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MARVEL ZOMBIES By Kirkman, Phillips, Suydam – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2012 by stanleyriiks

I have a decent comic collection, but unlike books or films, they are a kind of take ‘em or leave ‘em thing for me. I’ll get into comic books for a few months, buy a load of graphic novels (stand-alone stories or mini-series are much preferable to the unending arcs of the regular issues), read most of them and then put them away in a box under the bed and not bother going to the comic shop for a few years.

I generally don’t read Marvel comics, I prefer my superheroes darker and more mature, like Batman and the Vertigo line. I like Frank Millar, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis. Traditional superheroes, like the Marvel characters, I prefer to watch now that films have surpassed the drawn page.

But Marvel Zombies intrigued me. The very idea is genius. Mix popular superheroes with zombies and see what happens.

This is not your average Marvel superhero story, and Marvel brought in none other than The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman to write it. The story seems to have already started when we enter the action, Magneto (normally a villain) is fighting for his life against the rest of the Marvel Universe who have been turned into zombies. They want to eat him. The Fantastic Four have been banished to an alternative dimension, and only The Black Panther (who is being held captive and slowly eaten) is available to stop the ravening hordes.

The Silver Surfer appears briefly, only to become more food.

Like The Walking Dead TV series (I’ve not read the comics), this is mostly about the character interactions and exploring (slightly) the zombie mythos.  It’s all fairly good stuff, nothing massively exciting, but it builds nicely towards a massive zombie battle and then, typical of comic books, leaves a nice cliff-hanger for the story to continue in the next episode (collected together in the appropriately titled Marvel Zombies 2) surprisingly enough.

The gruesome artwork and some quite shocking scenes beat out the weak story to make this book worthwhile. It’s the perfect introduction to horror comic books for those uninitiated and for fans of Marvel’s superheroes it is a stark and brutal reminder of the horror of zombies.

Good, but not great, the idea behind it is sheer genius. The execution is entertaining, and very dark, not what you would normally except from the house of ideas. Zombies rule, in the Marvel Universe too.

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Zombies… Pressure/Opportunity…

Posted in Life..., Morpheus Tales Magazine, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2011 by stanleyriiks

I was recently asked to contribute to an anthology of original dark fiction. Great, you may say, but then I found out who else was going to be in this book. The list was hideously. It sent cold shivers down my spine and made me feel a little nauseous. Two of my favourite writers were on that list, and the rest were pretty damn good too.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing and when things are going well I feel like I belong up there with Stephen King and Clive Barker. But when things are not going so well, I fear anyone will read the dross I come out with.

Massive opportunity. Massive amount of pressure.

I waited for inspiration to strike, I waited and waited as the deadline loomed closer. Slowly but surely the deadline crept up on me and inspiration failed.

Having been a bit rusty in the fiction-writing department, I had thrown out a couple of stories for practice and to try to get a bit of a rhythm going. Managed to knock together a couple of zombie stories, one, at 60,000 words, the longest  I’d written in years.  Editing that down to the 10,000 maximum was too daunting a task, so I thought I’d adapt an old idea I’d had lurking around for a little while.

A futuristic warrior lands on a zombie infested-planet…

The basic concept needed sorting out into a plot with characters…

With the deadline ever closer I had no choice but to start writing, my brain had no more time to let ideas percolate. If things worked out marvellous, if they didn’t… Well, I didn’t want to think about that!

The story was written, twelve thousand words later, weeks worth of writing and I was done. But the story hadn’t turned out how I’d wanted it to. The editing job it needed would be enormous. I could certainly polish it up into something respectable, but editing isn’t exactly my idea of fun and it would take a lot of work.

With the deadline just around the corner I had a decision to make, and virtually no time to make it.

A personal post-apocalyptic tale I had written before I knew about the book had turned out pretty well, I was happy with it, as happy as us sensitive creative types can be that is.  I put it forward to the editor, on the deadline. He snapped my hand off, gave me a nod of affirmation and later emailed me confirmation that the story would be included.

Now I sit and wait, hunched up and trembling with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and fear…

ANNO MORTIS By Rebecca Levene – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2010 by stanleyriiks

Zombies in ancient Rome? Gladiators and zombies? I bet the publishers were wetting themselves hearing the idea for this. Unfortunately somewhere along the line the idea got a little watered down as the plot developed.

A female gladiator, a rich young playboy, a pampered slave and a mysterious red-headed man join forces when they discover there is an ancient Egyptian Sect planning on opening the gates of death in Caligula’s Rome. Fighting not only the all-powerful sect, which has infiltrated all of high society, but also staying out of reach of the crazy Caesar, will keep our company occupied.

Ok, so the passion and excitement that swelled with the idea is a little tempered. But it could still be a pretty good book.

And it is, until the end, when all goes to hell, literally, when our heroes have to go to the land of death, visiting with the Gods themselves in their efforts to put things back to normal. While the Roman zombies are set up nice and plausibly, the ending just goes too far, breaking through the thin web of believability, heading into unknown realms. It just goes too far, the “twist” ending, which takes up the last fifty odd pages, just makes all of what happened previously a waste of time.

The characters are pretty good, and the book starts well, but the ending virtually ruins it.

Abaddon Books can be praised for virtually starting the current trend of historical zombie stories, but unfortunately for them other people are doing it much better.

So much promise, so much disappointment. A worthy effort, but only for those obsessed with the undead, otherwise there is better on offer.

CHASM By Stephen Laws – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2009 by stanleyriiks

Apocalypse and post-apocalypse novels really float by boat. Armageddon is often a beautiful mix of sf and horror, superbly blended to create novels and stories that are at once horrifyingly realistic, and just a stretch of the imagination away. The end of the world scenario allows a freedom that plain horror just doesn’t.

So as I started reading Chasm, I was getting excited. Laws is one of British’s best horror writers, he started out in the nineties, when I was still young and discovering horror novels for the first time. He brought a Britishness that was sadly lacking from the majority of the novels I read by the likes of King, Laymon, Koontz, etc. Laws was setting a trend, along with Steve Harris, for the British horror novel that has not yet been matched.

Edmonville is a small town which is ripped apart by a massive earthquake that leaves the town in ruins, chasms on all sides. A rag-tag group of survivors band together, hoping that there’s safety in numbers. But then something strange happens. A man in an off-license explodes in a mess of black fluid that chases a couple down to the local survivor centre, and most of the remains of the town’s population are blown to pieces.

Jay, a school cleaner; a lesbian couple who ran the hardware store; a married couple whose son has died; two teenagers from the local school; a young man with a stutter; and a young boy who lost his parents; are all that’s left of the town and must make their way in the new world, trapped as they are on a small piece of ruined town, surrounded by nothing but mile-deep chasms.

So far so good, but Laws tries to do too much. His over-ambition just piles on the horror, and then some more horror, and towards the end, a whole new set of horror in the form of lawless Mad Max/Doomsday type gangs.

Some of its good, but some of this just feels like Laws has been told apocalyptic novels have to be 600 pages long and he’s struggling to get there until inspiration sets in two thirds of the way through. The book just feels too long, it drags through the middle when a nice bit of rewriting would have cut out a couple of hundred pages, shifted the final third of the book forward to the middle and made everything hunky dory!

I’m not saying this is a bad book, Laws is a good writer, the plot is mostly good, and it’s a decent idea. But the end falls a little flat and the “happy ending” is a bit forced. And the biggest problem is the lack of characters. Ok, so this is an ensemble piece, but Jay (our protagonist) has his own diary every few chapters to give us an insight into his character, and even if he died I couldn’t have cared less. The lack of decent and significant characters in a book which is over five hundred pages long just screams rewrite. The characters are fairly clearly defined, they all have backgrounds, albeit brief ones, but none of the characters is more than a cardboard cut-out.

I can’t remember facing this problem with any of Laws’ other novels, and although I’ve only read about four of them, Something South of Midnight was only read just over a year ago.

I wish I could say that Chasm was good, but it’s not. It’s not bad. And it’s certainly got good bits, but with weak characters and being over-long at neatly five hundred and fifty tightly packed pages, Chasm is a wasted opportunity. Such a shame.