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Jul
23

The Dover Demon – Book Review

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the-dover-demonThe Dover Demon
Hunter Shea
Samhain Publishing
September 1, 2015
Reviewed by Tim Potter

Hunter Shea is one of the most consistent and versatile writers of horror fiction working today. His latest release from Samhain Horror, The Dover Demon, does nothing but prove how good he can be. It is horror from cover to cover with themes of paranoia, conspiracy, creatures, science fiction and mythology that spans from ancient archaeological sites to the vastness of space. With great characters and a great take on UFOlogy and cryptids, this novel is sure to please.

The characters in The Dover Demon are what drives the story. The plot is sharp and entertaining, but it’s the investment in the characters and their fates that really keep things moving. Kelly Weathers is introduced first and comes across as a single 50-something woman struggling, and generally failing, with a serious alcohol problem. She morphs through the story from a paranoid, pitiful drunk to someone with a real past and future potential if she can defeat her demons.

Sam Brogna is the character through which the novel introduces the mythology of the Dover Demon. His comic book shop sells Demon-related merchandise to the tourist and cryptid hunter crowd, and is the one place where the definitive book on the Demon, Dover Demon: Nights of Terror, can be purchased. Along with his best friend since high school Tank, and Tank’s wife Steph, Sam turns out to know much more about the events of 1977, when the Dover Demon was seen, than anyone realized.

When the characters are forced to come to terms with their pasts and the realities of those 1977 events, it’s to save Sam’s son Nicky and his friend (and unrequited crush) Christine. Nicky is a great character, a 17 year old dealing with his parents’ separation, falling for his best friend’s younger sister and a blossoming interest in the Demon. He and Christine fall into the realm of the Dover Demon and it’s through their captivity and attempted rescue that the reader learns the truth about what the Dover Demon really was. And is.

The books only real problem comes into play during the final confrontation between the Demon and the heroes. The explanation of the history and plans of the Dover Demon is quite long-winded and far more detailed that the story calls for. Leaving some questions unanswered would have served the conclusion better. That said, Shea follows the climax with an epilogue that is both unexpected and satisfying. A few slow pages are not enough to keep this from being an excellent horror novel and a strong standout in the UFO and cryptid subgenres.

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his-own-mad-demons-david-a-rileyHis Own Mad Demons
David A. Riley
Parallel Universe Publications
April 13th, 2015
Reviewed by Marvin P. Vernon

The central theme of the five stories in David A. Riley‘s original collection titled His Own Mad Demons is of the occult and demonology. Some of them take place around a British pub called The Potter’s Wheel and near an area named Grudge’s End. I have always liked that move when the author place their tales around a region whether it is real or fictitious. It gives it color and a continuity that helps create an aura of familiarity once you have the “feel” of the area in your head. And as is often with writers of fantasy and horror, they usually drop you in a place you would not necessarily want to visit and most certainly not spend the night.

I like Riley’s style. It is a little old fashioned and sort of Twilight Zone in character; putting ordinary people in supernatural situations that will tax their beliefs and challenge their will to live.

The title story is typical. It involves a couple of low level crooks doing a job that turns bad and quickly takes an occult turn in what first seems like a standard crime tale. It has a nice twist at the end and a satisfying shudder-inducing climax.

The second story titled “Lock-In” has a nice otherworldly feel, as regulars of The Potter’s Wheel become isolated for days in the pub, unable to leave into a pitch black darkness that dissolves them like acid if touched. This one has some nice shades of Hodgson and Machen to it but is still thoroughly modern.

“The Fragile Mask on His Face” also takes place around The Potter’s Wheel but is the weakest of the five. It involves a missing girl and doesn’t really go beyond the creepy occult killer (or is it something else?) stage.

The last two, “The True Spirit” and “The Worst of All Possible Places,” are the strongest pieces of fiction in the collection. They seem to speak to the writer’s strength of creating a believable fictional region with a mysterious past that includes an evil event and creating characters that will be believably tossed into the chaos. I enjoyed both of these stories but “The True Spirit” really left me in the mood to discover more about the strange town called Grudge’s End.

All of the stories kept my interest and all gave me a satisfying chill at the end. For this type of tale you really cannot ask for much else. They are the epitome of a “brief scare” and the occult horror story. Overall, it is a recommended “keep the lights on while reading” experience.

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Jul
21

Hannahwhere – Book Review

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hannahwhere-john-mcilveenHannahwhere
John McIlveen
Crossroads Press
June 27th, 2015
Reviewed by Alex Scully

John M. McIlveen’s latest novel, Hannahwhere, is a complex, haunting tale that straddles that fine line between the real and the supernatural. Social worker Debbie Gillan finds herself drawn to a child found abandoned and tossed in the street. As she’s lured further and further into Hannah’s strange existence, she discovers that the thin veil of reality is slowly slipping away. How much of this new “reality” is real? Will the truths revealed bring salvation or destruction?

McIlveen keenly draws a razor’s edge of “real” throughout Hannahwhere. The reader is initially immersed in the dark reality of the Amiel twins. Neglect and the inevitable violence that ensues are the norm for these little girls. They spend their days trying to “stay clear” of their mother’s boyfriend during his “getting ugly” periods. McIlveen skillfully paints a brutal picture without resorting to cheap violence. As the novel progresses, however, you feel the ground slipping away under your feet. The “real” becomes slightly “unreal” until you find yourself questioning everything. McIlveen has found that elusive balance that makes Gothic dark fiction so alluring.

The paranormal elements in Hannahwhere are blended wonderfully into a story of pain, abuse, and, in the end, hope. It’s easy to let the supernatural overtake a narrative and spin so far out that the story loses cohesion. McIlveen maintains a tight control over the plot, giving us a multi-layered, thematic tale. There are challenging issues here. Without giving away the ending, McIlveen explores the themes of revenge, family, and exploitation with complexity and depth. John M. McIlveen’s Hannahwhere is captivating and compelling. Highly recommended.

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snuafu-survival-of-the-fittestSNAFU: Survival of the Fittest
Edited by Amanda J. Spedding and Geoff Brown
Cohesion Press
August 21st, 2015
Reviewed by J.R. Jackson

This anthology is composed of military-themed paranormal, science fiction and horror short stories. With that in mind, let’s begin.

“Badlands” by SD Perry starts us off with a story set during the Korean War. For some of us that means Hawkeye, Radar, Klinger and the rest of the 4077th MASH unit. That is not the case here. What Perry has done is take an Asian folklore story and place it into a relative contemporary setting. US soldiers fighting in Korea and now fighting some kind of jumping zombie-like creature. For me, this was an excellent story as it developed the characters and was able to place the reader right there inside the situation as it unfolded.

The second story, “Of Storms and Flame,” is set during the time of the Vikings. If you’re a fan of the series Vikings this one hits home. The little insights into language, relationships and heritage that is interspersed within this story is truly amazing. Lots of combat with melee weapons against the Lindvurm. Awesome is all I can say about this one.

The third story by Alan Baxter, “In Vaulted Halls Entombed,” is set more in present day. A small unit is tracking insurgents in the caves of Afghanistan when they encounter something they didn’t expect. This story reminded me a little of the films The Descent and Predator with its claustrophobic environment, something stalking you that you can’t see and members of your team disappearing one by one. The tension and character interaction is great. For a short story, to develop each character within a short span takes talent and Baxter shows he has that and more.

“They Own the Night” by B. Michael Radburn is set during the Vietnam War and details the actions of an armored cavalry unit. While the story was good and the plot introduced a few twists, from a technical perspective there were some issues. The premise is that the unit comprised of M113 APCs (the armored personnel carrier that predates the M2/3 Bradley) with a heavy armor element in support (that’s tanks) is to head into the jungle with some CIA spook to secure a location. The characters were richly detailed, the dialogue intense and locations vivid. But, as mentioned previously, there were some issues with the military equipment. The M113 APC has a ring mount not a turret unless it was the ACAV configuration that was introduced in 1966. During Vietnam, the soldiers learned real fast that riding inside M113’s or ‘tracks’ filled body bags as the IEDs employed by the VC and the NVA would penetrate the bottom. Therefore, it wasn’t uncommon to see a layer of sandbags on the deck (that’s the floor of the vehicle) and the soldiers riding on top. There are no windows in the M113 just vision blocks for the driver and track commander (TC) if they close their hatches. The TC actually stands on his seat to look out the vehicle and that seat is adjustable for that purpose. The M113 is made by Cadillac Gage not Cadillac Gauge. The mention of the local ‘Montenegro’ tribe I take to mean the Montagnard or Degar people. Later, there is a reference to chain mail when its actually just mail and not made from chains. Overall, the story was good but the technical issues jumped out at me. Probably wouldn’t for the average reader.

“Fallen Lion” by Jack Hanson takes a different spin. The main characters are dinosaur-like creatures that go into combat with armor and weapon systems attached to that armor. This story reminded me a lot of John Ringo’s Posleen Invasion series. However, in “Fallen Lion,” the armored and armed dinosaurs are not out to eat the humans they find. Hanson has created something here that would play well if it were made into a series. As it stands now, the work has established an interesting back story for the main characters and portrays them very similar to the warrior caste described within the Predator graphic novels.

Kirsten Cross’s “Sucker of Souls” puts the reader immediately into the story with an opening scene full of action. From that point on, it’s relentless and edge-of-your-seat. The premise is a private security company, more likely a Private Military Company (PMC), is providing security for an archeological dig. The problem with that is the excavation takes place in a castle that the former resident was Vlad the Impaler better known as Dracula. The team is trying to protect the archeologist and secure their own extraction after awakening the Prince of Darkness. Vlad, being a military strategist but from his own time, has some concept of how the soldiers will react but has never faced contemporary combat weapons and munitions. That makes for a nice inset as he attempts to adjust for large capacity magazines, communications, and C4. And cats. This was an enjoyable read with some dark humor tossed in.

“The Bohemian Grove” by Weston Ochse is set in 1970. The Bohemian Grove is surrounded by all kinds of urban legends and conspiracy theories. By inserting that location into a story, it totally adds mystique. This story follows an US Air Force special investigator as he searches for an East German STASI agent that is attempting to infiltrate The Grove. Think Project Blue Book, X-Files and Grimm and you get some idea of what this story is about. “The Bohemian Grove” is a fine addition to this anthology.

“After the Red Rain Fell” by Matt Hilton throws the reader into what appears to be a SWAT Breach, Bang, and Clear operation. What it turns out to be is a military unit entering a building using dynamic entry methods. The story moves rather quickly and the team takes losses from whatever it is inside the building. The characters have some snappy dialogue and the scenes are very detailed. But, and you had to know this was coming, there are some technical issues. The mention of a ‘cut down’ M4 threw me. The M4 is already a shortened barrel carbine cutting it down further would create the AR15 pistol version, not something anyone would want to clear a building with. There is also a mention of a 12.5″ cylinder bore barrel. I have no idea what that is and don’t even know where to start to look for something like that. The best part was the mention of the 50mm machine gun. That means a 2″ bore and that’s some serious firepower. I’m going to go out on a limb here and presume that Matt Hilton meant the .50/12.7mm machine gun, the M2, more commonly seen within the military inventory. “After the Red Rain Fell” is a fast paced, action filled story. Well worth reading.

Neil Litherland’s “The Slog” is about a location in the jungles of Vietnam that is rumored to have had strange things happen there. Most of the talk is bar room loosened tongues and campfire scary stories. But there’s always some little bit of truth in every tall tale. As the main character, Luke, finds himself alone after a VC attack, he stumbles into The Slog. From that point on, it’s a mind trip where one questions reality and fiction. Was Luke suffering from the after effects of the mortar/artillery barrage and it all took place in his mind? Or was he really experiencing all that happened as he made his way through the area known as The Slog? What really stands out is the whole ‘feel’ of that generation with the descriptive method that Litherland uses.

“Show Of Force” by Jeremy Robinson and Kane Gilmour rounds out the anthology with a Chess Team Novella. Chess Team is not a high school group that gathers after school to play the game of kings. No, this Chess Team is an elite, special operations team called in to research (and in some cases, search and destroy) strange phenomenon. Taking their call signs from chess pieces, the team inserts into the Gobi Desert to investigate a potential terrorist cell. What they find is not just a terror group but something far more deadly. The location and the environment is a little like the original The Thing: snow, ice, limited visibility and a location that will kill you if you’re not prepared. What they encounter and how they deal with it, I’ll leave out. Don’t want to toss in any spoiler. I will say that the story is taut, the action steady, the scenes well laid out. If this is just a novella about The Chess Team, I’d be very interested in reading a full length novel.

SNAFU: Survival Of the Fittest is a great anthology of military themed, historic, contemporary, and science fiction short stories. Very enjoyable and well worth reading.

Disclaimer: an unproofed copy of SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest was supplied for review.

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Dreamscapes into Darkness CoverEnter at Your Own Risk: Dreamscapes into Darkness
Edited by Dr. Alex Scully
Firbolg Publishing
April 24, 2015
Reviewed by Sydney Leigh

Once again, Firbolg Publishing knocks their yearly anthology out of the park. The theme of Dreamscapes into Darkness is desire, and what might happen when all you wish for isn’t quite what it seems. Dr. Alex Scully is profoundly well-versed in the history of Gothic fiction, and culls stories from modern writers which perfectly complement classics from Gothic masters like Shelley, Lovecraft, Le Fanu and Lawrence—tales which Daniel Knauf so elegantly states in his Introduction “have long languished out of print, buried alive in the curled, yellowing pages of defunct pulp magazines and newspapers. Waiting, yes, for you.”

But while the inclusion of these classics is a signature of Firbolg’s yearly series, and, by all means, a literature lover and book collector’s dream, it’s their modern counterparts that truly stand out in this anthology.

The poem that leads off the anthology, Tanya Jarvis’ “Incubus,” lends a dark, sophisticated flair to the collection with its terrifying visage: “This bed of nails in her stilted house / seems, if anything, to encourage him…” Fuseli’s The Nightmare is immediately called to mind, but the poet does more justice with her words than the artist does with his brush:

she couldn’t tell him from the dark,
the cold prick of her own loneliness
sitting on her skin, a shirt of nettles,
the metallic bite of a bitter river
whose current drags her down to sleep.

Jarvis’ piece is polished, pointed, and just about as gothic as poetry gets; a complex portrait of desire and disgust. “Thus pinned, heart’s rod and piston / laboring under unforgiving weight…And she’s breathing fire, now, speaking / infernal tongues, all of them licking at once…”

In “Bad Things Happen” by Nathaniel Lee, the narrator runs a small blog site and lands an interview with the Vandal King, one of the many “metaphysicals” who scourge the earth in roughly human form. Lee’s idea here is gloriously macabre, his language and turns of phrase almost hypnotic. Anthology lovers will undoubtedly appreciate why Scully chose Lee’s as the kickoff tale.

“Why do you do this?” the narrator asks the Vandal King. “‘Why?’ he asked, idly uprooting flowers as we walked. He met my gaze, eyes glittering like a slick of oil over a bottomless ocean. ‘Because I can. Because it’s there. Because it’s beautiful.’ I glanced back the way we had come. Disarray and chaos, with a soundtrack of broken sobs. ‘Where is the beauty in wrecking things? I don’t see it.’ ‘I do.’ He smiled at me. His teeth were crooked and dirty. I suppose I’d expected fangs.”

Their interview leads them away from the heart of the city and into the outskirts, where the Vandal King destroys things along the way with a mere caress—“It was the first miracle I had ever witnessed.”—and elaborates on his rationale with the telling of a fable which unravels into a disquieting discovery for our narrator, and yet a divinely dreadful ending for us. “Oh…there are the fangs.”

“First Horse” by Rob Smales contrasts slightly from the rest of the pieces with its tribal legends and Native American setting, but the dreamlike sequence that tells the story of a young boy needing desperately to be seen perfectly captures the essence of this anthology’s theme—be careful what you wish for—and in a befitting dreamscape directly into darkness.

JG Faherty’s “End of the Road” is a strong piece in the collection. Though not quite as representative of the theme as the others, there’s no question why Knauf named him one of the “contemporary masters” in the Introduction. Faherty’s writing sets the ideal tone and feel for this tense, dramatic ghost tale: “The rough, pitted blacktop road meandered through the landscape like a blacksnake, with scattered stars and thin sliver of moon providing just enough light to see by…” In the end, we question where the true darkness really exists, and which ghosts we should fear most.

Jonathan Maberry’s “Property Condemned: A Story of Pine Deep” is, quite simply, a lesson in storytelling. Maberry takes the idea of a haunted house and turns it inside out, upside down, and backwards. It’s an emotional, evocative, and extremely effective tale with more “wow” moments than most novels.

Nancy Hayden adds another rich layer to the anthology with “No Man’s Land, which we’re told in the Author Biographies was “inspired by a trip to the 100-year old Western Front battle fields and trenches in France and the unseen things that linger there.” Her visit to the grounds certainly influenced her story, and the setting is both authentic and disquieting with its grisly history. For such a short story, Hayden succeeds in taking us on a tense journey with some creative plot devices—and her last image is impeccably dark, horrific, and unforgettable.

Holly Newstein’s “The Bondage of Self” is a sad and disturbing tale…a raw glimpse inside a bitter, loveless marriage and a clever, twisted tale of revenge gone wrong.

“The Other Place” by Patrick Lacey touches upon themes of bullying, told flawlessly from the perspective of a young narrator plagued by otherworldly visions which prove more appealing than his lonely, tragic life. Lacey ends this one on a memorable note, to say the least.

Gregory L. Norris’ “One More” is superb; his gorgeous prose floats gracefully, rich with imagery and deftly lonely in tone. Against his better judgment, a nameless character is lured into a house where Norris pulls out all the stops and shows us what true horror really is…and his final twist is simply masterful.

“The Morgue” by Aaron Gudmunson is by far my favorite piece of his—I’m a devout Gudmunson fan, but this is one of the best and most memorable shorts I’ve read in a while. His first person narrative renders this tale all the more unnerving, his dialogue between two friends growing—or being pulled?—apart flawlessly executed. The gothic atmosphere and imagery in this story is a fine example of what Firbolg’s editors seek to elicit from today’s writers.

Bo Balder’s “Shelley Unbound” is exquisite—modern gothic literature at its finest—an accomplished modern companion piece to Shelley’s “The Mortal Immortal.” Balder’s language shows mastery, a feudal-tongue licking the pages: “Her thoughts shoot over her irises likes shoals of silvery fish. I cannot read them fast enough. Yet something tells me she will not welcome my suit. I shall not give up so easily. I untie her, extend my hand, which she accepts, and pull her forth into the new world. I will show her automobiles, flying coaches and moving pictures. She will be entranced.”

After listening to B.E. Scully read in person, it’s difficult not to hear this story in her voice, which makes “The Son who Shattered his Father’s Dream” an even more effective piece. Aside from her trademark cultured, literary writing style and a finely told story, really, this line is what it all boils down to: “‘No, dad. Maybe you just dreamed the wrong dream,’ was all that his son could reply.” Scully is extremely skilled in the art of constructing a tale for a theme such as the one Firbolg has designed for this anthology, and that one line demonstrates it brilliantly.

Roxanne Dent’s “Heart of Stone” is a tale of seduction and obsession, set in the romantic, fog-draped French countryside and revolving around a crouching statue with horns, wings, and a strange power over our narrator. Dent creates some nice imagery and employs the theme of the anthology with an innovative and memorable ending.

In Joe Sherry’s “Yellow Bullet,” we spend the entire duration of the story on a bus…but more importantly, inside the mind of its driver. And Tom Walsch had it all worked out—knew exactly what he wanted to do—but once again, the lessons these tales have taught us are that we must be careful what we wish for. Sherry’s deft use of anaphora with a single line is what makes this story’s tragic ending all the more compelling.

The clever, brilliant, and witty Kurt Fawver is a superb addition to this line-up of contributors, and closes out the anthology with a decadent interview satirizing the nature of a submissions call…and the lengths to which both publishers and writers will go to meet it.

The rest of the stories are all worthy of mentioning: Lawrence Buentello’s tale of a lonely man who gets more than he bargains for when moving next door to a “Graveyard”; the unusual place a white water rafting trip takes K. Trap Jones’ brave narrator in “The Weathermaker”; an ironic twist of fate to which writers can relate all too well in Frank R. Stockton’s “His Wife’s Deceased Sister”; and Joe Powers’ “Lead Us Not Into Temptation,” a thoroughly unsettling story of a child molester on the loose—one that both beautifully embodies the theme and proves Firbolg is a press that does not look away from difficult subject matter:

“He’d heard it said that a predator—and that was what he unquestionably was—was never cured, his urges always bubbling just beneath the surface, threatening to boil over at any time. A leopard never changes its spots, they said. A monster is a monster. All it would take was the right trigger and they would fall right back into their old ways. Through those doors of the big box store he spotted the very catalyst in question, in the form of a five-year-old girl.”

Firbolg Publishing prides itself on the horror it brings readers involving something beyond mere violence and gore—the unknown, the “shadowy world of terror out there”—they also showcase writers of the highest caliber, both new and established. In Dreamscapes into Darkness, they claim “Passions become obsessions. Obsessions become manias. And sometimes, manias turn into nightmares.”

They’re right. So, enter at your own risk—it’s worth the wager. This one comes highly recommended.

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Jul
16

Housebroken – Book Review

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housebrokenHousebroken
The Behrg
Kindle Press
March 17, 2015
Reviewed by Tim Potter

Housebroken is the debut novel from author The Behrg. It’s an exercise in extreme horror where the first act of violence quickly explodes into a non-stop sequence of brutality. The relentless pace of the story makes for a compelling read, and the twists and turns in the plot keep the reader guessing until the last page.

Blake Crochet and his family are new to Southern California, Blake having taken a high paying job with a cutting edge tech company. Before his first day of work Blake has the everyday experience of confronting an annoying door-to-door salesman. He rebukes the pitch to buy magazine subscriptions and sends the young man on his way. But they live in an exclusive gated community and Blake finds himself wondering how the salesman got into the neighborhood. Just as he has forgotten the encounter and begun to leave for work Blake’s car backs into something. He’s run into the salesman, mangled his bike and injured the man. Blake has no way of knowing that, when bringing the salesman into his home, he will begin a series of horrors that his family might not survive.

Blake and his wife Jenna are an interesting couple, each individuals that have an idiosyncratic relationship that can be good one moment and bad the next. Their son, Adam, is the most interesting character in the novel. He is facing the normal problems of a teen living in a new place and looking for his way. As the story develops Adam faces some serious challenges that go to the root of who he is, how he relates to his family and what extremes he is willing to go to. The main villains in the story are Joje, George with a serious lisp, and Drew. Drew is a henchman with no real personality, a place filler and Joje is a mystery, constantly shifting as the plot develops. The mystery behind Joje keeps his character from being fully explained or realized until the end of the book, but as a sadistic bad guy he fits the bill.

Housebroken is fast-paced and relentless in delivering action on top of action and horror on top of horror. There are a few points when the action is too much and strays from furthering the plot, but those occasions are few and apparent only in retrospect. The end of the novel is a bit problematic, with one plot twist after another, some of which seriously strain credulity. The final passage, however, is spot on and satisfying.

For those who enjoy their horror free of the supernatural, delivered hard and fast and without flinching from the brutal, Housebroken is a read not to miss.

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Dawn-of-the-dead-George-a-ROmero-Susanna-SparrowDawn of the Dead
George A. Romero and Susanna Sparrow
Gallery Books
2015
Reviewed by David T. Wilbanks

With a short introduction by actor Simon Pegg, what we have here is a reprint of the 1978 novelization of the classic zombie movie Dawn of the Dead, brought to us by legendary director George A. Romero–who is, as we all know, the godfather of the post-voodoo apocalyptic zombie tale–with writing assistance from Susanna Sparrow.

So why would you want a reprint of an old book of an old movie? For one thing, it’s an attractive trade paperback–even if it does feature the obligatory dead man’s hand on the cover, with outstretched fingers reaching toward an orange sky. For another, it would make the perfect gift for any rabid reader of undead literature, a collectable companion to the classic movie.

But what does the book offer that the movie does not? Why read it when you can watch the film any time you get the urge? Here’s why: this is a novel, not a script; at time, a character’s motivation may be unclear in the movie, but it is not so in the novel, because you are privy to each character’s inner thoughts and motivation–something you don’t get from the movie. In all other ways, the book follows the movie except for a few minor differences (for example, there’s a puppy in the novel that didn’t make it to the big screen).

If for some reason you have not seen the movie, but decide you want to read the book anyway, what you’ll get is a workmanlike zombie story that seems rather mundane because you’ve seen this sort of thing all before a hundred times. But you must remember, before the original Dawn of the Dead movie, there had been nothing like this (unless you count Night of the Living Dead, of course). This movie was the inspiration for nearly every other zombie story that followed, in books and on screen. At the time, it was unique.

So what we have here is an important piece of horror cinema history, and it’s a great thing that a publisher made it available again for the swelling hordes of zombie fans.

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