Zombies are one of my favorite horror story “monsters.” There’s something so haunting about a threat that is basically humanity but slightly… off. Zombies don’t have a motive; there’s no reason why they do the things they do. They simply operate off a basic needs-based system. They’re the very definition of id: they need to feed and they need to feed now. There’s something scary about a foe that looks exactly like us but cannot be reasoned with or stopped. But, all that aside, the most interesting thing about zombies is the way the stories that feature them force us to take a good look at ourselves. A common theme in most zombie stories is how the plague turns humanity into the real monsters. It’s one of my favorite tropes of the genre and something I love to see various storytellers sink their teeth into. Nobody was better at this than George A. Romero. His films pioneered the modern zombie genre by focusing their lenses on the intimate human stories rather than the epic, action-packed survival stories we might see today. Romero seemed most interested in how individual people react to zombies rather than what, specifically, caused them or how they might be defeated. It’s what made his films interesting and it’s what makes his novel, The Living Dead (completed by Daniel Kraus after Romero’s passing), interesting. The novel is more epic in scale than any of Romero’s films but feels no less intimate than the best of his work. It’s a brilliant achievement in the career of a man who had many brilliant achievements and it’s quite possibly one of the best zombie novels I’ve ever read. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(Mild spoilers for the novel follow!)
The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus Set in the present day, The Living Dead is an entirely new tale, the story of the zombie plague as George A. Romero wanted to tell it. It begins with one body. A pair of medical examiners find themselves battling a dead man who won’t stay dead. It spreads quickly. In a Midwestern trailer park, a Black teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come.
Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead. We think we know how this story ends. We. Are. Wrong.
I don’t normally watch video essays on YouTube. It takes a very specific kind of personality to get me interested enough to watch anything on YouTube for more than 10 minutes – especially something that’s just analyzing something else. But Lindsay Ellis is one of those YouTubers who can get me to watch an hour-long video and enjoy it. So, when I heard about her debut novel, Axiom’s End, I was excited to give it a read. And I was even more excited about it when I heard it was a science fiction/alternate history novel about humanity’s first contact with an alien species. That kind of story is one of my favorite kinds of science fiction stories and I was eager to see what kind of a take Ellis would have on it. Having now read the book, I can say that it wasn’t really what I expected at all. Ellis certainly puts her own spin on the first-contact genre, weaving a pretty interesting tale and delivering a book that, while a bit difficult to initially get into, makes for a compelling and enjoyable read. (4 out of 5 wands)
(Note: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced. Additionally, mild spoilers may follow.)
Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis
It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government―and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him―until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.
Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human―and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.
Making an audio adaptation of The Sandman seems like a great idea. There’s a lot of ways to convey fantasy settings using just sound and it feels like the perfect medium for The Sandman. I mean, it’s a series about the power of stories and what better way to experience the story than to close your eyes and let the sounds wash over you, right? And, in all honesty, that’s basically what Audible’s adaptation of The Sandman is – though, I’d argue it skews a bit closer to an audiobook than a true audio drama, but for most people, that’ll be just fine. For me, I enjoyed the adaptation but I wish it embraced the power of audio dramas a bit more than it does and relied less on narration to explain the “missing” visuals. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: Mild spoilers may follow.)
The Sandman (written by Neil Gaiman, adapted by Dirk Maggs) When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus—the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination—is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three “tools” that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer (Michael Sheen), chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare (Arthur Darvill), and many more.
I really enjoyed An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, the first novel in Hank Green’s The Carls duology. It was one of those books that ticked off so many items on a theoretical checklist of what I like in science fiction. But, of course, it ended on a pretty killer cliffhanger. So, when the sequel, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, was announced, I was utterly excited to give it a read. Was it even possible for the sequel to be as good as the first book? Could Green bring the whole story to a satisfying conclusion? In short: yes. Yes to all of that. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is about as good as any sequel could hope to be. And I loved every second of it. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. You have been warned.
The Carls disappeared the same way they appeared, in an instant. While the robots were on Earth, they caused confusion and destruction with only their presence. Part of their maelstrom was the sudden viral fame and untimely death of April May: a young woman who stumbled into Carl’s path, giving them their name, becoming their advocate, and putting herself in the middle of an avalanche of conspiracy theories. Months later, April’s friends are trying to find their footing in a post-Carl world. Andy has picked up April’s mantle of fame, speaking at conferences and online; Maya, ravaged by grief, begins to follow a string of mysteries that she is convinced will lead her to April; and Miranda is contemplating defying her friends’ advice and pursuing a new scientific operation…one that might have repercussions beyond anyone’s comprehension. Just as it is starting to seem like the gang may never learn the real story behind the events that changed their lives forever, a series of clues arrive—mysterious books that seem to predict the future and control the actions of their readers—all of which seems to suggest that April could be very much alive. In the midst of the search for the truth and the search for April is a growing force, something that wants to capture our consciousness and even control our reality.
From the first time I read Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman in 2013, I adored the series. It felt like this beautiful mixture of traditional prose literature and graphic novels and it was something I hadn’t seen in any of the comics I’d read to that point. The series is as much a story about Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, and his other siblings as it is about stories, themselves. It’s one of those series that has remained popular over the 30 years since it first debuted – and for good reason. So, in light of the imminent release of Audible’s audio adaptation of the series, I felt it a good time to go back to those first few volumes (those that are being adapted for the series) and take a look at how they read seven years after I first read them. In short, they still hold up remarkably well, even if parts of them haven’t aged the best. The Sandman is a great series and it’s impressive how much of its magic is present in these first twenty issues.
(NOTE: There will be mild spoilers for the first 20 issues/three volumes of The Sandman.)
A rich blend of modern myth and dark fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama and legend are seamlessly interwoven, THE SANDMAN follows the people and places affected by Morpheus, the Dream King, as he mends the cosmic–and human–mistakes he’s made during his vast existence.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Killadelphia, Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s new comic. I had been a fan of Barnes’ work on the second season of American Gods so I was eager to take a dive into some of his other work. Killadelphia looked really interesting because I love a good vampire story and it seemed like Barnes had a unique take on the genre – and boy did he ever. Killadelphia might just be the best comic I’ve read all year. It’s this perfect blend of absurd-yet-scary horror and gritty, grounded, realistic drama. In many ways, it feels old fashioned and reminiscent of film noir, but in other ways it feels startlingly modern and poignant. (Five out of five wands.)
(NOTE: This review may contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.)
Killadelphia, vol. 1: Sins of the Father (written by Rodney Barnes, illustrated by Jason Shawn Alexander) When small-town beat cop Jimmy Sangster returns to his Philadelphia roots to bury his murdered father, he stumbles into a mystery that will lead him down a path of horrors and shake his beliefs to their core. The city that was once the symbol of liberty and freedom has fallen prey to corruption, poverty, unemployment, brutality…and vampires.
There’s a reason they say you can’t go home again. Welcome to Killadelphia.
When I was a kid, I was scared of Bigfoot-like, properly scared. I can’t remember how old I was when I first encountered a Bigfoot thing, but I can remember having seen some pseudo-documentary on Animal Planet, or something, and being ever so frightened of looking out my bedroom window and seeing Bigfoot staring back at me. It became a recurring nightmare of mine for a while until I eventually grew out of that fear and moved on. But there is something kind of frightening about a giant ape-like monster with borderline-human intelligence whose existence nobody can seem to prove or disprove. And that’s where Devolution, Max Brooks’ newest book comes in. Resting closer to something like Frankenstein than Brooks’ World War Z oral history riff, Devolution is another epistolary novel (or, as I jokingly refer to it, “found literature”) from Max Brooks. But unlike World War Z, I really enjoyed Devolution. It’s a gripping read, filled with a lot of tension, some immediately captivating characters, and a lot of genuine chills. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Devolution by Max Brooks
Offering a glorious back-to-nature experience with all the comforts of high-speed Internet, solar smart houses, and the assurance of being mere hours from Seattle by highway, Greenloop was indeed a paradise—until Mount Rainier erupted, leaving its residents truly cut off from the world, and utterly unprepared for the consequences. With no weapons and their food supplies dwindling, Greenloop’s residents slowly realized that they were in a fight for survival. And as the ash swirled and finally settled, they found themselves facing a specter none of them could have predicted—or even thought possible…
In these pages, Max Brooks brings to light the journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town’s bloody wreckage, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own investigations into the massacre that followed and the legendary beasts behind it. If what Kate saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us—and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.
If you travel in certain parts of Twitter and Tumblr, you’ve probably heard of Check, Please! – though you’ve likely heard it referred to as “that story about the gay hockey players.” And, to be fair, that’s totally true. But it’s not all that the comic is. It’s a well-written, immensely enjoyable rom-com, and it’s also a delightful exploration of male friendship, a really funny coming of age story, and an exciting look into the softer side of hockey culture. Obviously, I really loved this comic. And the best part about it? You can read it right now for free!(5 out of 5 wands)
Check, Please! (written and illustrated by Ngozi Ukazu)
Eric Bittle may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It is nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking (anything that hinders the player with possession of the puck, ranging from a stick check all the way to a physical sweep). And then, there is Jack―his very attractive but moody captain.
I’ve read a lot of Gerard Way’s comics in the past. The Umbrella Academy ranks among my favorite comic series. I’ve also read some of Shaun Simon’s work with Gerard, namely The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. However, I’ve never encountered much of Mikey Way’s stuff outside of his work in My Chemical Romance. It’s not surprising to see him venture into comics – it’s always seemed to be something he and his brother shared in common. But when I heard about his comic, Collapser, I was really interested. The premise was intriguing and I like weird science fiction ideas. However, after reading it, I have to say that I didn’t really like this comic. And it’s a big shame because the premise sounded so interesting. A guy, Liam, ends up with a black hole inside his chest that gives him the power to alter reality as he sees fit. What’s not to like about that? The answer: the execution. (2.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: Mild spoilers follow!)
Collapser by Shaun Simon and Mikey Way, illustrated by Ilias Kyriazis There’s a voice in the head of Liam James questioning everything he does—from his job at the nursing home to keeping his relationship with his girlfriend afloat. Liam suffers from anxiety, and the only thing that quiets it is music, which makes a weekly DJ gig his one saving grace. But Liam’s life changes forever when he receives a black hole in the mail (yes, you read that right), one that takes up residence in his chest, grants him insane superpowers, turns him into a celebrity and draws him into a cosmic conflict beyond his wildest imagination. Where did this black hole come from? Why Liam? Is power the cure? Or will superstardom turn Liam into a black hole himself?
I adore the musical Damn Yankees. I love it so much that it’s hilariously surprising that I had no idea it was based on a novel. The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, written by Douglass Wallop (who’d go onto co-write the musical’s script), is the novel Damn Yankees is based on. And it’s a novel that nobody seems to know much about these days. There’s no ebook of it available, so I had to actually obtain a hard copy of it to read. Why go to all of this trouble? Well, I really wanted to see how similar to the musical this novel was. And so, I gave it a read. And it’s definitely the same story as Damn Yankees. But how does it hold up against its more famous stage adaptation? Well, both versions of the story have their pros and their cons – it ultimately depends on what you’re looking for from the story. If you want to really explore Joe’s mindset during all of this, then The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant is the book for you. It’s well-written, engaging, and a quick read. (Spoilers for both Damn Yankees and The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant follow.)
The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant (aka: Damn Yankees) by Douglass Wallop Decades before Field of Dreams there was The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, the classic baseball fable that became the hit movie and musical Damn Yankees. Baseball lovers everywhere can identify with Joe Boyd, a die-hard Washington Senators fan who puts his soul in hock to help them wrest the pennant away from the hated, all-conquering Yankees. Transformed by the sulfurous Mr. Applegate’s satanic magic into twenty-two-year-old phenom Joe Hardy, he leads the hapless Senators in a torrid late-season pursuit of the men in pinstripes. Joe has until September 21st before the deal becomes final—and eternal. With the luscious temptress Lola to distract him, he’ll have a hell of a time wriggling out of the bargain…