It’s been a few years since Howard Odentz’s novel Dead (a Lot) came out. It turned out to be a nice surprise in a genre that can sometimes be a
It’s been a few years since Howard Odentz’s novel Dead (a Lot) came out. It turned out to be a nice surprise in a genre that can sometimes be a bit predictable. There are only so many ways you can present the zombie apocalypse, after all, and it’s easy to think just about everything has been done. Of course, the same could be said about stories in general. In the end, what makes them different is the way they draw us into their characters.
Since Dead (a Lot) in 2013, Odentz has been busy, writing and releasing two other horror novels, Bloody, Bloody Apple and Little Killers A to Z. It had been about three years since I’d read Dead (a Lot), so for continuity’s sake, I decided to re-visit it before tackling Wicked Dead. I’m glad I did, because it made me realize how Odentz hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, it’s like he never left.
In a nutshell, the Dead (a Lot) series takes place in a world much like ours except for the roaming hordes of zombies, which are known in the story as Poxers. This name is a reference to Necropoxy, the human-created disease that brings on the apocalypse. Some people are immune to the virus, and, as might be expected, scientists are interested in finding and studying them. The premise is certainly interesting, but what makes the series so readable is Odentz’s masterful character development and brilliant pacing.
Wicked Dead picks up right where Dead (a Lot) left off, and our main character Tripp Light’s narration is just as sharp, witty, and engaging as it ever was. Most of the characters have returned for this one. Tripp and his twin sister Trina are back, as are Tripp’s sort of girlfriend Prianka and her brother Sanjay. Trina’s boyfriend Jimmy is here again as well, and now the twins’ mom and dad are on hand.
There are a few other new players, the most notable being an elderly bus driver named Dorcas Duke. Without revealing too much, I’ll say that Tripp’s scenes with Dorcas are some of the finest in the novel. They’re funny, scary, and touching. Humor and horror are two of the most difficult things a writer can pull off, but Odentz makes it seem like a breeze in Wicked Dead, many times in the same scene.
At the risk of generalizing, if Dead (a Lot) was a story of searching and staying alive, Wicked Dead is a tale about being on the run and growing up. And yes, it’s still about staying alive. Come on, it’s the zombie apocalypse. Above all, it’s fast-paced, and it keeps the reader flipping pages, probably way past his bedtime. Not that I would know anything about that, mind you.
I’m just over here waiting on the next book.
Continuing in the creepy tradition of his earlier books, the novels Dead (a Lot) and Bloody Bloody Apple, Howard Odentz’s new effort, Little Killers A to Z, is a project that may seem more innocent than what’s come before, at least superficially. It’s no children’s book, though. Once you start reading, in fact, you start to realize just how expertly this author is able to plumb the depths of weirdness and horror.
Each story in this collection introduces us to a new character, with rhyming titles like “A is for Andy Who Watches His Dad” and “B is for Boris, and Rifka, and Vlad,” then, almost immediately, we discover the terror that lies beneath the surface. For instance, in “O is for Oz Who Has Piss Poor Genetics,” there’s a young boy whose controlling mother is determined to correct all the biological disadvantages he’s inherited; “M is for Maura Who Builds a Partition” gives us a girl who really, really wants to be alone; and in my personal favorite, “E is for Emmett Who’s Always Behind,” we meet a boy who just can’t seem to co-exist with his twin brother, no matter how he tries.
Essentially, Little Killers A to Z is a book of stories about children who do bad, bad things. Anyone who’s read horror or watched scary movies knows there are few things more terrifying than creepy kids, and Odentz takes this premise and runs with it for all its worth. For lovers of the genre, there’s a bit of everything here: killers, stalkers, chasers, revenge seekers, apocalypse survivors, evil twins, serial killers, supernatural critters, you name it. This collection employs many of the go-to tools of the horror story, but it manages to defy expectations at every turn. And be warned, it’s habit-forming.
Some of the stories in Little Killers A to Z will leave you with your mouth hanging open, a few will make you laugh (even as you hope no one hears you), while others have endings that will immediately make you want to re-read them. One or two just might even give you an excuse to mosey by the front door and check the lock. (You know, just in case.) And even when you think you know what’s going to happen, it turns out you really don’t.
Edgar Allan Poe once said that the ideal short story should be readable within one sitting. The tales in Little Killers A to Z fits this standard perfectly, with one significant drawback: You won’t want to stop at just one. Trust me on this.
Book reviewers have a tough job, you guys. They have to read books and, you know, review them. It’s not as sexy as it sounds, and the truth is sometimes they get tired and become not so good at coming up with original words to say. And then, occasionally, the book they’re reviewing doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
But they have to write something, right? Perhaps something like these blurbs.
“Reading this book was a viable alternative to being fitted for adult braces.”
“This will likely not be the only book you ever read.”
“You will undoubtedly read this after having read something else.”
“Reading it occupied time I could have spent doing other things.”
“Of all the books I’ve ever read, this was the most recent.”
“This was a book I apparently read.”
“Once I started reading the book, I couldn’t put it down. It was covered in industrial strength maple syrup.”
Hey, look. Flapperhouse is featuring “5/15/1984,” one of my two poems from their Summer 2015 issue.
I want to start a movement to bring back all the slang from P.G. Wodehouse novels and stories. We all know the Brits have the most extensive and lexicon of nicknames, salutations, and put downs, but Wodehouse was a sheer master of the old lingo.
Right ho, old scream, what?
Just saw the trailer for Con Man, the Vimeo miniseries from Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion. I was going to say I can’t wait for this. But I will wait for it, because I have to. Which, I guess, means I actually can wait for it.
It appears to feature every person who’s ever been in a Joss Whedon project (JW included) and nearly every other sci-fi actor from the past twenty years.
It also looks superb.
I’m an over-writer, and I know it. No matter what I’m working on, I know I’m going to have to dial myself back, get rid of all the extraneous material. Even then, I know it’s going to be too long. It’s something I’ve learned to live with.
Enough about me.
Here’s the thing: I am in constant awe of writers who can pull off short-short fiction. Serious awe, in the truest definition of the word. No hyperbole here.
Once, when I lived and played music in San Diego, a guitarist walked up to the stage during one of our breaks and asked if he could check out my guitar. Reluctantly, I said yes, and he promptly flipped it over and played it left-handed. A guitar strung for me, a right-hander. He was brilliant, too.
I’m talking about myself again.
My point is this is the same way I feel when someone like Foust, the author of the new collection Sins of Omission, does what she does. I’m amazed, confused, and yes, damn it, I’m all kinds of envious.
I’ve heard people say that flash fiction is a gimmick, that those kinds of stories don’t have an arc, a beginning, middle and end. Short short stories leave you hanging, in other words. To those people, I say, yes, anything can be a gimmick. Oh, and I also say they haven’t been reading good flash fiction.
Good flash fiction does what all good stories do. It changes you in some way, leaving you in a different place than where you were when you started. It gives you a new view into the world, into an a-ha moment you never knew you couldn’t live without. You can occasionally go through an entire long story or novel and never experience that moment, by the way. The good news is every story in this collection has at least one of those moments.
The forty-two short-short stories in Sins of Omission are small only in the actual amount of paper they cover. Every other thing about them is huge. Plus, you’re always going to want to go back and read them again, so there’s that.
So trust me. You should buy this book.
Over the weekend, we “discovered” a British series, Blandings, based on the works of P.G. Wodehouse, specifically his Blandings Castle novels and stories. It centers on the estate of Lord Clarence Emsworth, the silly family members who refuse to leave him to raising his pig, and a rotating roster of amusing characters.
In case you don’t know me, or if you’ve never been within hearing range of my voice, I’m an ardent fan of Wodehouse. If you haven’t read him, do so, and sooner than is convenient, if possible. If you ask me, he’s only one of the finest comic writers to ever scribble down words in the English language.
Of course, Jeeves and Wooster, starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, is the gold standard for Wodehouse-inspired fare, but Blandings is also damn good. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the series stars Jennifer Saunders, but the rest of the cast ably inhabit the trademark Wodehouse characters: Timothy Spall is Lord Clarence Emsworth, Mark Williams is the staid butler Beach, and Jack Farthing is Emsworth’s flighty son Freddie Threepwood.