Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Doubling Down" on two great post-apocalyptic novellas

Biters/The Reborn  (Double Down series #4)

By Harry Shannon & Brett J. Talley


Publisher: JournalStone 

Pub. Date: April 11, 2014

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Journalstone's Double Down Series is a bit of a throw-back to the Ace Doubles of the 50s. They were small paperbacks that featured two novels in each book. You would simply read the first tale, then turn the book around and upside down to read the other novel.They were noticeable for featuring both established science fiction and fantasy authors and introducing newer talents. The only thing wrong with the old Ace books is that they were cheaply made and fell apart easily which is why you rarely see them in used book stores nowadays (plus they would now cost you a pretty penny). Journalstone's new Double Down series is much higher quality in the production department. But the real test is the quality of the writing and Biters/The Reborn, the fourth book of the Double Down collection lives up to the challenge.

Biters by Harry Shannon is the shorter of the two novellas and it is the first swing in an effective two punch combination. Biters appears to be a return to the author's zombie infested post-apocalypse previously seen in The Hungry and The Wrath of God. The twist in this novella is that Biters is more related to the crime noir genre that any zombie excursion. There are plenty of walking dead brain-eating types around but Shannon's tale is more about love and betrayal than surviving the apocalypse. Ryan is a post-apocalyptic drifter with a crush on a femme fatale named Sarah. There's a deal involving murder, an evil lawman wanting in on the deal, and so many chances for violence and double-crossing that Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain would be envious. The real surprise is how well the author merges these two elements of zombie horror and crime noir into a satisfying whole. It is a nice pulp fiction ride that manages to breathe a little more life into an over used genre...maybe two overused genres. Easily four stars.

The Reborn is also a riveting novella but the only thing they really have in common is an apocalyptic setting. Brett J. Talley's novel is more of a dystopic novel with a complex back story neatly woven into the plot. Marcus is a recently laid off police officer that is offered a new position in a clandestine organization. In this Washington DC of the future, reincarnation is an assumption and the powers-that-be have developed the ability to trace an unborn's DNA to previous lives. Anyone whose DNA is traced back to an undesirable "reborn", meaning past murderer or worse, is instantly killed in the womb. As you can surmise, there is a lot of gist in this story for social commentary. However Talley never loses sight of the fact that the plot is everything and has written an ever moving action allegory of unparalleled power. The protagonist in a story like this always has the potential trap of being drowned in the action but Marcus is given a lot of dimensions with a past that propels the plot into more than just pulp fiction. Talley's dubious partner Dominic is a little less dimensional but is given just enough "true believer" qualities to scare us. The Reborn is very different than Talley's Lovecraftian fling titled That Which Should Not Be yet is very much equal in its quality and its excitement. Four and a Half stars.

So overall, this particular Double Down volume is a worthy successor to the old Ace Doubles and is definitely worth checking out.

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