written by Eric S. Brown
Distributed by Permuted Press
I was beginning to get nervous of late, with all of these … vampires … seemingly taking over film, literature, television. Not that I have a problem with vampires (I love “True Blood”) – I was just vampired-out with most of them (thanks for that goes mainly to Anne Rice and her increasingly boring, over-the-top writing AND Stephenie Meyer’s nauseating teen killers. Man, when Stephen King calls your writing bad, I would find another occupation!). Just prior to the “vampirization” of the US, though, zombies seemed to be beating the bloodsuckers handily: Max Brooks’ World War Z, the many anthologies from Cemetery Dance, Delirium Books and my favorite, Permuted Press. And with Permuted Press refusing to bow to the pressure of publishing vampire novels (stay strong, Jacob!!), I know there will be many more zombie novels and anthologies coming. The publishing house’s tagline is “Enjoy the Apocalypse” and I certainly am.
Eric S. Brown, the author of the five short stories in the recent publication Season of Rot, is considered by many of his horror brethren to be THE go-to guy for all things zombie. Jonathan Maberry even brought him on-board as a zombie expert in Maberry’s must-have Zombie CSU – where Maberry spells out just how “easily” a “zombie” infestation could occur. Some scary stuff. So when I received a copy of Season of Rot, I was excited. One of the stories in the collection, “The Queen”, is a more fleshed-out (no pun intended) version of a short novella Brown had written in 2006 and I had in my library. Survivors taking refuge on a ship but knowing they have to make land occasionally for supplies. Creepy idea right there. But Brown’s zombies aren’t always what the “Official Zombie Handbook” calls for. Sure, there are the Romero Shamblers and the Snyder Sprinters, but for the poor folk aboard “The Queen”, there are also smart zombies. Zombies who can sail their own boats, ships, what-have-you. That’s an image you never want to see – an aircraft carrier full of zombies and being captained by zombies heading your way.
The other stories in Season of Rot vary in “scariness”. I must confess that I didn’t “get” the titular story. I just remember thinking that the stranger who shows up to help the survivors who are holed up in a hospital reminded me just a little too much of Bishop, Lance Henriksen’s character in Aliens. Perhaps a re-read would clear things up. “The Queen”, already mentioned, is the second in the collection. I really enjoyed the third entry, “The Wave”. This is a mean, scary story with one of the best “fuck you!” endings I’ve read in quite some time. An energy wave has hit the Earth, causing a total breakdown in all communication as well as messing with human brain waves so that nearly everyone becomes bloodthirsty creatures – much like the sufferers of the “rage virus” in 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. I dare you to finish this story without your jaw hitting the floor.
“Dead West” is the fourth entry, and it left me a little … unimpressed. Set right after the Civil War, a reporter from Harper’s magazine is “embedded” with a bunch of soldiers who are trying to fight a wave of zombies who are … eating … their way East. As if the US didn’t have enough problems after the Civil War ended: Lincoln assassinated, Quantrill’s Raiders wreaking havoc in Missouri, freed slaves, and carpetbaggers and now freakin’ zombies. I just didn’t get much from this story – perhaps if it were expanded into a book, I might be more impressed. There was just not enough space to really help me get to know these characters or get a feel for the time period they were in. It was just more scenes of carnage, guts, and a quick lesson on guns of the mid-1800s. Maybe Brown could co-write the next classic-with-zombies book: Gone with the Wind and Zombies. I would certainly read THAT!
The last story … I’m still trying to figure out where Brown was trying to take this. The title, “Rats”, definitely has a cringe alert to it – rats working with the zombies to consume everything. But then there was this … I don’t know … demonic element that intruded, and I thought it was completely unnecessary and rather ludicrous. Zombies and rats and an abandoned underground government complex would have sufficed as far as creepy and gruesome go. But Brown added these “King Rats” (aka “demons”) as well as some international subterfuge on the part of one of the survivors, and I just had to roll my eyes. “Rats” just did not work for me.
I suppose two out of five isn’t terrible – and I could actually say 2 1/2 out of 5, as “Dead West” was original. Just needed to be longer. On the whole, I really enjoyed Season of Rot and would recommend it to zombie fans as a worthy addition to their libraries. The stories I didn’t “get” many others may love. But Brown IS a zombie author with some serious chops, and I look forward to much more from him.
3 out of 5
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