Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tankbread by Paul Mannering

Tankbread – Book Review.
Paul Mannering.
Digital edition.
Review by Matthew Tait.

Zombies. They are everywhere in the genre at the moment. And like them or not, the undead are here to stay. The trick in fiction, of course, is to try and dig something new out of the sand - an original vision to complement what a certain director named George started all those years ago. Right off the bat, Paul Mannering has accomplished this with the setting: Australia. Not only is this the land of my birth, but its environs are almost unexplored in horror territory. It is only just now that we are seeing what this country is capable of producing – not only it’s hinterland potential ... but also the writing talent that resides both here and in New Zealand.

Narrated in first person, TANKBREAD reads like the culmination of a life-time spent studying the horror terrain. Our raconteur is amusing, sarcastic, and has just the right amount of ‘everyman’ quality to appeal to a broad spectrum. A title that raises questions, we soon find out the cryptic meaning of the word: zombie food. In this apocalypse, the survivors’ have figured out a way to appease the dead ... by cloning humans so they can feed. Not many of them know how this particular evolution came about – just that it is. By mollifying the dead with meat, not only do they leave humanity alone, they also employ them. There is just enough truce and co-dependency to warrant a world that’s survivable.

At times the book suffers the syndromes inherent with first novels. Paul’s voice doesn’t resonate particular confidence at the beginning ... but he gains it as the tale moves on. When our protagonist hooks up with a Tankbread female named Else action figures predominately. You know you’re in Grindhouse territory when they escape on a motor-cycle from the Sydney Opera House and ride off into the sunset with a shotgun in tow.  There follows a mission: to fix Else. Based on a hint, a suggestion, they will encounter a missionary of nuns, pig rearing eccentrics, and a plethora of the undead. Paul’s descriptions in that area are visceral ... and more than once I was reminded of a certain author called Brian Keene. 

Ultimately TANKBREAD is a tale that’s worth your while; zombie aficionados will gobble it up. Paul Mannering is a writer who knows his world. Someone, I anticipate, who will find a dedicated readership. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Monster Book for Girls

Monster Book for Girls – Book Review
Monster Book for Girls
Edited by Terry Grimwood
Exaggerated Press, 2011

Somewhat familiar with what Exaggerated Press has to offer (Terry Grimwood’s own Bloody War was one of my highlights of 2011), I approached Monster Book for Girls rather hesitantly (if not curiously). The title itself seemed to raise more questions than answers: was this a horror collection aimed primarily at a female audience? Or did this book fit somewhere more into the realm of those campy pre-war throwbacks that came filled to the brim with adventure stories, where characters cavorted the pages with sporty finesse and Hardy Boys exploits?

The answer lies somewhere in between. When the call went out for new poetry and prose inspired by those five words, the guidelines were wide open with no specific genre required. And this certainly reflects in the tales with the end result being a kaleidoscopic mish-mash that is at turns horrific yet at times mundane. But underlying it all the pertinent theme here is one of female thaumaturgy, a girl story book where the battles encompass human monsters, monsters of the imagination, and everything in between them.

Highlights include the post-apocalyptic world of Turning by Shay Darrach.  With Sarah’s ‘to-do’ List, Samantha Porter gives us a short and malign comedy with a domestic twist. Stuart Young’s Breaking the Spell is a revenge ditty with YA styling’s that’s droll relief from the tales that proceeded it. Getting Warm by Gary McMahon fits at the other end of the spectrum – a delightfully adult story where Gary explores the insights of disparate victims in the aftermath of a true crime. 

And rounding off the odyssey is a novelette by another of my favorite new writers to come along in recent years: Spiral by David Rix. Here, David gives us what is a poignant personal journey but infused with subtle supernatural themes. Like his book Feather, the unique prose outstrips everything else, and we hear the sound of writer who is only just now gaining momentum on a world stage.

Imaginative cover illustration and probing title aside, there were times when I did find Monster Book for Girls a somewhat laborious task, often putting the book down for extended periods of time. However, the apathy here can be attributed to the books distinct lack of horror (something that was spelled out at the very beginning), so there were no overall surprises when encountering fiction that felt cryptic and seemed to go nowhere. More predilections came into effect with the interlaced poetry – although still cleverly adhering to the Monster theme this is a realm of writing I’ve never found overtly appealing. Taken as a working whole, however, editor Terry Grimwood has accomplished what he envisioned at the start: create an eclectic and intriguing meeting of literary minds and astounding interpretations.