Cadaver In Chief–Steve Hockensmith

Cadaver In Chief

“Hello,” Woods said as she walked to her car.  “Hello.  Hello.  Hello.  Hello.  Hello.”  She said, “Hello” to everyone she passed, and they all said “Hello” to her.  Anyone who didn’t say “Hello” would get looked at pretty hard.  Maybe even shot. 

The end times were hell on shy people.

The end times were also pretty much hell on the newspaper industry.  Already under siege by the rise of on-line media, the zombie apocalypse put the last coffin nail in a dying industry.  After all, if people were taking their lives in their hands every time they left the house for work, they certainly wouldn’t want to venture out in search of a People magazine or their favourite daily.  Besides—all the paperboys were dead.

Jan Woods, reporter for the Washington Tribute, is winding down her last couple of days before retirement, reporting puff pieces on dog grooming that no one is likely to read.  She’s going through the motions: research story…shoot a zombie…write the story…run down a zombie with her car…etc. etc. Just another day in the big city.  However, when that city is Washington, from time to time one must forget about the mindless undead and write about the brainless living.  Send in the politicians!

As it so happens, Jan’s editor has an interesting story for her to pursue. A nasty rumour has surfaced online, “Nasty” being the term used these days to describe the walking dead.  Nasty, as in the President’s been dead for a while, but he’s still walking around, glad-handing and kissing babies (nasty!) and all the assorted duties of the commander in chief.  Or, Cadaver in Chief, if the rumours are true.

Not since Watergate had such a juicy tip fallen into the hands of a Washington reporter, crazy though it sounds.  If the president is really a former president, a “ManChompian” candidate of sorts, then it’s a conspiracy that reaches to the highest level of government, and Jan’s got herself a scoop that could end her career on a high note.  However, if the plot goes as deep as that, Jan’s got a scoop that could end her—permanently.

There is a bit of a snag—the juicy tip comes from one Rick Klinger, on-line conspiracy freak and blogger for Truthbuffet.org, a left wing “political” site akin to the Huffington Post.  Known as a bit of a loon, Klinger (who bears a striking resemblance to the odious Alex Jones—minus the obvious psychopathy) has a source within the Republican administration that claims President Brick Bradley died months earlier during a political fundraiser and the man making the rounds is actually an imposter.  However, Klinger is also a paranoid loon (again, Alex Jones) and won’t divulge his source for Jan to check out. As for her queries to the White House:

“Quote: The President is alive and well and you’re an idiot and don’t call here again. Unquote.”

Jan is nothing if not persistent, and during the course of the next several days investigates the hotel (and morgue) where the president was rumoured to have died. Next thing you know, there’s a parcel in her apartment, containing a dwarf zombie with a huge appetite.  He’s also got an explosive personality.  Maybe there is something to the rumours after all?

From there it’s an action packed adventure through Washington and its surroundings as Jan searches for answers while avoiding the attentions of mysterious government operatives and having conversations in dark parking lots with the likes of, “Debbie Does Dallas”, the “Deep Throat” of this decidedly anti-first amendment administration and their zombie minions.  Luckily, Jan is very pro-second amendment (who wouldn’t be in a world where take out dinner describes what might happen to you?) and has gotten pretty good with that hot pink Uzi she got at 7-11.  The story climaxes with a literal assault on the first amendment as Jan and her coworkers fight for their lives in the offices of the Washington Tribune, and shortly thereafter, a reelection rally that no one would forget—if they survive it.

Cadaver in Chief is a tongue in cheek political mystery that pays homage to movies like The Manchurian Candidate and All the Presidents Men—with zombies.  It’s also a nice little novella.  However, if there’s any problem with this mini-novel, it’s that it could use a little fleshing out.  Steve Hockensmith creates an interesting mystery full of government operatives and smarmy politicians, political apathy and conspiracy nuts (who may not be so nutty) and the type of experiments that might get a scientist branded “mad”,  but ten chapters is barely enough space to scratch the surface.  By the end of the novella, I felt a bit—unsatisfied.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because the story was lacking, rather that it lacked a bit of story.  Or, to put it another way—this novella screams for a sequel.

As for the main character, Jan Woods may be the stereotypically “plucky” reporter, but she’s also days away from retirement, much like “that cop” in any police procedural, and it’s refreshing to see a character who’s not a young, perky blonde with crazy computer skills and a body to die for.  Nor is she the grizzled Ed Asner type, simply a good reporter who’s become slightly apathetic in an age where no one respects her medium (newsprint) yet still wants to get the truth out there.

Of course, good dialogue is something I’ve always appreciated in a novel, and it’s something Steve Hockensmith excels at.  Granted, in real life not everyone is witty or wittily sarcastic (although they might like to think so), but, as I’ve said before–smart, funny dialogue is a defining feature of his previous novels.

I was a little worried at times that this was simply going to be a put-down of conservative (read that as Republican) politicians, but as time went on, the satiric vitriol came down pretty much equally on both sides of the aisle.  If there’s one thing that crosses party lines, it’s the capacity of politicians to set themselves up for ridicule.

Overall, Cadaver in Chief is a bit of zombie fun that partisans of both liberal and conservative bent can sink their teeth into.

B

(A word of apology to Steve Hockensmith: He was gracious enough to send me a preview copy of Cadaver in Chief back in November and grant me an interview, yet it’s taken until now for me to get a review together.  I’ve no readily available excuse except to claim a bit of “zombie fatigue” which has resulted in the delay.  Steve Hockensmith is a great writer and a good guy, and if you’d like to learn more about his works and process, he maintains a blog at http://www.stevehockensmith.com)

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

“Of all the weapons she had commanded, Elizabeth knew the least of love; and of all the weapons in the world, love was the most dangerous.”

 It’s always a crapshoot to re-envision a classic.  For every Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly, there’s a Starship Troopers starring Casper van Diem.  It’s even more of a crapshoot to take the original author’s vision and totally turn it on its head.  So, it was with much curiosity that I picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith: copyright 2009, Quirk Books) Seth Grahame-Smith’s take on the seminal tale of the five Bennett sisters and their search for love and security in 18th century England.  It certainly takes a large amount of pride to assume oneself capable of taking a classic romance, mashing in a few zombies and some kick ass eastern fighting styles, and bringing forth what could only be described as a horrifying romance that captures the original author’s intent…but Seth Grahame-Smith was apparently the man for the job.

I imagine that anyone with a passing interest in literature has at least heard of the tale of the Bennett sisters, specifically Elizabeth, and her interactions with the mercurial Mr. Darcy.  One has an overabundance of pride, and the other finds the man’s pride so odious that she develops such a prejudice (yes, I know, hence the title) against him that the reader is left wondering how these two so obviously unsuited lovers can possibly get together. (Full disclosure–Pride and Prejudice  has been on my “to read” list for pretty much ever)  From what I gather on the subject, the original novel is a damning expose of 18th century convention and the wall between social classes, and even within them.  This version has a little fun with it.

So, let’s start with a short synopsis and go from there:

It’s been a few years since the events of Dawn of the Dreadfuls and the Bennett sisters have followed in their father’s footsteps, each of them travelling to the Orient to learn the ways of the Shaolin monks, a decidedly unladylike  action made necessary by the resurrection of the Dreadful menace, which has only gotten worse since the events of the prequel.  England is in a state of perpetual siege at the hands of the undead. London has become a walled fortress and travel around the countryside (unless it’s the dead of Winter–note to reader–the undead freeze) is a perilous affair.  However, life must go on, and the matriarch of the Bennett family is always on the lookout for possible suitors for her daughters.  With the re-habitation of Netherfield Park by the handsome (and very rich) Mr. Bingley, Mrs. Bennett sees a chance to both assure a future of comfort for her eldest daughter Jane, and by extension, the Bennetts.  When Jane endeavours to visit the Bingley’s and falls ill, Elizabeth is sent to watch over her recovery and during the course of the vigil, interacts with Fitzwilliam Darcy, whom she already has developed a grudge against, based on her initial observations at a local ball.

It’s hate at first sight, tempered by a certain appreciation of his martial qualities–ie.  he kills Zombies.  Elizabeth has devoted herself to a life of protecting her family and friends from the undead menace, telling herself that her duty allows no time for love, yet finds herself curiously drawn to Darcy.  However, events, as they often do in romance novels, conspire to keep the lovebirds apart.  The lies of Darcy’s childhood friend George Wickham influence Elizabeth greatly, as does Darcy’s treacherous (or so it seems) behaviour in coming between Jane and Charles Bingley.

All right, I’m already bored.  Suffice it to say that the reimagination of Austen’s work stays true to the original storyline, within limits.  However, Smith manages to seamlessly blend the horrific elements into the storyline, and adds a certain amount of bawdy humour that I doubt was in the original (not that Austen wasn’t a wit, it’s just that his additions are crude enough that I cannot believe Austen would have thought of them).

Examples abound of Smith’s somewhat bawdy additions to the original storyline.  When Elizabeth asks Mr. Darcy his opinion on the subject of balls (the formal dances), he responds with:

“…I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones.”

Elizabeth’s reply:

“On the contrary, I find that balls are much more enjoyable when they cease to remain private.”

Zoinks!  Double entendre anyone?

Later, when Elizabeth is entertaining Lady Catherine Debourgh and company with a demonstration of her nimbleness, walking about on her hands and finally supporting her weight on one finger, Lady Catherine observes to Darcy:

“Miss Bennet would make a fine showing of Leopard’s Claw if she practiced more, and could have the advantage of a Japanese master.  She has a very good notion of fingering.”

Darcy’s response:

“That she does.”

Ahem…cough, cough…Jane Austen would blush.

Let’s not forget Elizabeth’s younger sisters, the boy crazy Lydia and her easily influenced sister Kitty.  When the local militia regiment decamps from the area, they are disconsolate, Lydia whining that:

Only think what a miserable summer else we shall have!  With hardly any balls to be had in Meryton!”

To which Elizabeth cannot refrain from thinking:

“Yes…a summer with so few balls would be miserable indeed for a girl who thinks of little else.”

Anyway, I think you see where I’m going.  Smith has managed to channel Austen’s wit and brand it with his own (somewhat less delicate) sense of humour.

He also manages to change the essential character of Elizabeth’s relationship with lady Catherine.  In the original, lady Catherine looks down on the Bennetts as lower class and Elizabeth specifically as not worthy of her nephew’s attentions due to her diminished social status.  In this version, that is coupled with her disdain for Elizabeth’s training, shunning her Chinese training in the Shaolin ways as inferior to that of the Japanese, whose ninjitsu arts she is heavily influenced by.  She eventually goes so far as to sick her house ninjas on Elizabeth in a desperate attempt to foil their eventual union.

All in all this revised imagining of a perennial classic works, spicing up the original tale of romance with a healthy dose of both horror and the absurd, and (I would think) attracts a new audience that would likely never be exposed to the original without the addition of those horrific elements.  It’s definitely worth a read, and with the addition of both a prequel and sequel by the equally talented Steve Hockensmith, there’s plenty more for the reader to enjoy.

 

 

 

The Walking Dead Lurches From Page to Small Screen!

  “In a World ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

The Walking Dead made its debut in 2003, and over the past seven years, writer Robert Kirkman and illustrator Tony Moore have crafted a World that Thomas Hobbes would appreciate…a World in which life is cheap: nasty, brutal and short.  The question they asked themselves in moulding this world: “How do people deal with extreme situations and how do those same situations change people?”  What better way to explore the psyche of society than to explore the reactions of everyday people to an event so horrifying and final that every societal norm we take for granted comes into question?

That event… Zombie apocalypse. 

 

Over the course of 13 graphic novels, Kirkman and Moore have introduced a variety of characters trying to deal with everyday life in a World that is no longer everyday.  Centered around Rick Grimes, formerly a police officer in rural Kentucky, The Walking Dead tells the story of a ragtag group of survivors and their quest not so much for answers as  for mere survival in what could only be described as life after the end of the world.  Rick becomes a natural leader in this world, and The Walking Dead chronicles his attempts to keep a small segment of society alive under impossible conditions.  His story contains every element of human nature, from courage and duty to  cowardice and treachery, love of life to suicide…pretty much every human emotion and quality…or  inferiority that one can think of.  Every  facet of the human condition (whether enlightened or banal) has been explored at one point or another within the series.

 

My favourite feature of  The Walking Dead?

You never know where it’s going to go.  No one is safe.  Whether a character has been there from the start, or is simply a plot device, any and all characters are expendable.  And that is simply refreshing.  No cookie cutter heroes and villains…simply humanity, with all the warts.

 

So, it was with great excitement that I found out the other day that The Walking Dead has been translated into an original television series, premiering on October 31st, 2010, (Otherwise known as Hallowe’en) on AMC 

 

Thank you Frank Darabont!