Saturday, January 22, 2011

Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells

Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells is the debut publication from The Zombie Feed, a new niche publisher specializing in zombie fiction. In this novella, Gunnells utilizes many of the well-known topes of zombie fiction. His zombies are slow, ambling, unintelligent Romero-inspired zombies chasing after a group of survivors who are barricaded inside a confined space. Fans of zombie films are in familiar territory here. However, Gunnells gives this old story a unique twist: This ragtag group of survivors are barricaded inside a gay bar called Asylum.

The main protagonist, a young virgin named Curtis, is on his first trip to a gay bar. While waiting for his friend to finish hooking up with a nameless accountant, the zombies begin attacking. They come out of nowhere. At first, the characters automatically assume the attackers are drunken homophobes, but soon realize these are not regular people. Their attackers are walking and eating their victims despite their own grievous wounds. Inside the bar, a character makes phone calls. Emergency responders have been inundated with calls. This is not an isolated incident. The dead have risen and there is nowhere to run. They barricade the doors of the bar and attempt to stay sane.

Asylum is a fitting title and a fitting name for the bar. Madame Diva, described as a drag queen, owns the bar, and she is a compassionate mother hen who created a place of refuge for the community she loves and cares for, almost as if these men are her children. She is a well-drawn and fascinating character.

In fact, most of the characters -- with a few notable exceptions -- are well-drawn. The story is tight and quick-moving and contains plenty of gory suspense for zombie fans. The gore is actually heartbreaking at times thanks to how well Gunnells draws most of his characters and manages to create sympathy for them. This makes for a compelling read, and I devoured this book in one sitting, even if it sometimes felt a bit too familiar and a trifle predictable. The ending, while not exactly unexpected, was a fitting coda.

So, overall, this is an extremely fun, fast-paced read. Highly recommended for zombie fans, especially those purists who enjoy the classic Romero-inspired zombies. My six-pack rating: 4 out of 6 glasses of Return of the Living Red Zombie Wine.

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