Double Dead by Chuck Wendig: review.

Double Dead (Double Dead, #1)Double Dead by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise of this book is so cool that after reading it any Fantasy Author will say “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Or maybe it’s just me.

Coburn the Vampire wakes up post apocalypse in a world overrun by zombies. To a hungry Vampire, humans have gone from a fast food level of availability to foraging in the desert in July levels. They are very hard to come by and when he does find them he has to fight the zombies for them. If that isn’t an awesome concept, I don’t know what is.

In order to survive he forges a fragile alliance with a group of people who promise to offer him some of their blood in exchange for his help in fighting the zombies while they try to find a safe place to stay. They, of course, run into a lot of undesirable characters and compromising situations during their journey but Coburn helps them through it all as his humanity slowly overcomes his baser side.

The story is one we’ve all seen before in the post apocalypse spectrum. The world is full of danger; good people turn bad due to circumstance and commit terrible atrocities in the name of survival, but it’s done well and is convincing.

In many ways this book reminded me of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ in its harshness, imagination and emotion. I have said this before but I’ll say it again: Chuck Wending is this generation’s Stephen King. He writes with grit and doesn’t spare any punches, only his is a more millennial style. He is more concise in the creation of his universes, but no less rich, and the work never suffers. He just knows that readers today want to get there faster.

I don’t mind that. If I’m being perfectly honest I’ve yet to see anyone reach King’s levels of character development or world building and neither would I want to; King is King and Wendig is Wendig. I make the comparison simply as a way of highlighting his skill level.

Double Dead is part of a series of Coburn the Vampire books so I was left with a few questions about how he came to be and why some characters exhibited certain abilities. I was also slightly irked by the fact that he’s virtually indestructible, but his weaknesses fill that void. In all I would have like a little more background on Coburn but no doubt that’s to come later.

Great crossover of the Zombie and Vampire genres.

View all my reviews

Chuck made me do it, again!

I was going to post something else this week, but when I saw this short short challenge I knew I had just the piece for it! It’s 101 words long because I like to live on the edge! Let me know what you all think.

Hospital

I opened my eyes to the sight of a hospital room, the clock across my bed said 3pm but had no date.

How long have I been here? I tried to ask the attending nurse but nothing came out, my voice was not working, my limbs were not moving.

Approaching me, he hovered by the side of the bed looking into my eyes, observing me closely and uttering reassuring yet hollow words. I felt his cold hand on my shin, followed by my thigh and then my crotch. Cold sweat washed over me as he began to pull down my underwear.

Chuck made me do it!

I don’t normally enter short story competitions for lack of time, but something about this one had me very excited indeed! Horror and Mayhem always do…

Timmy’s Little Robot

The tree stood in the corner, lights flashing to the tinny tempo of -“The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful… And since we’ve got no place to go…Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”
Outside the temperature was average for the time of year but you wouldn’t have guessed by looking at her. The heating was cranked up to high and she was dressed in a pair of white denim hot shorts which were frayed at the edges, barely hiding the thread veins that had started to populate the top of her thigh. Her toe nails were freshly painted. ‘Xmas Red,’ the label read. It was a special edition polish with a plastic silver tone Santa charm hanging from the neck; she loved collecting limited edition nail polish; she had a whole case full of them and all the shades looked virtually the same.

She got up off the couch and went to check on Timmy but not before stopping at the mirror. Her blonde bob was as puffed as she could get it and her shiny toenails poked through the peep toe of the marabou slipper, also in white to go with her shorts. She peeked through the door wanting to make sure the kid was fast asleep before returning to the living room to wait for Robert.

The boy’s room was dark save for the rocket shaped night light in the corner. It was a mess. She’d make sure he cleaned up after himself in the morning though. On the floor lay the desecrated box of the robot she’d bought him for Christmas. She’d left getting him something to the last minute so she was grateful for the pop up toy store she’d found on her way home from work.

‘Santa’s Grotto’ flashed the cheap sign in the exaggerated curly neon letters that intermittently lit up. The ‘n’ and the apostrophe buzzed on and off making it look like ‘Sa_tans Grotto’ when it got stuck. The inside was impressive though, rich and vibrant; it was much larger than it looked and all the toys were grouped by interest. Pirate outfits with realistic looking cutlasses, chemistry sets with working Bunsen burners and even wooden puzzle games made from sustainable wood sources. She sped past some old fashioned wind up monkeys and clowns that had always given her the creeps, when she saw a kid sized sports car. She considered it for a split second but rejected the thought certain it’d be too pricey. They even had one of those step on pianos she’d seen on the internet. Definitely not one of those, she thought to herself, he’ll drive me insane.

She settled on a silver vintage-design robot; it was how they imagined robots to look like in the 60’s but also modern. When she was a kid her granny had an old GE box fridge which reminded her of this robot’s solid body shape. The box was glossy and was printed with a speech bubble that said, ‘Hi! I’m Lenny the Learning Robot!’ Lenny also had fully functioning clamp hands and wheeled red feet as well as a perma-smile in the form of a ventilation grate. His eyes consisted of two red lights and on his chest was an arrow gauge. Underneath the gauge was a small cylinder printed with letters which you could move in order to form words. If you wrote a word the robot knew, the lights lit up and the arrow gauge pointed to a ‘Perfect 10!’

“This’ll do very nicely!” She told herself. He likes this kind of robot shit, or is it space stuff? Whatever! Robots, Spaceshit, it’s all the same anyway. She turned it over and looked at the price. “Fifteen bucks! Sweet!” She said loudly again and put a cigarette in her mouth. She walked to the till, paid for the robot and had them wrap it quickly, not caring that they hadn’t even taken the price tag off.
**
His reaction hadn’t been the one she expected when he opened it.
“But Moooom, I wanted a tablet!”
“Santa didn’t bring you a tablet, he brought you Lenny the lovely Robot that moves and makes words and sh.. stuff!”
“Mom, I’m seven not three, I know there’s no Santa alright?”
“Don’t say that, and don’t be so unappreciative! You’re starting to remind me of your ungrateful dad Timmy!”
“I wish he was here instead of you!” The kid spat in anger.
“Why you little…” She hovered over him and raised her hand to hit him before remembering Robert was coming over and it wouldn’t do to have an awake and screaming kid in the way. She composed herself adjusting her super tight crop top, and put a cigarette in her mouth without lighting it. “Well that’s all you’re getting. Now take your robot and go to bed!”

Timmy did as he was told. He considered going out through his window and scratching her car but it was drizzling. He took the robot to his room and left it on the ground by his shoes. Some Christmas this had turned out to be again, just him and his mom and a frozen TV dinner. He missed his dad, Christmases had been much better when he was around. He opened one of his comic books and read a bit before falling sleep.
**
The robot’s eyes lit up. He righted himself and began to roll towards Timmy’s bed. The batteries that had come with the box still lay where Timmy had chucked them unopened. Lenny clasped onto the bed covers with his little pincers and climbed all the way on top of Timmy who was sleeping soundly. He sat square in the middle of his chest and began to extend his tubular arms outwards like an expanding shower hose. The metal tentacles slowly wrapped themselves around the bed trapping the boy in the robot’s clutches. Timmy felt the pressure on his body and woke up.

“What the fuck are you?” He said through his sleepy haze.
The robot’s chest lit up allowing the letters to become visible in the dark.
LANGUAGE TIMMY!” The letters flicked quickly to form the words. Their old fashioned clicking offering no comfort.
“Get off me! Mom Help! Moooom!”
MOMMY BUSY NOW, NO HELP.” Spelled the robot as a compartment opened from inside its boxy shape, revealing another two appendages, one of which was holding a metal clamp not unlike an old clothes peg.
“What are you doing with that?” He was starting to cry now.

The robot showed no hesitation as he clamped the boy’s lips shut so he’d be unable to scream, despite the fact that his mother was now partially undressed and in the expert hands of Robert in a haze of wine. Timmy could hear the music which was blaring from the family room.

TIMMY NO BELIEVE SANTA. SANTA BELIEVE IN TIMMY THOUGH,” the letters rolled fast on the little drum.
The child looked terrified at this point and he began to sweat, the stink of piss also reached his nose despite the heavy covers that absorbed it.
SANTA SEES BAD KIDS. SANTA KNOWS WHAT TIMMY DOES TO LITTLE ANIMALS WHEN MOMMY WORKS.” The wheels flicked the words and every time one formed, the robot’s little red eyes lit up.
SANTA DISAPPOINTED AT TIMMY.

The boy shook his head violently from left to right. Snot was starting to froth under his nose where it mixed with the tears and the sweat before it dripped down the side of his neck and onto the pillow.
Lenny produced a match from within his little body and lit it against himself like they used to do in old westerns. He looked like a strange metallic half octopus with all his appendages. The flame flickered brightly for a moment, and then begun to consume the stick. The robot held it near Timmy’s face burning the child’s left eyebrow clean off. The smell of burned hair and flesh filled the room. The immobilized boy tried to shriek but it never cut through his mother’s giggling in the other room. The clamp and the tightness around his chest didn’t allow for much screaming.

The little pincer of the robot’s fourth arm reached Timmy’s eye and hovered above it for what felt like hours.
JUST LIKE TIMMY DOES TO KITTENS,” rolled the letters before the pincer fastened onto a bunch of eyelashes and pulled them clean off. A bead of blood began to form on the boy’s lid which quickly merged with his incessant tears. The eyelid also started to bloat and close over the eye.

“Please stop, I won’t do it again I promise! Please tell Santa I’ll never be mean to animals ever again, I swear!” Screamed Timmy as the peg slipped off this mouth and fell to the ground. Unfazed, Lenny dropped the detached eyelashes and used his free appendage to secure the mouth again. Without faltering he produced a blade from inside his little compartment and began to cut lines into Timmy’s chin, nose and ears. They would’ve been perfectly straight, just like the robot preferred had the boy not moved his head from left to right in his attempts to avoid the assaults. Blood seeped out of his wounds which stung from the tears and the sweat. His pillow had transformed into a sponge for bodily fluids.
When the boy finally passed out from the pain and lack of air, Lenny sat patiently on his chest and slowly unraveled his restrictive arms from around the bed.
GOOD BOY TIMMY!” Rolled the letter wheels and the eyes lit up once again.
**
She didn’t know what time it was when Robert left, but she reckoned the sun would be up soon. She was dizzy from the wine but nothing a few hours of sleep wouldn’t fix. Heading to her bedroom she thought she heard noise coming from Timmy’s room so she decided to check on him. Brat better be asleep or help me God…
She cracked the door and was struck by the smell of burned flesh, blood and piss.
“What the…?” She said to herself as she turned on the light and rushed to the unconscious boy nearly tripping up on his damn toy robot. Horrified at the state of her son, she picked him up and rushed him to hospital.
**
The sun had completely risen by the time Timmy woke up. He’d lost and gained consciousness a couple of times but he couldn’t be sure. His head and face were throbbing and he screamed as he remembered the events from the previous evening again. The nurse rushed to him and re-administered something to help him sleep. Through his haze he could see the fading form of his mother whispering with a doctor.

“It is very worrying when a child self-harms in such a way Mrs Tomlinson,” whispered the doctor.
“That’s Ms Giardino now doctor, I’m divorced,” Timmy thought he could detect a flirtatious tone in his mother’s voice.
“My apologies Ma’am,” corrected the doctor raising his brow. “I suggest you leave him here with us for a few days so that we try to calm him and get to the bottom of this. If he persists with the robot story I suggest we give him a course of Electro Convulsive Therapy in order to divorce him from the idea of toys coming to life.”
“Whatever you think is best doctor,” she said placing her hand on his arm.
**
Returning home she went to Timmy’s bedroom. On the floor lay a razor blade and some spent matches.
“Stupid little boy, could’ve burned the house down with his insanity.” She picked the robot up from the floor and put it in the same bag she’d brought it in. She didn’t look at the logo but if she had, she’d see that Santa’s Grotto had completely transformed to Satan’s Grotto. She put it in the trash and closed the lid. Attention seeking little shit, she thought to herself.

Review: “Blackbirds” by Chuck Wendig, now with added spoilers!

Chuck Wendig’s “Blackbirds” (Miriam Black, #1) deals with a girl who sees how people will die when she touches their skin, but who appears unable to stop the hands of fate no matter how hard she tries.
When Miriam meets a handsome yet burly trucker she foresees his imminent death and to her surprise she realizes she is also embroiled in it. Freaked out by this, and true to her fatalistic style, she initially abandons him to his own devices fully convinced that she will not be able to stop his death. Lo and behold, fate conspires to bring them together again and the future takes a course just like Miriam has seen in her vision.
As an entity I liked the book, which was my first fiction title by Wendig. In many ways, the cruelty of the writing and his no holds barred exploration of the dark crevices of the human psyche reminded me of Stephen King, which y’all know I’m a huge fan of. Miriam, the lead character, is an antihero in every sense of the word. She is utterly self-loathing, she scams and she steals and basically uses her ability to scratch a living by robbing the soon to be dead right after they’ve kicked the bucket. As a character she is hard to like but at least you get a clear idea as to why she’s that way.

CHUCK

During her journey from one dead guy to the next, she comes across another scam artist who has noticed her skills and who forces her into working with him. From there she inevitably crosses paths with a voodoo loving master criminal and the chain of events that will lead to the burly trucker’s death begins to unravel.

The story is solid and gripping, I finished it in a couple of days as it was well written and concise. Everything you needed was there, there is no superfluous information or much diversion from the story, which I think is a sign of the times and the upsurge of affordable fiction; people are much more into short entertaining books now than say five years ago.

On the down side, there were however a couple of instances which I thought were unrealistic, particularly a scene where Miriam takes a beating that is so severe I’m not sure anyone could have survived from it; and I’m saying that after some of the bashing I’ve given my characters in the past! Following from that she hijacks a car AND a bike and races towards the hostage trucker who according to her vision is about to get it at any moment. There were also a couple of instances where what happens next is a little predictable but he goes on to tie up the loose ends well, so you can kind of look the other way.
As a lover of horror and suspense I was no doubt entertained by this book and I will go on to read the next one when I can. The best thing about Wendig is his use of language and the images he creates so it’s definitely worth the time.

Writing Advice I like to like!

As an author I believe it’s imperative to strive to improve your work. For that reason I like to look at successful authors (or not so successful, but able ones) and see what insights they might have on this multifaceted craft we call writing. I don’t want to say that I’ll try to do reviews of this kind frequently because I’ve discovered that any long term planning is like the kiss of death when it comes to blogging, but I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for good writing advice. When I can, I’ll endeavour to share this research with you.
I couldn’t start a blog post on writing guides without mentioning Stephen King’s “On Writing.” Lets be honest the guy could wipe his arse on a blank piece of paper and I’d want a copy. He can do no wrong in my eyes; I consider him the best living author and would even go as far as saying he’s a literary genius-original I know! It doesn’t take much to figure out that I’m a huge Stephen King fan.

Stephen King: On Writing.
The book isn’t what one would traditionally call a Writer’s guide or manual but a more of a personal look at his life and methods. This book reads very easily and you don’t have to be interested in writing in order to like it, it is entirely aimed at Stephen King fans be they authors or lay persons.
Structure wise, it is separated into two parts with the first half going into some detail about his childhood, his reading, writing and movie going habits as well as his early days as a teacher and his break into publishing. Despite the autobiographical feel, it allows the reader a glimpse into the life of the man and his influences to large degree.
The second half of the book is where it really gets interesting, because that’s where the Authorly “advice” comes in by way of his habits. He doesn’t analyse or advise so much as he breaks his own process down; we are told for example that come rain or shine he has to write a few thousand words every day. There is no talk of waiting for the muse to strike or of other obligations or delays, he just writes. Through mention of his process he mentions problems or stumbling blocks he might have had with projects such as the ending to the “Stand” (if memory serves) or the length of time and research it took him to complete “It,” so this book works best if you’re familiar with his work. There’s also mention of the fact that he writes with music blaring, which I thought was a very cool touch.
The other thing that struck me was that he advises authors to read (well ok duh!) both good but also bad books in order to be able to make the distinction between the two. Personally I’ve often struggled with this because if a book does not interest me I zone out, which is an issue. Also, I believe life’s too short for bad books but all the same, the advice is there, and it’s from Stephen King for chrissakes!

The other guide book I’ve read recently is Chuck Wendig’s “250 Things You Should Know About Writing.”
I hadn’t read any Chuck Wending before this, but I’m totally sold on the guy now. He takes writing advice and makes it a really memorable and fun read through a mixture of metaphors and profanities (I mean who doesn’t love a bit of profanity?). He’s brutally honest about the difficulty of being a writer but is also encouraging about being unconventional and original especially when it comes to self-publishing and eBooks which offer the budding author more flexibility than conventional publishing.
One of his subtler touches was the suggestion that you shouldn’t actually buy said book because everything he says in there can be found for free online; which is true, but I promise you you’ll be missing out on a great little book if you do. It is laugh out loud good, and his drive and enthusiasm are thoroughly contagious. Totally worth it. He’s also published other books in the same vein, and even though he probably doesn’t want me to buy those either, I probably will eventually.

Lastly my third contribution to this post isn’t a book at all but a podcast with only fourteen entries.
When I first discovered this guy I was chuffed because he’s a true writer. He loves and explores the craft even though he’s not well known and as far as I can tell not even published. I tried googling and amazoning him but to no avail. I can find none of his work regrettably.
“So how do you know this guy is any good?” I hear you ask in unison. Technically I don’t, but my gut tells me he is because this blog is masterful in its production and I was very sad to see that it only lasted 14 weeks. You can hear the death rattle signs at about the 11th or 12th recording where he starts to waiver with the regularity of posting, and ironically he says that the irregular offerings are not a sign of the dying podcast, but lo and behold they just stopped coming soon after that. All joking aside though, I was quite saddened by this because it was a really good job and it had potential for greatness. All that said, it does not diminish from the excellent advice already on there nor from the interviews he’s done with some very interesting authors. I hope sincerely that one day he’ll pick up where he left off and give us a glimpse of his writing. Who is this man I speak of? They call him Brad Reed.