THE GODS ABOVE BY ALEX McGILVERY

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Zombies aren’t real. Maybe for ants, but not for humans.

Pranthi makes her living with her camera – it keeps her at a comfortable distance from the world. Pictures of the first person to go zombie give her a huge scoop. The lens can’t protect her as more people are infected. As a former street kid from India, Pranthi knows she’s tough, but not tough enough to deal with zombies, as if she had a choice.

 

Zombie stories seem to have a weird relationship with, well, other zombie stories. As deeply infected as our pop culture is with the shambling undead, fictional worlds are a lot more fickle in their undead.

In TV’s THE WALKING DEAD, for example, zombie movies don’t seem to exist at all. When the dead walk, it is an unprecedented horror. In Alex McGilvery’s upcoming THE GODS ABOVE (2016), zombies thrive in popular culture and the novel opens with fun and festive “zombie walk” that quickly spirals into a too-real horror.

 In the midst of this chaos, we meet Pranthi, a professional photographer of Indian descent who is one of the more interesting characters that I’ve read in quite some time. She is a strong woman, but not in the Lara Croft or Buffy the Vampire Slayer mold. Physically, she is handicapped from a tragic event in her childhood and she actually represents a very minor physical threat.

If Pranthi does have a superpower, though, it is the amazing ability to be in the wrong place at the worst possible time. Her camera is an extension of her as certainly as she is of it. Pranthi is the pedestrian eyes on the mayhem as it unfolds. I found her an interesting and oddly specific character, and I asked writer Alex McGilvery about her.

 “Pranthi is one of those characters who just leaped from my head like Athena. I wanted someone who’d challenge the standard ‘hero’ model so the leg braces. Her history rose out of those, and stories I’ve read of professional beggars in some countries.”

Sharing the story, Officer Dan Pabst represents the more official perspective on the situation. At first, he seems to represent a more standard action-character, but quickly becomes a far more interesting character. As the world becomes unraveled, the reader gets to watch the characters come apart as well.

I confess, I am unapologetic in my love of the zombie story, but I am not blinded by that love. I can see that, like a bloody wall of rotten clichés, zombie stories tend to blur together. McGilvery’s book dodges many these clichés, giving the reader a glimpse of a “first days” of its escalating horror scenario. There is enough of standard zombie story to satisfy that craving, but it has so much else going on that it doesn’t get bogged down. First, the zombies, while being commonly referred to as such, aren’t actually dead, in many ways, resemble the rage virus victims in 28 Days Later. This fundamental change has a side-effect of reducing the gore factor in the book and the mechanism behind their transformation makes up an interesting and more realistic facet of the story.

THE GODS ABOVE is not your standard zombie story and with strong characters and an intriguing twist on the premise, it is definitely a book to check out.

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A God of Hungry Walls by Garrett Cook

A God of Hungry Walls by Garrett Cook

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I found myself sitting on the floor in a church, hunched over my Kindle and reading Garrett Cook’s poetically perverse haunted house tale A God of Hungry Walls (Deadite Press). During a particularly horrible atrocity (in the novel, not the church), a little boy approached me with a sly smile. “Are you sitting over here reading the Bible?”

I shook my head, tilting my Kindle away so that he couldn’t possibly read anything on the screen, though he seemed determined to. “No. Definitely not.”

“Are you sure?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said, but what I really wanted to tell him is that he isn’t old enough to read this book and it was possible that he would never be old enough. Hell, I’m not sure that I’m old enough to dig into this thing, but I’m certainly glad that I did.

To miss Garrett Cook’s book would be to miss a singular vision of horror akin to early Clive Barker with the permeating hopelessness of Scott Smith’s The Ruins or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. To the reader, the book is like the sinking of the Titanic if Salvador Dali was the captain and everyone decided to go down with the ship just to see what happens next.

I may be burying the lead here, but I have to confess that what initially drew me to the book was the promise of the premise: A haunted house story told from the point of view of the haunting. Don’t get me wrong, this is a haunted house story, possibly the most original one that I’ve read, but the premise isn’t really the star of the show. I warn you to not to go into this novel expecting a white middle-class family with 2.5 kids who encounter creaky stairs and cold spots in their Victorian dream home. The book doesn’t toy with the reader like that. There isn’t fifty pages of Could this house actually be haunted? Oh, it is. Just ask the house, it will tell you. In fact, it might possibly be the first novel that I’ve read that is actually written is first person-omniscient. Even the characters, at times, understand that things are really bad in the house, but choose to ignore or, worse, to revel in it. The real star of the show, though, is the combination of Cook’s lyrical prose and the horrible things that he chooses to do to us with it.

The house commits terrible acts on its inhabitants who, coincidentally commit equally terrible acts on themselves and others. Some of these things, I confess, I wouldn’t be able to watch in a movie and in the hands of a lesser writer, might seem gratuitous. The book is about control and manipulation on many levels and one of my favorite sequences involves the book, in the form of the demonic narrator, actually manipulating the reader. No spoilers, but you’ll know it when you read it.

At the risk of being overly meta, I wondered at times if A God of Hungry Walls isn’t in many ways an indictment of not only horror authors but of readers. The house entity crafts his horrors as creatively and ironically as any artist and presents them proudly to us. As a reader, we sympathize with the characters, but, as is the nature of horror fiction, we anxiously await the next violation.

The novel doesn’t keep you waiting. At 164 pages, it is a quick and dirty read that never outstays its welcome, although the torture and graphic sexual violence can be, depending on your personal taste in horror, a little off-putting.

I highly recommend this novel, but make no mistake, A God of Hungry Walls is not an intro level horror novel, this is one for the advanced class.