Sunday, May 25, 2014

My review of Zombies in Paradise by Richard Lee Byers. Some good old school creepiness...

I recently finished reading through Zombies in Paradise by Richard Lee Byers, and I must say that I was quite impressed. I haven't been much of a zombie fan for some time (I believe that the genre is oversaturated with low quality rip-offs of better material), but Richard's take on the genre proved to be quite entertaining. Like I've said before, a really great author can get you to take a fresh look at something that you're not really into... and make you enjoy it! Richard accomplishes this quite nicely with this release. Now on to the details. Despite the title, this collection is not all about zombies. There are three zombie tales, two about vampires, and one ghost story. Quite a nice mix of creepy-crawlies, in my opinion. Although these tales have been released in various publications (the two vampire stories in slightly different form), this is the first time that they have been collected in one edition. At approximately 89 pages (this is an ebook only release, hence the approximately), this is perfect for an afternoon read. Here's a rundown of the stories.

We start out with the title story 'Zombies in Paradise' (originally published as 'Zombie Camp'). In the near future, the zombie apocalypse has come and gone. The virus that caused the zombie plague was identified and counteracted by government scientists. The only form of infection left, is now used to make a profit (!), allowing paying customers to try the zombie experience at a posh island resort. We are introduced to Frank and Cathy, a married couple whose domestic life has been less than perfect recently. Their presence at the resort is an attempt to reignite the spark in their marriage. Following their first stint as zombies, Frank is absolutely drawn to the experience, but Cathy has misgivings. Things of course, go downhill from there...

Next up is 'Fright Wig'. Janey and Brian are two teenagers, out on a date at the carnival. Drawn to a sideshow promising an "Authentic Haitian Voodoo Demonstration", Brian immediately takes on the role of skeptic (and smart-ass), trying to win points with Janey by exposing the show as a hoax. After his initial efforts are frustrated, he goes to greater lengths to prove that the "zombie" is a fake. His first mistake was buying the ticket of course... A distinct EC feel to this one, very much appreciated.

The last of the zombie entries is 'Foragers'. Set during the American Civil War, we are introduced to the unnamed narrator, and his friend Josh, both veteran Union volunteers. The narrator has contempt for the new men that have been press-ganged into the army, the Rebels, and pretty much anyone who has anything to do with the war being waged. After stumbling across a sinister figure in a drunken haze, the protagonist and his friend are next involved in a battle to take a Rebel fortification. Both are wounded and knocked unconscious, and in the aftermath... they experience the horror of the resurrected dead! Their only salvation may be in the hands of the Rebels that are narrator so despises... An excellent story, one of my favorites from the collection. Very well written, I'd love this made over into graphic form, and illustrated by someone like Russ Heath, Carlos Ezquerra, or Val Mayerik. Bang-up job, Richard!

The first of the vampire tales is 'Night Games' set during the time of the Roman Empire (more specifically during the time of Constantine the Great, before his decision to convert to Christianity). Constantine has been kidnapped, fresh after his reconquering of Rome. His rescue (after many arguments) are left to his Frankish mage, Ragnachar, and the unnamed soldier narrating the story. The tale is a great page-turner of a mystery, and you're never truly aware of who you should be rooting for. The newly minted Emperor has been taken by vampires, but there is much more going on in the background, that you gradually become aware of. No heroes to be found here, in my opinion, yet this story is also a favorite. I'd like to see Brian Bolland illustrating this... very nice.

Next, and last, of the vampire stories is 'The Wizard and the Dragon'. In this case, the title is referring to Thomas Edison (the wizard) and Vlad Dracul (the dragon). Edison is approached by a unnamed benefactor with a proposition; meet me in your old laboratory, and the new age will belong to you. He finds out that this new group of investors are vampires, wishing to convert him. He is tempted, and about to agree, when Vlad himself arrives to dispute their claim... he knows something they don't, and wont allow this to take place... A favorite, very nicely done. I could see this with visuals by Bernie Wrightson.

The last entry in the collection is 'The Guide', a corruption of the term if I've ever heard one. A psychically endowed flim-flam man combs the graveyards for newly passed souls. After finding one, he doesn't help them transition towards a higher plane, he instead finds a different purpose for them, dealing with fun and profit (and class warfare, in my opinion). A good story, demonstrating that the narrator is not always a good guy...

Should you be reading this? In my opinion, yes, yes, yes! Richard is an author that can weave an intriguing story, regardless of genre, and cross over genre lines. He got me back into reading fantasy, helped clue me into the New Pulp movement, and (currently) had me enjoying some old school horror. The man really knows how to spin a tale... His cross-genre tales are truly appreciated, by me, whenever I find them. There is a distinct flavor to his tales that hark back to the stories that inspired me to read, which I deeply appreciate. Take a look at his work, and judge for yourself! All I can say, is thank you sir! Another good collection filed away in the brain-box! With that, I'll leave you to your reading... Have fun, my friends!

Here's where you can get the collection. Here's Richard's Amazon page. Here's his blog... Get exploring!


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