undead and unboundUndead & Unbound

review by David Anderson

“A Jolt of Life Injected into the Living Dead”

UNDEAD & UNBOUND is a newly released anthology from editing team Brian Sammons and David Conyers, who most recently brought out a different UNBOUND release, CTHULHU UNBOUND III.  The good news here, with this brand new release, is that it deals with the undead, something almost EVERYONE in our culture knows about.  The world of H.P. Lovecraft may be obscure to some, but who hasn’t watched a zombie show or movie?  Who hasn’t been entertained by trashy vampires (or meek sparkling ones)?  The theme for this anthology challenges those familiar tropes while giving fans of the genre a tantalizing bridge to lead them over to the UNBOUND side.

This editing duo has also worked together before as co-authors, and they again take up that mantle here.  This time they deliver an anthology, and tale, respectively, that redefines the way we look at and experience the ‘undead’.  That term is used loosely here, and I’m glad of it.  Some stories stretch the idea/concept a bit, ‘technically counting as undead stories’, but those tales also help provide a stunning variety, even though they aren’t straight forward undead.  Giving us a slew of different ideas and genres is what this book is about, and it delivers that in spades.

There are also tales that hit the undead nail on the head, fulfilling the ‘promise’ of the books concept.  The balance here is good enough that undead junkies will have their plates full, and it has JUST ENOUGH to make sure they leave full.  If there were one or two key stories missing, it’s hard to pin down which ones, but I have some ideas, the anthology might not have been that ‘home run’ that it is.  But it comes through in the end, and giftwraps some truly gruesome and amazing tales into one complete, cohesive ‘variety pack’.  There is something here for everyone, as story sure to please anyone may be found within.  With such a number of different tales to choose from, personal taste will dictate what one’s favorites would be, rather than overall quality.  EVERY story contained herein is written to a high standard, so it comes down to simply what your favorite type of monster is.

BLIND ITEM; Cody Goodfellow

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  How could I not like a Cody Goodfellow tale?  BLIND ITEM is an intriguing yarn about a tabloid photographer who follows a Lindsay Lohan type starlet (in the middle of a typical meltdown) and gets a lot more than he expected when trying to score some photos.  Not a typical ‘undead’ type story, in fact it was surprisingly ‘Lovecraftian’ in an interesting way. The prose was great (typical of Goodfellow) and it was an odd/unique way to start the anthology.  Cody Goodfellow is just the author to launch an anthology like this, good choice by the editors.

DEAD BABY KEYCHAIN BLUES; Gary McMahon

Individual Rating – 4 stars.  This is my first time reading McMahon’s work, and he’s quite a story teller.  A young boy, destined to someday become a famous guitar player and song writer, receives a strange gift from his Uncle (who has a tradition of giving the small boy creepy gifts) that ends up changing his and his family’s lives forever. The creature here reminds me of the voodoo doll from Tales from the Darkside, the classic anthology movie.  A solid story that falls just short of 5 stars for me.

A PERSONAL APOCALYPSE; Mercedes M. Yardly

Individual Rating – 4 stars.  Mercedes M. Yardly is also a new author to me.  This story started off a little slow to me, to be honest.  It’s about a world where the dead come back, but we live in harmony with them.  Much like the concept behind HBO’s TRUEBLOOD, part of the detail talks about ‘the rights of the undead’ and their quasi civil rights movement, so to speak.  For some reason, that formula never goes good for the ‘story’s universe’, this story or any other, and chaos ensues.  This is where the story picks up a bit as we see our main character morally grapple with ‘extermination squads’ that are being dispatched to purge the undead.  The sheer squeamish brutality at the tale’s finish raise it up past an average 3 stars, to 4 stars.

THE UNEXPECTED; Mark Allen Gunnels

Individual Rating – 4 stars.  Another new author, another tale with a slower start than others.  The story centers around a protagonist that dabbles in the ‘paranormal’ industry for work, although he has some disdain for it, having a kind of cynical but begrudgingly accepting attitude towards his psychic gifts.  His cousin shows up in the middle of the night, desperate to help his ailing common-law-wife, who he thinks is possessed.  After finally agreeing to help, they go and scope out the wife.  The ‘big twist’ is surely unique and original, although not the horror I was coming to expect in this anthology.  Still, big props go to the author for pulling off a whacky hit into right field.  Good enough to exceed the ‘average’ rating of 3 stars, if for nothing else, its ingenuity.

INCARNATE; David Dunwoody

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  I’ve been a fan of this author for quite some time, and he delivers a strange but good yarn here.  The protagonist is some kind of dimension and or time traveling being that wears a metal bird mask and is investigating a ‘spiritual plague’ happening in a remote town.  The prose is so well done that any of my small gripes with the story are outright erased and I’ll just go ahead and read whatever the author wants.  And in this case it is some very weird stuff.

MARIONETTES; Robert Neilson

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  This was a good story by another new author (for me).  It reminds me a bit of Jeffrey Thomas’ BLOOD SOCIETY, in that an undead, wealthy and powerful Vampire/Ghoul makes his mark on society.  After a man breaks into the ghoul’s house, he finds out he made a very big mistake.  I believe the story is mentioned in the intro, and for good reason – the end will have you squirming in your favorite reading chair.  Well done.

UNDEAD NIGHT OF THE UNDEADEST UNDEAD; C.J. Henderson

Individual Rating – 4 stars.  I was excited to see C.J. Henderson here, as he always seems to deliver good stories (which I suppose is why he’s a popular author).  Here the author delivers his usual solid prose and storytelling abilities, the narrative never skipped a beat and everything flowed so smooth.  I always had a clear picture of what was going on in the story, and the dialog was snappy.  It was a fun story, in which a supernatural TV producer tracks down the origins of an explosion of supernatural activity.  4 stars may seem like a harsh rating, but the light hearted nature and lack of ‘scares’ (which I’m looking for in an anthology like this) give it a small demotion.  I still enjoyed it, though, and that should be noted.

I AM LEGION; Robert Price

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  Huge Robert Price fan.  Just like with C.J. Henderson, I was delighted to see Mr. Price in the table of contents.  This story is a cool re-telling, or amendment, to the FRANKENSTEIN mythos.  With the big lug featured on the cover of the book, I was expecting him to emerge at some point.  This story definitely fulfills the promises of the book’s concept.

WHEN DARK THINGS SLEEP; Damien Walters Grintalis

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  Yet another new author, which is interesting, because I never seem to know what to expect.  Especially in this anthology.  This story was a unique twist on the standard concept of zombies/the undead and was terrifyingly effective.  Coming right off of Robert Price’s tale, I was surprised to get yet another story that ‘nailed’ what I view to be the concept of the anthology.  This was the ‘undead’ re-imagined.

DESCANSE EN PAZ; William Meikle

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  I’ve read Meikle before, although I don’t follow him exclusively.  He just always seems to pop up in anthologies I read, and for good reason.  Finally, more ‘creatures’!  This yarn is a really cool Skeleton Warrior story.  I love Harryhausen  style soldier creatures, and that’s what we get here.  As if that weren’t enough, there’s a cool angle!

THUNDER IN OLD KILPATRICK; Gustavo Bondoni

Individual Rating – 4 stars.  A Wight story!  Cool!  You never really hear all that much about Wights these days, so it’s good to hear from this undead demographic.  The story was serviceable enough with tight prose and a good sense of the time/historic location.  I thought the ending was a bit forced and abrupt, and even though it was cool it was forced and against the tone of the story.  I still give it a solid 4 stars though, just for the fact that the author pulled out a Wight!

PHALLUS INCARNATE; Glynn Owen Barrass

Individual Rating – 4 stars.  I’ve seen Glynn’s work all over the place, and have read him in quite a few anthologies.  He is certainly a master of his craft.  That being said, I personally didn’t care for this story all that much.  However, it is more due to my personal taste than anything else.  I didn’t care for the sexual aspects of the story, however it WAS well written and I have lots of friends that would really dig this.  This could easily be people’s favorite story in the book, should they like that kind of content.  I guess this reviewer is a prude.  Every time I started to enjoy it there was some awkward moment that didn’t work well (for Me).  The fact that it may appeal to others (reminds me a little bit of Bizarro style writing) warrants 4 stars.

WRECKERS; Tom Lynch

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  Haunted Ghost Ship Story!  Yet again, this anthology throws out something to keep me turning page after page.  Tom Lynch reminds me of Scott Thomas.  In this particular yarn he’s got his Ghost Knowledge on display as well as his Historical Chops, and the result is a professionally written tale of the highest order.  Really a fantastic piece, Tom knows his stuff.  This is definitely a unique tale, one you would only find in THIS anthology.

SCAVENGER; Oscar Rios

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  Wow, this story was really as chilling as it was effective.  I was horrified, yet laughed at the final line.  The author delivers to us here a tale about Ghouls, which I personally happen to like a lot.  Those little buggers are smarter than zombies, they have a bit more ‘supernatural’ to them, lending them a functioning brain.  Sure, they are undead, but in the same way an animated skeleton is – the laws of reality are suspended due to magical occurrences.  I think this is a damn good entry into this book.

IN THE HOUSE OF MILLIONS OF YEARS; John Goodrich

Individual Rating – 4 stars.  I’ve read John Goodrich plenty of times, and he’s good.  His story here is odd, but enjoyable.  I say odd because it is written as more of a historical drama, if that makes sense.  It’s not just a “mummy” story.  I’ll leave it at that.  Above average, but not the best the book has to offer.

ROMERO 2.0; Brian Sammons and David Conyers

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  When I got this book, I knew there was going to be a ‘zombies in space’ story.  Well, the thing about this anthology is that it takes what you think you’re going to get, and it turns it on its ear.  This book isn’t just UNBOUND, it’s also unconventional.  I think that’s important to realize, here, as I came into this anthology thinking it was going to be like the Cthulhu Unbound series (which Sammons and Conyers have been involved in) which it is not.  It doesn’t say “put zombies in the old west” or “Dracula in space”, no, this book has a different voice.  That is absolutely at play here with ROMERO 2.0, the most ‘against type’ zombie space tale ever.  Time and time again, this anthology delivers something odd, good but incredibly what you never would have expected.  I didn’t see this story coming.  It’s excellent, a very well written tale, and it deviates extremely far from the space zombie shoot out you may be expecting.  It reminds me of the film MOON, in that it examines the human condition, and takes place on a remote space station.  There isn’t a single weapon fired in this, and the zombies aren’t animated by some spreadable plague.  A good example of what this book is about.

MOTHER BLOOD; Scott David Aniolowski

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  This was a very atmospheric ‘detective’ type story that had a very nice set up.  Again, the word ‘atmospheric’ wants to pop out of my mouth because from the very beginning you get that gritty ‘cop set up’ going and if you like the kind of thing, it’s here in spades.  Scott David Aniolowski is an amazing writer and it shows here.

THE UNFORGIVING COURT; David Schembri

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  This author is new to me but I definitely dig this tale.  Anything that delves into history and can convince me that I’m seeing a true ‘window into the past’, like with the earlier story WRECKERS, I’m SO down for.  Here we get a story dealing with (in part) the Nazis and I can say that it isn’t a retread of past Nazi stories involving fantastic events.  Worthy to the collection.

NORTH OF THE ARTIC CIRCLE; Peter Rawlik

Individual Rating – 5 stars.  Mr. Peter Rawlik somehow manages to mash up Santa and Frankenstein in the closing story of this anthology.  It’s probably the shortest tale in the book, so I don’t want to get too much into the plot.  This story is smart and funny, while being “coyingly ghoulish” and giving the audience little winks.  It’s not a suspenseful thriller, but rather something along the lines of CABIN IN THE WOODS, as far as the tone (obviously not the setting).  We get grand, and funny revelations.

Overall, UNDEAD & UNBOUND is a fantastic collection.  The cover art by Paul Mundie is just absolutely fantastic, leaving me wondering if he crafted it for this wonderful anthology or they just got lucky.  The production values of the book are superb and the editing sound.  This book certainly had high aspirations and a lofty, complicated concept (stories in unusual setting PLUS new twists on the material) but Sammons and Conyers managed to field the stray hits and deliver a near perfect game.  There are enough 5 star tales to warrant an overall score reflective of that fact.

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