WORLD WAR Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Wars by Max Brooks is a very good book written as a Studs Terkel-style history of the spread of the zombie pandemic and the responses ranging from fake vaccines marketed by a pharmaceutical company to desperate fight-or-flight efforts before a South African comes up with the solution (although I don’t think triage is really as radical an approach as Brooks does). This makes the zombie threat a little more plausible, for example by showing some of it was due to bad command decisions (US troops well equipped with armor-piercing shells, which don’t help, but lacking bullets to put in zombie brains). This also includes the post-war era (or as close as it gets) with Russia reverting to czarist theocracy, Cuba becoming a Great Power (“That old fox Castro actually took credit for Cuba becoming a democracy.”) and Israel opening its gates even to Palestinian refugees. An impressive job, though I doubt the movie did it justice.
THE RIVER OF NO RETURN by Bee Ridgway kicks off a fantasy series in which a British nobleman fighting at Badajoz in the Peninsular War escapes death by jumping forward to the 21st century and into the arms of a covert time-travel Guild. This proves to be a mixed blessing when they yank him out of the present and send him back to his old life to find a McGuffin which will ensure the Guild’s triumph over the rival time-traveling clique. Nothing terribly new, but fun in its execution; although it obviously fits with my current project, it’s actually a coincidence—Ridgway’s a graduate of my college, so I read about it in the college alumni magazine.
THE YEAR’S BEST FANTASY FIVE is one of the better collections in the series, including Howard’s unpublished Sinister Oriental story “Lord of the Dead,” (one of the multiple never-published stories of his that popped up in the 1970s), T.H. White’s excellent fantasy “The Troll” and several humorous stories. Carter’s own faerie fantasy (under the Grail Undwin pseudonym) is quite good this time, though his new Conan story (the rights having finally come loose from legal limbo) is stock and this collection’s story of Pat McIntosh’s Thula (a warrior woman appearing in every collection to date) reduces the protagonist to little more than a McGuffin to be fought over. Overall, pretty good though.
THE NOIR FORTIES: The American People from Victory to the Cold War by Richard Lingeman caught my attention with the title, but it doesn’t have enough new stuff to distinguish it from other histories of the era (a lot of overlap with Halberstam’s The Fifties, for instance). On top of that, I spotted multiple errors of fact (Them and Red Planet Mars listed as alien-invader movies) and interpretation (the argument Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an anti-Communist allegory is a myth that’s been busted). So thumbs down.
After reading The Owl Service I went back and reread Alan Garner’s first book, THE WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN which is much better. A mix of JRR Tolkien with British folklore (a more remarkable combination back then when epic fantasy was still new), this has a couple of kids staying at a country farm discover the girl’s inherited gemstone is a talisman that can tip the balance between good and evil when the apocalypse comes some day. Needless to say, some Very Bad People would like to get their hands on it … A very well executed juvenile; cover by Jack Gaugham, all rights with current holder.