A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

Vampire Uprising Cover

Publisher: Hachette

Publication Date – 29 May 2018

 

From the inspired mind of Raymond Villareal comes one of the most captivating and thought-provoking literary achievements of 2018.  Have you ever wondered what would happen if vampires came into existence in the modern world?  Villareal’s debut novel, A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising, explores the possibility of such an event through a comprehensive fictional oral history, much like Max Brooks’ observation of a zombie apocalypse in World War Z.

The body of a young woman in an Arizona morgue awakens and disappears into the night.  This mysterious event will start a chain reaction around the world that no one could predict.  The CDC investigator consulting on the case soon discovers that the woman was suffering from a mysterious disease with several incredible symptoms.  Subjects are stronger, faster, suffer a violent reaction to sunlight, have unnaturally long lives and are utterly enthralling to humans.  More importantly, they must consume blood to survive and can pass the disease on by biting another human.  As attempts to quarantine the disease fail and additional bodies start disappearing, the world quickly realises that vampires are real and here to stay.

As more and more people are infected, many of those who have been turned begin to reintegrate back into society.  These new creatures call themselves ‘gloamings’, finding the term ‘vampires’ to be derogatory.  Soon, many of the rich and famous are flocking to the gloamings, hoping to join their ranks and be re-created.  With their natural talents enhanced, the gloamings start accumulating significant wealth, power and influence as they infiltrate all levels of human society while attracting followers to their side.  Gloamings infiltrate the government, powerful companies and the Catholic Church.  One gloaming even begins a run for high political office.

However, not everyone is enamoured by the gloamings.  A faction of the church is determined to stop the vampire incursion and has formed its own militia to fight gloamings throughout the world.  Following a series of high profile cases, the FBI starts a taskforce focusing on crimes by gloamings.  The original CDC investigator continues her research into the virus despite intense political and social pressure to stop.  In New Mexico, a skilled political motivator soon discovers a terrible secret about his employers.  This is the start of the vampire uprising; the world will never be the same.

Written in the format of a history book, A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising is an epistolary novel that uses a series of fictional documents and testimonials to tell the story.  Villareal presents a large portion of the story within chapters representing testimonials from certain characters specifically taken for a history book.  Other chapters are written in the format of important documents from the fictional world and are made to represent interrogation notes, congressional transcripts, government reports and articles in scientific and legal journals.  In addition to these longer chapters, Villareal has also included numerous shorter entries that are presented as news stories, public interest articles, transcripts pulled from popular media sites, emails and the comments section of a message board.  As a result of all these different formats and documents types, A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising has the uncanny feel of an actual history book, which is further reinforced by the inclusion of footnotes in most of the longer chapters, and three short appendices slipped into the back on the book.  This is a marvellous way to structure the book and it speaks to Villareal’s skill that he was able to tell such a captivating narrative using this style of writing.

By employing fictional testimonies and documents originating from a number of different characters, Villareal is able to tell an extremely wide-reaching story about the introduction of vampires.  Most of the longer chapters are written in the style of testimonies from characters in the United States, while many of the shorter articles show a wide view of the rest of the world.  This allows Villareal to focus his main story in one specific country and focus his analysis on how the United States would react to such an event.  At the same time Villareal is also able to illustrate a much wider story showing how the vampire uprising would affect the entire world.  Exceptions to this are the chapters featuring the gloamings causing a religious and ideological schism within the church.  These chapters focus the plot on characters throughout Europe and represent some of the more fascinating fictional postulations within A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising.

While the book contains numerous narrators, authors and interviewees telling their specific stories, Villareal is still able to produce a clear overall narrative about the introduction of vampires to the world.  While Villareal initially has the individual narrators tell their own stories, eventually the characters meet and interact, allowing the multiple storylines to combine into one overarching plot.  The smaller articles and extra details within some of the longer features also allow the reader to have an amusing examination about how some social groups and individuals may react to the introduction of vampires, including celebrities such as Taylor Swift.  The end result is very well-done, overarching narrative that takes the multiple storylines within and turns it into an exciting and comprehensive overall plot.

While this is a piece of fiction, it also serves as an examination and critique of modern society.  Villareal postulates that if vampires ever did appear society would be split between distrusting such creatures and worshiping them, while the rich, famous and powerful would all try to join them, turning the gloamings into the ultimate elitist clique.  Villareal examines extremely plausible ways in which the gloamings could influence humans and attempt to win them to their side, with one chapter in particular describing how a vampire might win an election.  The result is a perceptive and astute examination of current human nature that will leave readers spinning.

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising is one of the most impressive books of the year.  Raymond Villareal produces an insanely compelling story while using a unique and clever format that clearly highlights his skill and imagination.  In addition to being incredibly entertaining, A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising is also an insightful piece of social commentary that will greatly amuse readers.  This is a truly magnificent piece of fiction and an outstanding debut from Villareal.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Gunpowder Moon by David Pedreira

Gunpowder Moon Cover

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 13 February 2018

 

Murder has just been committed on the Moon, and all hell is about to break loose.

By 2072 the world has dramatically changed.  A devastating natural disaster shook the planet and altered the balance of power between nations.  The only hope for the future lies in a new energy source, helium-3, which can power Earth’s fusion reactors and provide unlimited clean energy.

Earth’s main source of helium-3 is on the Moon.  Desperate to have as much of this valuable material as possible, the world’s leading nations each have their own mining expeditions in play.  Life is tough for the miners, death lies around every corner and Moon dust can quickly destroy the hardiest of equipment.

For Caden Dechert, the Moon is the perfect place for a man trying to escape his past, even if it does strongly smell of gunpowder.  Trying to forget the long wars he fought back on Earth as a marine, Caden has forged a new life as the chief of the U.S. mining station Sea of Serenity 1, a vital station for a country only just coming back into world prominence.

However, Caden’s small slice of peace is broken when a member of his mining team is murdered in a deliberate explosion.  Evidence quickly points to the United States’ most prominent rival, China, whose bases are located a short distance from Caden’s station.  Tensions are quick to rise, and a series of escalating incidents sees the two nations draw closer to the brink of war.

Despite the evidence supplied by his own country, Caden is not convinced that the Chinese are behind the explosion.  Years spent working near the Chinese mining team has built up a certain respect, and Caden’s suspicions of a conspiracy begin to grow after noticing other unusual activities around his base.  With his team trapped at Sea of Serenity 1, and with both nations ready to fire the first shot, Caden is forced to investigate the murder himself in order to stop a destructive war that could tear his beloved Moon apart.

From first time author David Pedreira comes Gunpowder Moon, a spectacular piece of crime fiction set on the harsh and unforgiving surface of the Moon.  Pedreira has created an interesting murder mystery that combines with a high-stakes plot, science fiction elements and exotic location in order to produce a great story.

Without a doubt, the most memorable feature of this book is its setting of the Moon.  Pedreira has done a remarkable job of highlighting and describing his story’s brutal backdrop.  Significant time is also spent describing the narrator’s emotional attachment to the Moon and how it represents a new beginning for his crew of outcasts.  By the end of the book, the Moon is nearly an additional character as it acts as an excellent emotive setting for the reader.

The Moon also serves as an important plot device, as various features of life on the Moon, such as the required technology, gravity, the isolation and the devastating effects of Moon dust, all play a key part in the overall story.  In addition, Pedreira’s observations about the requirements for living on the Moon and his descriptions of the technology and mining work will appeal to the interests of many curious readers.

While the Moon is the main location for this book, Pedreira has also created an interesting potential future for humanity that serves as a backdrop for the story.  Pedreira postulates an interesting build-up to a war between America and China made up of ecological problems on Earth, expansion outside the planet and a fight for a new energy source.  Views of the near future of Earth are always fascinating, and the predicted future presented in Gunpowder Moon is a particularly intriguing story element that combines well with the books overarching mystery.

The plot of Gunpowder Moon focuses on a riveting murder mystery that is made unique by its location and the limited options for an investigation.  The investigators do not have any traditional evidence or witnesses.  They have limited information due to their isolation and they are unable to discuss the case with many of their suspects, who may be on Earth.  The background plot of the United States and China going to war combines well with the murder elements, as there is a real sense of urgency and import to the investigation as the main characters are trying to stop an upcoming war.

Gunpowder Moon is an excellent science fiction murder mystery that contains a fast-paced, action-packed story.  The author makes great use of his futuristic setting and unique location, providing the reader with impassioned descriptions of the Moon’s surface.  David Pedreira’s debut novel is a captivating and intriguing new read that spectacularly captures humanity’s imagination with the Moon.

My Rating:

Four stars

Nights of the Living Dead edited by George A. Romero and Jonathan Maberry

Nights of the Living Dead Cover

Publisher: Duckworth

Australian Publication Date – 1 December 2017

World Publication Date – 11 July 2017

 

In 1968, the late, great, George A. Romero created one of the most iconic films in horror movie history, Night of the Living DeadNight of the Living Dead has had many lasting impacts in the world of film, but one of the most significant things it did was to firmly enforce the terror of the zombie into the public consciousness and set the rules for all future zombie works.

Since that day, zombies have dominated people’s minds and pop culture in all its forms.  From movies to television and comic books, zombie stories infest modern fiction.  The introduction of zombies has also influenced the world of literature, with many prominent authors producing some incredible and varied works of zombie fiction.  From World War Z to Warm Bodies, these bestsellers have enthralled the world, with many serving as inspiration for other mediums.

One significant piece of zombie literature published in 1989 was Book of the Dead, edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.  Book of the Dead was an anthology of short stories based on the zombie apocalypse premise introduced in Night of the Living Dead.  With a foreword by Romero himself and bringing together original stories from a large number of prominent horror authors, including Stephen King, this iconic book is considered one of the first pieces of zombie literature.  It produced two follow up anthologies, Still Dead and Mondo Zombie.

Now, the concept of a zombie anthology book has again been resurrected in Nights of the Living Dead, edited by George A. Romero and Jonathan Maberry.

Nights of the Living Dead contains 20 new and unique stories from a distinguished group of authors.  Each of these stories is set in a world forever changed by a zombie apocalypse and shows the horror through the eyes of a range of different survivors enduring a number of different scenarios.  Police, doctors, murderers, white supremacists, scientists and showmen all examine different sides of the classic zombie apocalypse.  Many of the stories are set in more contemporary times, exploring how people in 2017 would react to this phenomenon while also allowing some commentary of current social issues.

Fans of the original movie may also be interested in several stories set during the events of the film.  The connection that some of these stories have to Night of the Living Dead is somewhat minor, with the stories merely being set in the same year, thus allowing the reader to assume they are set during the same outbreak.  Other stories have a far more significant connection to the events of the movie.  John Russo’s story is a direct sequel to the movie and follows some of the posse that played a significant part in the end of the film.  Another story, by Isaac Marion, is told from the perspective of a minor character in the film, Karen Cooper, and features her dramatic and eventually violent interactions with other characters in the movie.

Perhaps one of the best features of Nights of the Living Dead is the sheer talent that has been gathered together to write this book.  Numbered among the contributors are some of the most influential writers of zombie fiction, including both of the Night of the Living Dead’s original screenwriters, Romero and Russo.  The other writers include multiple Bram Stroker Award winners, such as editor Jonathan Maberry, whose contribution to zombie culture includes working on the Marvel Zombies series.  Many of the authors have their own zombie fiction novels and series, including Isaac Marion, writer of Warm Bodies, Briane Keene, author of The Rising, and Mira Grant, author of the Newsflesh series.  The list of contributors also includes people who have worked on zombie comics and television shows, including one of the writers and co-creators of Z-Nation, Craig Engler.

The various contributions to the anthology allow the reader to enjoy a range of zombie stories which may appeal to different people.  Personal favourites include David Wellington’s short story set around the International Space Station and Mira Grant’s emotional tale set in a zoo.  Other great stories includes Craig Engler’s tale of vigilante justice in a world of zombies and a new original contribution by George A. Romero, which also takes the time to examine racism in more modern times.  Readers may also be interested in the forewords from Romero and Maberry, which examine their experiences with the movie and how it has influenced zombie culture for the last 50 years.

Nights of the Living Dead is an exciting anthology series that presents the reader with 20 new and unique stories from some of the leading minds in zombie fiction.  With a range of different and exciting stories of the zombie apocalypse, many with ties to the original movie, this is a must-read book for all fans of zombie fiction and the man who inspired it all.

My Rating:

Four stars

Barbary Station by R. E. Seams

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Publisher: Saga Press

Publication Date – 31 October 2017

Space pirates take on rogue artificial intelligences in this electrifying young adult science fiction debut from R. E. Stearns.

In the distant future, humanity is recovering from a devastating civil war between Earth and its colonies.  Life is hard for all, especially for newly graduated engineers Adda Karpe and Iridian Nassir, who can only look forward to a lifetime of paying off their loans on a minimum wage.  So when Adda’s brother, Pel, contacts her with an opportunity, Adda and Iridian decide on a future as pirates.  Hijacking a massive colony ship, the girls make for Barbary Station, the base of operations for the infamous Captain Sloan, whose adventures and riches have been romanticised across the system.

Hoping to impress the pirates with their stolen ship, Adda and Iridian are shocked when, instead of bold adventurers living in luxurious conditions, they find a mismatched crew barely surviving in a hidden makeshift base welded to the hull of Barbary Station.

The station’s AI, AegiSKADA, has gone haywire and has taken to targeting all life forms on the station, bearing a particular grudge against the pirates.  Armed drones hunt people through the interior of the station, and the station’s gun batteries shoot down any ship that gets too close.  On top of that, a colony of refugees are hiding in the station, a team of crazed doctors are making life difficult for everyone and three mysterious ships swoop around the station, killing or saving as they see fit.

Now wanted criminals, Adda and Iridian have to destroy the AI to become members of the pirate crew.  The last team that tried to shut down AegiSKADA died a fiery death, and the pirates have already taken bets on how long the newcomers will survive.  Luckily, Adda is an expert on artificial intelligences and Iridian is a former solider with a big combat shield and superior survival skills.

However, AegiSKADA is the most is one of the most advanced AIs in the galaxy and is surrounded by lethal defences.  AegiSKADA is learning and is determined to kill every invader on Barbary Station.  And, as malevolent as the AI is, it is not the only danger facing Adda and Iridian.

Barbary Station is a great debut from R. E. Stearns, a thrilling new voice in science fiction.  This young adult book takes an exhilarating look into a future of artificial intelligences while introducing some exciting characters and fast-paced action.

Stearns does a great job of exploring the concepts of artificial intelligences, as well as examining the theories and debates about whether they are truly alive.  Among the highlights of the book are the multiple scenes in which Adda interfaces with the station’s systems, including some especially tense scenes in which she interfaces directly with AegiSKADA in order to determine what actions it is taking against the humans.  Stearns masterfully handles the complex matter of AI sentience, creating a narrative which is engaging and thought provoking without oversimplifying the underlying concepts.

Narration for the novel is split between the two main characters, Adda and Iridian, allowing for a well-balanced breakup of the book’s various scenes.  Iridian’s scenes are usually filled with action and exploration, while Adda’s scenes tend to involve the technical exposition and theoretical debate.  The dual perspectives help enhance certain scenes while also adding a dash of realism and tension to those moments when Adda and Iridian are unaware of how the other is faring in their respective missions.  Our heroes, with their varied experiences and character traits, are great foils for each other and can meet the challenges within Stearns’ universe.  It is great to see a same-sex couple so well portrayed in a young adult novel.

Stearns has also populated the book with a range of other interesting characters.  The majority of inhabitants within the station are a typical group of mismatched misfit pirates, led by the revered and enigmatic Captain Sloan, enduring and reflecting the chaotic nature of life within Barbary Station.  Stearns does take the time to introduce a few key characters for the reader to get attached to, and uses them for full emotional effect.  Perhaps the most interesting is Pel, a flakey, skittish character who manipulates his sister into a dangerous environment in order to save himself.  He undergoes some great character development within the story.  Readers will be intrigued as elements of his history and his motivations are revealed, especially regarding his unique connection to events within the space station.

Overall, Stearns has produced a charming and engrossing first book, bringing together several individually great science fiction elements and combining them into one kickass novel.  Barbary Station is a fantastic choice for science fiction fans no matter their age.

My Rating:

Four stars