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Asylum / Mark Allan Gunnells

Apex Publications / December 2010
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

The proliferation of zombies in pop culture has forced conversation, debate, and reflection on what the human race would do if it actually found itself in the middle of a bona fide apocalypse in which the flesh-eating living dead walked the earth. Would we fight for the survival of our race? Would we hunker down with loved ones and wait out the inevitable? Would we party like it’s 1999 all over again? If you’re one of the characters in Mark Allan Gunnells’ Asylum, you’d get down – and go down – on that hot trick you’ve been eyeing all night at the neighborhood gay bar.

There’s got to be something said for a novella that begins with front-seat fellatio and ends with bareback anal sex. The descriptor attention-grabbing certainly comes to mind. But such bold provocativeness can only carry a story so far, so it’s fortunate that Asylum delivers ample zombie savagery for the hardcore devotee of the undead.

The set-up strays little from the classic zombie formula: A group of disparate strangers find themselves holed up against throngs of the risen dead. In this case, the setting is a gay club and the characters run the gamut from an awkward college kid and his worldlier flamboyant BFF to a maternal drag queen and a burly pony-tailed Vietnam Veteran-turned-barkeep. Thrown into this zombie stew for flavor are an African-American go-go boy sporting both a G-string and an English accent, the requisite stable gay couple, a buffoonish lothario and his self-doubting fag hag who harbors an unrequited love, and a club DJ whose deep-seeded fundamentalist background is resurrected by some zombie trauma.

If you’ve seen Dawn of the Dead or read any of Brian Keene’s books, you know what comes next, and Gunnells ably demonstrates some fine chops for the zombie sub-genre. As the titular establishment is besieged by the ravenous undead, Gunnells provides all of the requisite flesh-chomping, appendage-ripping, and organ-gnawing that fans of zombie fare have come to expect and crave.

Gunnells straddles a fine line between preachy and persuasive when it comes to the social commentary woven throughout, and some readers may find it difficult to swallow his logic of a zombie Armageddon somehow acting as an aphrodisiac. That said, Asylum reads like the literary equivalent of a John Waters-Quentin Tarantino collaboration on a grindhouse zombie flick, and it wears its sense of contagious Dawn of the Dead-meets-The Birdcage celebration proudly.

Does Asylum add anything groundbreaking to the puzzlingly popular zombie sub-genre? No, but LGBT readers will undoubtedly appreciate the most front-and-center representation since Keene’s largely asexual protagonist in Dead Sea. And, best of all, Asylum levels the playing field between hetero- and homosexual apocalypse survivors — both proving utterly stupid at times opening those damn doors some other character begs them not to.

Purchase Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells.

Posted on Friday, April 8, 2011 at 11:02AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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