This is Carl's Brain
World War Z by Max Brooks

My first exposure to World War Z was watching the movie starring Brad Pitt.  For better or worse, watching the movie shaped the way I viewed the novel.   The adaptation of the book was so radically different from the novel version that it was a bit jarring.  The format of the book, a series of interviews conducted by the narrator after the successful completion of the war against the zombies, although interesting, completely robs it of any real drama.  It’s just a series of people recounting their own version of the events that happened.  The movie was a linear story with a protagonist that followed a chronological order from the beginning of the zombie apocalypse to the point where the humans were winning the war.

 

I preferred the movie version.  Dramatic and exciting beats interesting.  It’s distinctly possible that I may have felt differently had I read the book before watching the movie.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book.  The retelling of events through a variety of people who had different roles in the apocalypse and subsequent war was pretty cool.  I also like the concept.  Almost every zombie story these days has the human race falling to the zombie horde, and then telling the story of the people surviving on the edges.  An organized military should absolutely be able to take out a zombie hoard.  But for some reason, the military always fails so easily without a fight, yet the survivors destroy the zombies on a regular basis.  It doesn’t make a bit of sense if you think about it logically, but that is the trend in zombie fiction.  For that, I give the novel credit, but overall it was solid but unspectacular.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

The Fireman is a post-apocalyptic novel, where the culprit is a spore called Dragonscale (a bit of a Game of Thrones ripoff for the name although the disease is far different).  Dragonscale causes those who carry it to light on fire under stressful conditions and propogates itself by transferring the spore to others through the ash.  It’s really kind of an ingenious spore.  This wipes out much of the population and brings out the worst in people.  The infected are in a camp in New Hampshire trying to survive but they also learn how to control the spore, which has its pluses and minuses.

 

I thought this was probably the best Joe Hill novel that I’ve read, which have been a little hit or miss.  The writing is strong and the characters are well-developed.  The disease brings out the worse of the survivors.  By and large, they are trying to kill the infected, without having a full understanding of the disease.  The worst character is Harper Willow’s husband.  Even before she contracted the spore, he was a total nitwit.  The only redeemable characters in the novel are a small circle of those close to Harper, including the Fireman, a British microbiologist who has complete mastery of the spore and can even manifest it out of his body.  Both the concept of the execution of the story are good.  I did have a couple of issues with the novel.  For one thing, the whole stone in the mouth thing at Camp Windham was supremely irritating.  Also, it was a bit too dim of a view of humanity for my liking.  I would think some of the non-infected would be redeemable.  But on balance this was a strong novel that I would recommend.

 

Stranglehold by Jack Ketchum

Stranglehold is a gritty, visceral novel that is totally Jack Ketchum.  Ketchum pulls no punches in his fiction.  His writing is not for the feint of heart, and this novel certainly fits that bill.  In this novel Lydia McCloud marries Arthur Danse, thinking he is the man of her dreams.  Things are good with them for a time, and they have a child.  But Arthur is the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing.  As time goes by, she starts to see just what kind of monster he is when she suspects that he is molesting their son.

 

One of the really hard things to get right in fiction is the villain.  It’s rare to find a good villain, and most of them are these one dimensional cartoon characters that don’t resemble real people.  But Ketchum succeeds with Arthur Danse, who is one of the most utterly vile and despicable characters I have ever encountered in a novel, yet at the same time he’s well-developed and multi-dimensional.  In Ketchum’s fiction, the humans are the monsters, and you don’t get more monstrous than Danse.  I found myself rooting for his demise and hoping that it would come in a terrible way.  To get the reader to care about a character, whether positively or negatively, is a job well done by the author, and I salute the late, great Jack Ketchum.

Fade to Black by Francis Knight

Fade to Black was a good but not great novel.  It paints a good picture of a bleak, dystopian world.  In a city where electricity and power comes in the form of magic provided by pain mages, who draw their power from physical hurt, either their own or that of others, the lowest of the low class live under ground.  The higher up people are in wealth and class, they literally live higher up in buildings that are built massively huge, piled on top of each other.  There is a deep, dark conspiracy afoot, one in which Rojan Dizon finds himself right in the middle of.  Rojan is a pain mage and bounty hunter, who keeps his magic a secret, although it’s not a very well kept secret.  Rojan is forced to go to the pit, where the lowest of the low live in search of his kidnapped niece.

 

There were things I liked about the novel and things that didn’t work for me.  On the plus side, I think the author successfully builds a nice bleak atmosphere to the novel.  The writing fits the mood and works well.  There are some good plot turns, and decent conspiracies.  On the negative side, Rojan is a pretty bad character.  It’s hard to have much respect for him when there were so many obvious things happening that should have been obvious to him and he was completely clueless about.  It’s hard to get into a novel with a weak protagonist who I found to be generally unlikeable.  The novel ends with a bang.  I also liked the whole simulated fighting that they had in the pits that reminded me of pro wrestling with weapons.  I would give this novel a thumbs up, but not an enthusiastic one.

Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadry

I picked up Devil Said Bang because of the concept of the character and the amazing blurbs by well-known authors.  Unfortunately, the novel fell well short of my lofty expectations.  Sandman Slim is the main character and has been made the new Lucifer, in charge of Hell after the last Lucifer no longer wanted the job.  Sandman Slim wants nothing to do with the job and is only interested in going back to Los Angeles.

 

For me, this novel was all style and little substance.  It felt like the high school kid with the hot rod car trying to impress everybody.  For starters, the narration was over the top.  I didn’t care for the first person, present tense point of view, which is all of the rage these days, but makes no sense from a story telling standpoint.  You don’t tell a story as it happens.  You tell it after it happens.  The novel felt very repetitive.  After about the eighth time, I lost track of all the assassination attempts on the main character.  It was one after another after another and became dull after a while.  There were way too many characters to keep track of, and the characters had little meaning because it seemed as if there was a constant flow of new characters in every scene.  The novel felt disjointed since the first half of it took place in Hell and had little to do with what would come later.  It should have been two separate novels.  There wasn’t much that I liked about it.  I would recommend skipping this one and reading Tim Marquitz Demon Squad series, which is similar in theme but far superior in quality.

Phantom Evil by Heather Graham

Phantom Evil is the first book in the Krewe of Hunters series, a group led by skeptic Jackson Crowe that consists of individuals from different backgrounds who have some level of paranormal ability.  In this novel, a state senator from Louisiana requests their services after his wife is killed in a house inhabited by ghosts—at least the senator wants to prove there are ghosts and that his wife didn’t commit suicide.   Angela, the former cop who has an ability to see the dead, immediately makes a connection with the ghosts of the house, many of whom were killed by a serial killer from the post-Civil War era.

 

There were things I liked about this novel.  I liked the mix of characters that composed the Krewe of Hunters.  I liked the setup to the story and the mystery that they had to solve.  Where the novel really falls short is in believability.  The believability issues have nothing to do with the paranormal elements.  It’s the real world aspects of it that make it fall apart.  Namely, the cast of characters surrounding the senator, their actions, motivations, and the fact that the news media in Louisiana or the police could not even get a sniff of some of the things that they were doing strike me as being a bit ridiculous.  I could only stretch my suspension of disbelief so far.  As things unfolded, I had a hard time staying in the story because it was too hard to swallow.

Fated by S. G. Browne

The thing about Fated, I really loved the voice.  It was so distinctly S.G. Browne.  I’ve read every one of his novels, and his story telling is so distinct.  I wouldn’t so much classify it as humor.  It’s more light-hearted.  It’s got a nice flow to it.  Normally, the use of present tense in story telling irritates the hell out of me.  I find it to be a major pet peeve, but with Browne, I hardly even notice it.

 

But enough about the writing.  Let’s get into the story.  The concept behind the story is really cool.  The main character, Fabio, is Fate, one of the host of immortals in this novel.  Other immortals include Sloth, Gluttony, Greed, Destiny, Truth, and of course, there is Jerry, who is God.  Each of the immortals has a job to do.  Fabio assigns the fate to most human beings, and often has to reassign it because of the stupid choices that the humans under his umbrella make.  All of that changes when he meets Sara, a human he falls in love with.  Then he gets soft and starts trying to help the humans—a bad mistake as it turns out since Jerry is non too happy when the humans’ lives change, and not necessarily for the better.  He knows that being with Sara could get him into serious hot water, but he can’t help himself.  Love is love, after all.

 

I really enjoyed this story.  The one negative was the ending.  It didn’t work for me and I didn’t find it to be very believable.  If the ending had been good, this would have been an easy five star rating, but I had to take it down a notch as a result.  Still, this is well worth reading.

The Last Rakosh by F Paul Wilson

The Last Rakosh was a fun pulp novella featuring Repairman Jack.  I’m not overly familiar with the Repairman Jack character, having only read one of the books, but I found him to be a compelling and fun character to be around.  In this novel, Jack goes to a carnival and encounters a creature he thought to be extinct.  The Rakosh is a combination of a gorilla and a shark, and is absolutely fearsome.  Jack had a run in with them previously and this one in particular, and thought he had killed the last of them.  Fortunately, he hadn’t or we wouldn’t have had this novella.

 

This was a quick read—longer than a short story but shorter than a novel—that tells of Jack’s run in with the rakosh.  Oddly enough, the humans in the carnival came off as more villainous than the rakosh.  Still, to protect the ones he loves, Jack must hunt down and try to kill the creature in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, a great location for a horror novel.  Given Jack’s battle with this creature, it made me wonder how could he have possibly killed them to begin with.  Nonetheless, this was a fun tale, not overly deep, but satisfying in a pulp fiction kind of way.

Fear the Reaper edited by Joe Mynhardt

Like many anthologies that I read, Fear the Reaper, had some strong stories that I enjoyed, and some forgettable ones that I skipped through because they couldn’t hold my interest.  This anthology had an interesting theme—one that focused on death. There were tales of the Grim Reaper, life after death, vampires, ghosts, spirits and a smorgasborg of ghastly delights.

 

It seems as if most of the better stories were in the first half of the anthology.  The ones that stood out to me in particular were The Life of Death by Marc Sheldon, which opened the anthology.  It was followed up by a darkly humorous tale by Jeff Strand—and you can never go wrong with anything by Jeff Strand.  I also enjoyed Rena Mason’s story.  The Death Catcher by Robert S. Wilson stood out.  Cedo Looked Like People was an odd but captivating tale.  Then there were some that missed the mark, which I won’t go over in this review, but clearly the good outweighed the bad, and overall I give this anthology a thumbs up.  There’s a lot to like in here if you like to dip into the macabre.

10 Questions with Dan Padavona
  1. Who has been your biggest influence as a writer?

 

That’s a difficult question to answer, as I respect and appreciate a great many authors. Certainly Stephen King, who’ve I read for over 40 years, is a huge influence. But so too are Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Patrick Rothfuss, Brian Keene, and J.K. Rowling. I’m unsure I can pick one, but the Kingkiller books by Rothfuss inspired me to craft my first novel.

 

  1. What made you want to write about vampires in your horror novel, Storberry?

 

I love drive-in movie horror, perhaps because I’m a child of the 70s and 80s and grew up watching Halloween and When a Stranger Calls and Friday the 13th. So many classic movies were made during that era, and yet they possess very basic story lines at their cores.

 

The Salem’s Lot TV miniseries scared the hell out of me. That’s vampire horror at its finest.

For some reason, vampire movies became passe’ a decade later, and eventually the genre was swallowed by teen romance masquerading as horror.

 

I believe many readers long for the days of Nosferatu, Salem’s Lot, and Dracula. But that’s not why I wrote Storberry. I wrote Storberry because I love classic vampire horror and wanted to capture that old drive-in movie vibe.

 

  1. Do you outline prior to writing your story, or do you work out the plot as you write?

 

I never outline. Sometimes I make note of plot points I wish to visit later in the novel and refer to them during the writing process. Ultimately, I prefer the organic discovery of my story each day, but I concede my life would be much easier if I created a better road map ahead of time.

 

  1. How do you balance working full time, raising a family, and being one of today’s up and coming horror writers?

 

I’m currently lobbying the U.S. Government to increase the day length from 24 hours to 32 hours. In the meantime, I try to spend my time efficiently. I need 90 minutes to write, but I also have a full-time job with NOAA and a family life.

 

My family means everything to me, and they take precedence no matter what. I’m fortunate for their support and love, and truly they inspire my creativity more than any writer could.

 

  1. What current writing projects are you working on?

 

I’ve almost completed Camp Slasher, whose title should win an award for being most self-explanatory. Concurrently, I’m writing a coming-of-age horror novel, currently titled The Devil’s Circle.

 

I’m rather excited for both projects. My readers on Patreon are following the chapters as they are written.

 

  1. How did Jack Ketchum influence your writing?

I consider Jack Ketchum the greatest horror writer of my lifetime, and he’s certainly among my favorite authors. I deeply regret never meeting Dallas, not because I’m a huge fan but because he was kind to many of my friends and colleagues.

 

I’ve been told my prose style is similar to early Ketchum. Influence is inevitable when you read an author regularly, and I am a voracious reader of Jack Ketchum. But it’s the observations he makes about characters, places, and life which most resonate with me and influence my writing.

 

  1. Do you listen to music when you write, and if so what do you like to listen to?

 

I’ve listened to instrumental horror soundtracks in the past while writing, but I vastly prefer white noise. Vocals and rock music distract me when I’m trying to concentrate.

 

  1. What made you want to start writing horror?

 

I get a kick out of scaring people. I wish I could give you a more literary answer, but there isn’t one. Scaring the hell out of a reader makes my day.

 

  1. Is there any subject that is off limits for you as a writer?

 

Not really, although I have soft spots for children and animals, especially dogs. But I don’t have hard and fast rules for what I will or won’t write about.

 

  1. If you could create a Mount Rushmore of the greatest vampire novels, which four novels would you choose?

Salem’s Lot – Stephen King

The Light at the End – John Skipp and Craig Spector

I am Legend – Richard Matheson

They Thirst – Robert McCammon