“This Year’s Class Picture” by Dan Simmons (Subterranean Press, 2016)

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Bestselling author Dan Simmons was asked to write a zombie story for the zombie anthology Still Dead, Book of the Dead 2 edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector back in the early nineties when the zombie craze was barely an inkling in the reader’s eye. He wondered what he could write about the walking dead that hadn’t been done, then he wrote “This Year’s Class Picture” which went on to win both the Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Award for best short story in 1993.

Ms. Geiss is a fourth-grade teacher who has a very set schedule for every day. She gets ready in the morning then goes to her classroom, where she writes out the daily schedule for the class to see, then she proceeds to go through each class, reading and instructing to the best of her ability. For recess, she sets her class free outside, then brings them all back. For Q&A periods, she rewards her students with treats.

The unique thing about Ms. Geiss’s class is that while it is made up of kids, they also happen to all be zombies. Ms. Geiss keeps them chained to their desks and tries every day to get a reaction out of them; to see if there might be some inkling of humanity left in them. She also makes sure her perimeter is secure. In addition to barbed wire and other obstructions surrounding the school, there’s a moat of gasoline.

This is a story about zombies. It’s also a story about survival. It’s also a story about hope. It is a moving and emotional tale that will bring you to tears in many ways.

Originally written on May 10, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of This Year’s Class Picture from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown and Company, 2015)

Fifth Heart
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One thing you can never do with Dan Simmons is pigeon hole him under a specific genre. He’s published in most, from epic science fiction to mysteries to horror to thrilling historical fiction. Other than his Blade Runneresque novel Flashback from 2011, his previous four novels have been works of historical fiction; a couple of them have been fantastic, engrossing books — The Terror and Drood — and the other two — Black Hills and The Abominable — were lacking in something. His latest novel, The Fifth Heart, is a return to those earlier, thrilling works as he takes an idea that would hook any literary fan and takes you on one wild ride. The premise is a relatively simple one: what if Sherlock Holmes and Henry James teamed up together to solve a murder?

Sherlock Holmes is in Paris on a foggy night and finds Henry James by the Seine about to commit suicide. Instead, Holmes tells him he will join him on a ship in the morning to cross the Atlantic for James’s native United States to solve a murder that was thought and assumed to be a suicide. Clover Adams was a close friend of Henry James who committed suicide in 1885 under somewhat unusual circumstances. She was a member, along with James, of the Five of Hearts salon. And yet an enigmatic message is sent to the remaining members each year indicating nothing is as simple and clear cut as it seems.

Holmes begins his painstaking investigation, interviewing many and traveling all around Washington DC. James unwittingly becomes his Watson, as he also learns that Holmes is unsure if he is a real person or a fictional character, and that the stories Watson has penned about him with the help of literary agent Arthur Conan Doyle have distorted the facts of his past cases to make them all the more adventurous and grandiose. Holmes takes on many disguises and does what he does best.

Along the way readers will get to meet some fun characters, like Mark Twain and a young Teddy Roosevelt. They will also get to meet some familiar people from Holmes’s world, including Irene Adler and the infamous Professor Moriarty. The mystery will take James and Holmes away from DC to New York and then up to the Chicago to the White City and the World’s Fair where they will attempt to thwart a plot to assassinate the President of the United States.

Simmons clearly had a lot of fun with this novel, throwing as much literary subject matter as history. It is a lengthy novel and he enjoys taking the reader on interesting tangents, which all help to keep the reader enthralled as they have no idea where the story is going to go next. As with The Terror, the language makes it feel like one is reading something penned by Arthur Conan Doyle, with the use of particular language, diction and detail. Simmons fans will not be disappointed, while Holmesian ones will be delighted.

Originally written on August 1st, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Fifth Heart from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Hyperion  Drood  The Terror

Halloween Recommended Reads

We’re coming up on Halloween once again when everything goes spooky and dark, and we like to get scared by things.. Well, here’s a Halloween story I wrote and a list of recommended reads for kids and adults of books that will really give you some shivers . . .

Click on the image below to read the free Halloween Story

A Halloween Story

 

And now some recommended Halloween reads to chill your bones and make your blood freeze . . .

FOR KIDS (OR ADULTS) —

Among the Ghosts Coraline The Graveyard Book

Halloween Tree Rot and Ruin

FOR ADULTS —

Neverland I am Not a Serial Killer Feed Horns
Death Troopers
The Strain The Terror The Living Dead
Living Dead 2
World War Z Full Dark No Stars Handling the Undead
Illustrated Man Handling the Undead Handling the Undead Handling the Undead

“Phases of Gravity” by Dan Simmons (Subterranean Press, 2012)

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The great Subterranean Press continues with its limited edition releases of Dan Simmons’ work, with his early bestseller, Phases of Gravity, originally published in 1989.  In Simmons’ classic style that has gone on to create many a fan and reader, as well as win multiple awards, Phases of Gravity seems to be a simple, straightforward story on the surface, but as the reader plunges deeper into its depths, it becomes something much larger and meaningful.

Phases of Gravity is a change from what fans might be used to with Simmons, as it features little of the horrific or science fictional, but is the story about what a man does when he has achieved the greatest pinnacle; how he lives his now very ordinary-seeming life.  Richard Baedecker has done what very few people on this planet have done: walked upon the surface of the room.  A former astronaut, Baedecker is now traveling around, wondering what to do with his life now that he has done what so few have.  He has a failed marriage and a son that hates him.  The book takes him to an unusual location in Poona, India, where he meets the beautiful and unique Maggie Brown who will help him in his personal quest to find his “places of power,” the locations that have had meaning to him in his past, and make him realize the importance of what he has.

Originally written on January 24, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Phases of Gravity from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Carrion Comfort    Drood    The Terror

“Flashback” by Dan Simmons (Reagan Arthur, 2011)

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It seems like the bestselling and award winner author, Dan Simmons, used up a lot of his talent and ability with the truly fantastic The Terror, and almost as good Drood, and in the meantime has been publishing sub-par work that fans and readers of his have come to expect to be otherwise.  Black Hills was an atrocious story that seemed to get lost in itself; while Flashback is a definite improvement on its predecessor, yet it still has a lot to be desired as a science fiction novel, especially when coming from the mind of such a talented author.

In Flashback, the United States is on the brink of collapse, but the citizens of America don’t care because 87% of them are addicted to a drug known as “flashback,” that when taken allows users to travel back into their past and memories and live specific moments over and over in excruciating detail, to the point where it is almost as if the memory were reality.  Nick Bottom used to be a detective, a good one, and then his wife was killed in a car crash, and now he’s been fired and is addicted to flashback like so many others, reliving moments with the love of his life.  But Bottom was a good cop and one rich man knows that, and is employing him one last time to investigate the murder of a top governmental advisor’s son, because Bottom remembers the time of the murder and will need to use flashback to remember some important details to see if he can find out just who this murderer is.

While Flashback seems like a vaguely interesting science fiction premise, and Simmons tries for a quasi-noire story in down and out Nick Bottom, the big problem is that this storyline and construct has been done and overdone in some way or shape or form numerous time in the genre and through various mediums: William Gibson did it with Neuromancer, Neal Stephenson did it with Snow Crash, Phillip K. Dick did it with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (made renowned by the movie version, Blade Runner), Richard K. Morgan is another author who uses this construct.  Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a distracting obstruction if Flashback was written by a middling author, or even a new one; but to have it written by a man whom many have come to expect truly great and original and astounding novels from . . . it leaves one feeling disappointed to say the least.  Here’s hoping Simmons novel in 2012, whatever it might be, is a big improvement, or the man may begin dropping fans like a person suffering severe leprosy drops digits and eventual limbs.

Originally written on September 21, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

“Black Hills” by Dan Simmons (Reagan Arthur, 2010)

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In 2008, at a signing for Dan Simmons’ last incredible tome, Drood – as well as in an interview for BookBanter – the bestselling and award-winning author talked about his next novel in progress: the story about a young Native American boy, Paha Sapa, who is possessed by the spirit and soul of General Custer, who recently expired at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.  It was a very unique sounding story, which is what Simmons does best, but I was certainly hesitant about the novel it would become, Black Hills.  Sadly after the pinnacle of his writing with The Terror, Black Hills is a mediocre at best novel that Simmons clearly put a lot of work into, but at the end leaves the reader thinking: “Is that it?”

The story begins with 10-year-old Paha Sapa visiting the battle ground of Little Big Horn, after the fighting.  He comes upon a man lying on the ground; as he investigates, a cloud form of the man’s spirit/soul enters his body.  Dan Simmons has done his research on Native American ways and culture, as Paha Sapa prepares himself to become a man.  His name means Black Hills, named for the specific hills of South Dakota.  The story then jumps to 1936 when Paha Sapa is an old man, in his seventies, working on the building and sculpting of Mount Rushmore.  Paha Sapa’s specific job is demolitions, strategically placing the dynamite to blast the rock.  But he considers the building of Rushmore a great insult to his people and his country, and with President Roosevelt scheduled to make a visit in the near future, Paha Sapa has his own celebratory explosion planned.

Black Hills jumps back and forth in time with Paha Sapa’s growth as a boy in becoming a man, and then his slow, meticulous planning of the catastrophic explosion of Rushmore as he continues to work on the historical site.  At the very end of the book, as the reader is left wondering why things happened the way they did, Simmons launches into a lengthy ethereal commentary about protecting and respecting this land and this world, which simply comes out of nowhere.

Simmons does what he does best with Black Hills: some interesting characters, strong description, good writing; but the story and plot are lacking in development, depth and interest that his other novels always possess.  Black Hills is simply not a book for everyone: new readers may enjoy it, some Simmons fans may also, but this reviewer found it to be a weak novel from one of the best writers writing today.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on May 19 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

04/13 On the Bookshelf . . . “Black Hills” & “I am Not a Serial Killer”

Black Hills

After hearing Dan Simmons talk about Black Hills a little in the BookBanter interview, I’m looking forward to seeing just what the book turned out to be.

I am Not a Serial Killer

Brandon Sanderson, as well as many others, have been raving about Dan Well’s debut novel, I am Not a Serial Killer, and I’m looking forward to seeing if it lives up to its hype.