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Monday, September 21, 2009

SEASON OF ROT by Eric S. Brown

Season of Rot (Five Zombie Novellas) by Eric S. Brown
La Vergne, Tennessee: Permuted Press
$14.95 (paperback) – 240 pages

“In Eric Brown’s apocalypse, all we have left is each other…and that’s not always a good thing, either.”
-David Dunwoody, author of Dark Entities


If you are a fan of the apocalypse movies that are currently common fare in American theaters, you will immediately recognize the landscape of Season of Rot. From Cormac McCarthy’s classic, “The Road” to the endless clones of the “Mad Max” and George Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” this is a world of rusted wreckage, starvation and the smell of decay. There are still pockets of life – terrified colonies of beleaguered humans who spend each day in a desperate search for food and shelter. The prevailing atmosphere in these “latter days” epics is a kind of sustained despair plus paranoia. Eric Brown’s message, like the signs held aloft by the crazed prophets in cartoons is, “The End is Near.”

In Season of Rot, humanity is defenseless against the legions of “the undead” – millions of mindless, rotting corpses that suddenly, inexplicably crawled from their graves as though responding to a mysterious summons. Now, they shuffle through abandoned buildings, deserted homes and the barren countryside searching for food: living flesh. Earth’s survivors are dwindling while the ranks of the undead are growing. Eric Brown, the author of Season of Rot, frequently notes (with ill-concealed glee) that humanity doesn’t stand a chance.

Much of the action in Season of Rot resembles the plot of a graphic novel without the graphics (In fact, according to this book’s gutsy self-promotion, one of Brown’s novellas, “Dead West” is destined to become a graphic novel - It would make a good one). In most of the stories, the action has a “computer-game” quality with each plot presenting a series of predictable and interchangeable episodes and characters: (1) Beleaguered survivors flee; (2) find a temporary safe haven; (3) plan an escape to permanent safety (another country or an island), (4) are invariably attacked (hopelessly outnumbered), (5) die heroically, usually firing AK-47s as their intestines, hearts or heads are ripped away.

The majority of Brown’s characters suffer from minimal development since in “zombie world” the emphasis is on action, not introspection. Male characters are limited to: handsome and muscular or “scientific and eccentric” or military and short-tempered. Women are well developed, manipulative, sensual or nurturing. Everyone is well armed. The weapons of choice are AK-47s, shotguns and flame-throwers. Slaughter reaches epic proportions with the majority of characters in Season of Rot barely having time to acquire names and a presence on stage before they are swept away in a flood of gore.

Readers are rarely given the opportunity to learn anything about the background of the people who inhabit Brown’s five novellas. It may be that in this grim world where all humanity is as ephemeral as may flies, their personal dreams, hopes and aspirations are irrelevant. Sooner or later, everyone is “grist for the mill.”

Brown’s five novella consist of the following: The title piece, “Season of Rot,” which is set in a besieged hospital (with the obligatory snipers on the roof); “The Queen” which is the name of a ship – the crew of survivors are in search of an uncontaminated island; “The Wave” provides an original explanation for the “rising of the dead” – a wave of energy originating in outer space, that creates and manipulates the dead; “Dead West” which is set in the Midwest following the Civil War and presents “an alternate version of history,” and “Rats” in which infected rodents, in conjunction with “the dead,” have taken over the world, except for a secret military installation…

Two of these novellas, “The Wave” and “Dead West” actually contain viable characters, and in both stories, the plot unfolds with an imagination and a sense of suspense that is largely missing in the other tales. However, all of the stories suffer from stilted, awkward dialogue that is invariably delivered by characters that sound like posturing teenagers, ill at ease in the role of adults. Sexual activity seems more functional than erotic and the occasional introduction of gay and/or lesbian characters lacks credibility, depth or warmth. Possibly, they were added in an unabashed attempt to suggest sophistication and maturity.

What then, is the appeal of Season of Rot? Why are impressive numbers of teenagers addicted to “zombie? land” novels and film? Well, to quote one of R. Crumb’s characters, “It was ever so.” The excesses of violence and horror found in Brown’s novellas (disembowelments, beheadings, and an abundance of gore - geysers of blood, savage rapes, raining body parts and bone fragments and numerous intestinal tracts that are continually springing from ruptured bodies like Jacks-in-the-boxes – all of these shocking images have a famous precedent: The Grand Guignol theater in Paris in 1897 which became notorious for enacting scenes of graphic, amoral horror on stage. Due to the graphic realism of the action, members of the audience frequently fainted and/or vomited. Since that time, any work of horror (film, paintings, novels) that stresses excessive bloodshed over plotting, good writing and character development is called “Grand Guignol.” Season of Rot definitely qualifies.

10 comments:

  1. Since no one else is posting on this book review, I'll post myself. I have received several emails that suggested that I have an aversion to horror fiction. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    I've been an ardent fan of horror since I was six years old, and beginning with people like Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft, I have read and appreciated major horror writers. What I have an aversion to is blatent, crude and poorly written horror. I had hoped to attract a bit of discussion here about the current zombie land fiction, but it may be people who read zombie fiction can't express themselves ver well.
    That is okay. I'll settle for some folks that dislike this stuff as much as I do.

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  2. Perhaps the reason no one else is posting about your book review, and why you got emails suggesting that you have an aversion to horror fiction, is because you seem to have gone out of your way to give that impression.

    You admitted early on that the book is focused on action, then you go on to gripe and complain that it's not written the way you prefer. Well... that's fine for a personal opinion but it's a pretty poor way to write a professional review. You weren't the least bit neutral.

    A good, professional review should point out the strengths and weaknesses of a book while the reviewer remains totally neutral. It's your job to give people who read your reviews information so they can decide if they want to read the book. You didn't do that at all. What you gave us is basically a book report colored heavily with your personal choice.

    I suggest that in the future, if you can't remain neutral when reviewing, that you turn down books you don't personally like. That way you won't do a disservice to the author of the book and you won't upset the people who read your reviews..

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  3. Well, believe me, Crystal Wizard, I, admittedly, did not want to review this book in the first place. I think you are dead-on correct, and in the future, I will make every attempt to avoid reviewing books like this one. You certainly have a unique opinion about what a "professional review" is. Have you ever actually read a review? I'm not talking about those self-promoting blurbs that are all over this one. Check out the New York Times that hands out verbal thrasings to writers and poorly written novels daily. Check out Time magazine, or the Atlanta Constitution. Who are you, anyway? Is Crystal Wizard possibly a "pen name"???

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  4. Mr. Carden,

    You state, "I, admittedly, did not want to review this book in the first place." Why then, if I may ask, did you then review it? Your negative views of the stories, as well as the genre, shine through in your review.

    One rarely finds thorough character development in a short story or novella. These short works are meant to begin with action, continue with action and ultimately end with action. That is precisely what Mr. Brown presented in each of the five novellas.

    This is genre fiction Mr. Carden. Specifically the zombie genre. There are no happy endings.

    And yes, before you go off and state "Well no wonder he's unhappy with the review, he's published Eric S. Brown's work before." And I have. And I will continue to do so because there is an audience for this type of fiction. A very large audience.

    I will let them know of your review and have them post their thoughts here.

    Thank you for the opportunity to post a comment.

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  5. M. Poppy West,
    I am not employed by Smoky Mountain News to write book reviews. I am a free-lance reviewer and I have been doing reviews for the Smoky Mountain News for 12 years.
    Eric Brown asked the editor of SMN to ask me to review his book and because the editor asked me, I agreed....no other reviewer connected with the paper would review Eric's book. When I said that I had received several emails about the review of Eric's book, I neglected to say that all of the inquiries came from friends who have veen reading my reviews for a decade and all noted that I was obviously not a fan of "zombie lit." They had never heard of Eric or his book and wanted to know if "zombie land" od a real genre. I assured them that it is. Incidentally, I am a 74-year-old writer, a playwright and a former teacher. Since I teach creative writing and have a writers group, I appreciate your insight into "action-driven plots" as opposed to "character-driven plots.' Obviously, I prefer the latter.

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  6. Seems to me Crystal Cathedral may have an itch that is just not scratchable.

    Leisure Publications, Dorcester Publishing has been publishing 2 Horror Titles a month for fifteen years. The names they publish are usually ones easily recognizable in the genre. Occasionally a new writer will break into the line but not for reasons you might imagine.

    The Publisher speaks to this in a recent interview in CEMETERY DANCE magazine. Though the reasons are varied most come back to content and how often a premise follows what is currently being printed. So as not to overdo a subject, such as vampires, he will choose a different topic from his current catalog of extremely well written titles.

    Yet the Publisher states that it goes without saying, titles rejected a particular time of the year have nothing to do with the quality of the writing, only that the content produced by one writer is superior to the other.

    Soooo, one should not give up, just because they have been bumped from the line, that is of course, assumming that the writer has something original to say and the piece is well written.

    There are anomalies that sneak through the cracks, manage to get published and even receive a review from a well known writer of high rank.

    The fact that one is poorly written and of little literary value stills deserves its shot at gory. Let the bodies fall.

    The writer of Season of Rot must be jubliant that his book was not completely ignored. NOW it can be forgotten as so many books of this ilk are. After all this book is not an I AM LEGEND by the likes of Richard Matheson.

    Rejoice in Mr. Carden's review, Crystal King, include it on your resume when you want to impress your peers. It is one more than they will have.

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