Flesh Is Fleeting...Art Is Forever / Gary A. Braunbeck; Thin Them Out / Kim Paffenroth, R.J. Sevin and Julia Sevin
Creeping Hemlock Press / October 2008
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand
In preparation for the 2008 Zombie Fest Convention that took place late October in the Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – a site revered by horror movie buffs as the setting of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead – Creeping Hemlock Press decided to quickly pull together a couple of chapbooks to sell. In a matter of weeks, they managed to put together two projects that will further cement their status as one of the most reliable small presses operating today.
Taken together, the two chapbooks – Gary Braunbeck’s Flesh Is Fleeting…Art Is Forever, and Thin Them Out, written by Kim Paffenroth with R.J. and Julia Sevin (the husband-and-wife team behind Creeping Hemlock) – present wildly different visions of a world overrun with the living dead.
Braunbeck travels a route unfamiliar to most zombie fiction, one in which things have returned to at least a semblance of normality. The plague has been contained, and measures are in place to keep reanimation in check. As for the zombies that haven’t been destroyed, they are being put to use. They are our ushers, our bricklayers, our manual laborers. And, in this case, our entertainment.
For Flesh Is Fleeting, Braunbeck adopts the voice of Wendell Shakelton-Baily III, a supremely fussy critic of The Arts. The entire story is presented as Bailey’s review of Symphony For A World Unmade, the latest symphonic masterpiece of composer/conductor Michael Russell. The performance is, Shakelton-Bailey assures us, much more than a mere concert; it is a multi-layered commentary on the post-Resurrection world. Its most powerful statement is the fact that the musicians performing it are, themselves, the undead.
In Shakelton-Bailey, Braunbeck perfectly captures and satirizes the snooty, self-important voice of the Critic, those who would place themselves in position to tell everyone else what is good and what is not. (What? Why are you looking at me that way?) And, while doing so, he writes a cracking good zombie yarn, one that ends in a way both expected and surprising.
Thin Them Out takes us on a more familiar journey through the zombie genre. Society is in shambles, and the living have banded together in small guerrilla-type groups, carving out lives for themselves in abandoned high-rises and warehouses, always moving, always scavenging – and doing their best to thin out the shambling hordes of the dead.
Thin follows one such collective. Barricaded in an old warehouse in Louisiana, they’re living as normally as they can under the circumstances, relying on a small group of men to go out and collect food and other vital supplies. But that group is getting progressively smaller – more often than not, not everyone makes it back from the scavenging trips alive, and some of the people are beginning to believe that the zombies aren’t the ones doing the killing.
Paranoia, suspicion, back-alley plans – all the elements that really make zombie fiction hum are found here. It’s a fast-paced tale with twists and turns laid throughout its compact 30-plus pages. Kudos especially to the three authors for blending into one distinct voice – collaborations are difficult to pull off, but they do a nice job here.
Quick turn-around time or not, these books look just as good as they read. Yes, a couple of typos do slip in, but I’ve seen much worse in mass market editions that were pored over for months. Both of these chapbooks are fine additions to the Creeping Hemlock line, and to the undead genre as a whole. Highly recommended.