Filler content with brains

Posted to the old TTA Press website on 7th June 2007:-

BRAINCHILD
Omnibucket paperback, 64pp, $15 (Sold Out!)

This is the way the world ends. Courtesy of Romero reborn, Shaun of the Dead and a slew of bestselling Horror novels, the coming zombie apocalypse has about it a sense of immediacy that sitting around waiting for peak oil or the polar ice caps to melt just can’t compete with.

And hence this book, the first production off the line from new kid on the block Omnibucket, slim as a supermodel and every bit as drop dead gorgeous, with emphasis on the dead, and the intriguing tag line ‘a collection of artifacts’, but actually what we’re talking about is short stories, articles and artwork, all of them featuring those flesh eating zombies we love to hate. In tone it reminded me of nothing so much as the grounding moments in a Living Dead movie, with news reports coming in over the wire and earnest commentators trying to make sense of it all, while the army shoots first and asks questions later, and all of these snapshots and individual stories, the necessary adjuncts to our suspension of disbelief, interweaving to convey the immediacy of disaster on a global scale and empowering us to think the unthinkable.

There’s an urgency to much of the written work. ‘Running’ by David Wellington is about one man’s attempt to escape the carnage with the help of the military, and gives us the first taste of the inevitability of the collapse of civilisation. Rebecca Brock contributes two vignettes under the general heading ‘Black Days’. ‘Sandy’ is the story of an office worker caught up in events, with strong echoes of 9/11 in the stunned disbelief with which the characters bear witness to what unfolds before their very eyes, while ‘Paul’ moves on to the dog days between the death of the old order and formulation of a new society, with the eponymous hero moving through a blighted landscape, scavenging for scraps of food and shelter, dodging the zombie flesh eaters and employing a pragmatism from which many will recoil. ‘SPQR’ by David Senecal is a brief snapshot of zombie use in gladiatorial games, the pay off in the vicious end note, while ‘On the Western Front’ by Senecal and Scott Lambridis takes the war home to the zombies with the military preparing to fend off an attack. We get critical grace notes too, with Mia Epstein’s ‘My Zombie Girlfriend’ examining the role of women as zombies in the movies, an essay that is perhaps a little too lacking in focus to succeed on its own terms, but interesting all the same for the overview it gives of media representation of this archetypal horror. In ‘Book of Matches’ by Charles Hogle the new order is firmly in place, with the truth behind recent events brought out of the closet in a resolution that harks back to the origins of the zombie myth and reinforces another of our baseline fears, that of government and authority, these ideas dramatised in the moving plight of a dying farmhand and his daughter preparing to destroy their bodies rather than become part of the zombie workforce.

Each work of fiction is interesting in its own right, with those by Brock and Hogle, the tales of individuals coming to terms with what has happened to them, the most successful and packing the greatest emotional punch. Overall though I don’t think these stories, fine and commendable as they are individually, add up to a cohesive whole, a scenario of collapse that is credible. What we get is a kaleidoscope of constantly shifting images, rather than the pieces of a jigsaw which neatly slot into some preordained pattern; aesthetically pleasing certainly, but ultimately the overview they attempt is too riddled with contradiction to convince.

Prose is only a part of this project, and not necessarily the most significant. For many the book’s appeal will lie in the wealth of artwork gracing its pages, and on that score Brainchild can’t be faulted. In the selection of full page and full colour illustrations, paintings that contrast and complement each other, by turns vicious and packed with gore, lush and almost romantic, contortions of the human body and aberrations of nature, there is a glue to bind the written material and hold together this fragile gestalt. It would be wrong to single out any particular artist, but David Senecal, who may be familiar to Black Static readers from his work in our sister magazine Interzone, is part of the driving force behind this project, and contributes more artwork than anyone else, each painting packed with movement and glorious colour. I’m also going to mention the crayon drawing of a zombie by Justin Mills, which for poignancy and rawness simply can’t be beat, who is only nine years old if the end credits are to be believed and waiting for the day when his mother will let him read the book. Perhaps she’ll let him see one of his first reviews.

And then there’s the one bum note, two pages of adverts for stationery outlets etc, in glowing neon colours, which deaden the mood, as if you’ve just eaten a perfect meal at a gourmet restaurant and then been handed a half sucked polo on a silver tray instead of the anticipated After Eight mint. Regardless of any commercial considerations, this is a great project, one which invests in doing things just that little bit differently, with imagination and flair, and it deserves to succeed, so let’s all hope it sells enough copies they don’t have to rent out ad space next time around.

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One Response to Filler content with brains

  1. petertennant says:

    This is bad. I forgot it was a Sunday 😦

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