Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Oh, the anguish of unmet expectations.  Little pains me more.

Just look at that cover.  When combining Shitty Photoshop + Freeware Fonts + Lurid Text About Critters That Crave Human Flesh, I expect a rollicking collection of Z-grade, trashy terror tales. Zombie Raccoons & Killer Bunnies should be, like, a book where one can read about, say, undead roaches that devour the planet, or ghoulified lab apes that hump themselves into puddles of goo.

Lowbrow, deranged, ravenous animals are my jam, man.

Books In Which I Have Invested Both Currency And My Limited Time On This Earth

So it totally blows that ZR&KB is nothing like I anticipated—or wanted—it to be.

Editors Martin H. Greenberg (RIP) and Kerrie Hughes immediately get the zombie raccoons out of the way with Jody Lynn Nye's "Death Mask".

Except that there's only one pissed-off procyonid.
And it's more of a ghost.
Reanimated by a druid.
For revenge.
Against a cruel bumpkin farmer.

The story's better than I make it sound, but it's a basic Tales From The Crypt-ish morality play (and, really, Pumpkinhead with a raccoon), and doesn't even come close to the cover's promise.

"Old Ide Pilkington came to harm,

Immediately after comes the killer bunnies in Donald J. Bingle's (tries-too-hard-to-be-)comedic "BunRabs", which details chickens fretting about their ancestral floppy-eared enemies based on confusion over how Easter works.  It starts off amusing, then wears out its welcome, then nosedives into confusing and stupid, in no small part because poultry are apparently Internet savvy.

Two tales in, and the editors have already vicariously blown the title's load... of course there's thirteen more stories through which to slog.  Ugh.

There's Anton Strout's "For Lizzy", about a magical bookwyrm run amok in an elite monster-fighting agency's archives framed by The Hackiest Romance Ever.  The beastie is cool, though, and worth a conversion for your RPG of choice.

Tim Waggoner's (remember him?) "Bone Whispers" is eerie enough, with a Dead Man Walking and his groundhog nemesis.  But it's got two (maybe three, if you're exacting) glaring typos that should have never made it to print.  Poor dude can't catch a break with me.

The tale that makes the most of the cover's potential is "Watching", by Carrie Vaughn (of Kitty The Werewolf fame).  It's simple but just plain freaky, and there's a whole Chill / Cryptworld campaign in its scant ten pages.

The best of the bunch is Alexander B. Potter's "Faith In Our Fathers", about a magic backwoods boy, parental love, and The Weasel God—not A, but The—who keeps eating the kiddo's pet cats.  I totally want a full novel about the mysterious, melancholy, low-key protagonist and his chock-full-o-animal-deities world, but, again, the story lacks even a whiff of exploitation.

"...Brae Diardin of the Ulaidh Fianna lifted her face to the breeze, breathing in the fresh scents of newly turned earth and blossoming fruit trees with a sleepy smile."

"Finnbhennach was owned by Ailill, consort to Queen Medhbhan of Connacht, and raised with her own herd of royal cows."

"Moifinn glared down at Bala as if the whelp had been responsible for the damage, and Isien moved forward before Brae could take offense at the unfair accusation and say something that they would all regret."

I don't even know where to start with Fiona Patton's gallingly terrible "The White Bull Of Tara".  Not sure what I hate most about it:  the infodump of random characters and places with names that require Google Gaelic to pronounce?  That the plot involves cartoony druids (again?) and fairy bovines in a book with a cover that promises the exact opposite kind of tale?  The way it reads like a my kid sister's twee 3rd-grade Trapper Keeper scribblings about her D&D character, Candace Charmstar?

Just Remove The Romance And Adventure (Plus Thrills, Characterization, And Tension)...
... And You Have Patton's Story

Awful.  Just awful.

There's a story about a pixie-killing shrike, and another about an immortal super-squirrel.  One about a magical, murderous, amphibian pottery golem, and another (rather chaotic one) about biker-slash-ninja rodents that has to be a tie-in to a novel, which is annoying because there's little context about what the hell is going on.

All in all, they're pretty forgettable, which is a cardinal sin in an anthology.

I kinda-sorta liked the tales about alien swamp-bats and robo-possums, though.  Quirky.  Not in any way, shape, or form exciting or fun, but quirky.

The book ends with Larry D. Sweazy's "The Ridges", and the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off.  It's overflowing with evocative atmosphere and reads pretty decently, but falls apart with just the slightest bit of critical brainpower.

See, our shut-in programmer Protagonist lives with his ailing father, and has a crush on his mysterious and secretive new neighbor who is The Most Beautiful Woman He's Ever Seen...

...and all three happen to be werefoxes, but Protagonist doesn't know it...

...nor does he know that his entire suburban subdivision is inhabited by tons of other werefoxes (which include his various extended family members)...

...and all these vulpine secrets explode when several surrounding households of lifelong neighbors reveal themselves to be werefox-murdering "slayers"...

...that all the other werefoxes knew about since forever, but didn't handle because of some kind of completely glossed-over-in-one-ludicrous-sentence balance of power or something...

This Is The Only Way The Plot Makes Sense

...but then the werefoxes kill the slayers when the slayers attack...

...and then Protagonist porks Gorgeous Neighbor Lady because of course he does, and they make a litter of kits.

The end.

Utterly horrendous.  Still better than the Irish cows, though.

When all is said and done, ZR&KB is a shittily boring and boringly shitty anthology, and a tragic waste of both premise and reader goodwill.

Final Review Score:  One-and-a-half Night Of The Lepus-es out of five.