Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

PAPERBACKS: Sometimes, the 'normal' ones are scariest

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If you like zombie fiction, you're in for a treat. Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy -- Feed (599 pages, $11), Deadline (608 pages, $11), and Blackout (672 pages, $11) -- has been issued as a boxed set by Orbit, the publisher.

Grant, who lives in California, takes an interesting approach. Rather than the familiar post-apocalyptic wasteland, she has imagined a near-future world in which the dead have risen, yes, but civilization has survived, adapting itself to the undead threat.

Technology is highly advanced: new kinds of weaponry, zombie-proof security systems, portable blood-testing units to make sure that people who claim to be uninfected really are.

In this high-tech, deadly world, a brother-and-sister team of news bloggers stumble onto a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the political fabric of the United States, not to mention civilization itself.

They soon realize that the real villains aren't the walking dead, but the very human men and women with their own frightening secrets. The trilogy -- which could and probably should be read as one long novel -- is fast-paced and well-written, with characters who threaten to leap off the page and plenty of scary bits.

As in the graphic novels and TV series The Walking Dead, the living dead are a frightening presence, but it's the human men and women who make the most terrifying villains.

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Fans of American novelist Iris Johansen's Eve Duncan series who've finished the last trilogy (Eve, Quinn and Bonnie) and can't wait for the next (the forthcoming Taking Eve, Hunting Eve and Silencing Eve) might want to check out Sleep No More (St. Martin's, 401 pages, $10).

Duncan, the forensic sculptor who's starred in more than a dozen novels since 1998, enlists the aid of Kendra Michaels, a profiler who's featured in a couple of stories of her own, to solve a tricky missing-persons case.

As usual, the story gets more labyrinthine than, strictly speaking, it needs to be. But, also as usual, Johansen keeps us turning the pages to find out what surprises she has in store for Duncan (who, if there were an award for most beleaguered series hero, would definitely place in the top three or four).

Overall the book feels a little like a placeholder -- a stand-alone to keep us tuned in to Duncan's story until the next trilogy appears -- but fans of the Duncan series should have a good time.

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Speaking of good times, here's Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain (Orbit, 312 pages, $16), a weird and wacky science-fiction adventure by A. Lee Martinez. It's the story of a supervillain -- he once conquered the planet Earth, and a good chunk of Venus, too -- who's trying to enjoy his post-villainy retirement; except some shadowy figure, whose hatred of our hero apparently knows no bounds, seems determined not only to kill him but to destroy Earth while he's doing it.

Take every B-movie science-fiction cliché, every comic-book scientific invention, every bad SF novel plot device, put them all into one story, and you still wouldn't have something as delightfully goofy as this hilarious novel.

Martinez, who hails from Texas, must have had a big grin on his face the entire time he was writing this; its characters are larger (and weirder) than life, the story is frantically paced, the visuals so expertly described that we can imagine the story in full colour and 3D. You've never read anything quite like it.

Halifax freelance writer David Pitt's column appears on the first weekend of the month.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 J9

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