Tor.com content by

Mark Graham

The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten

“It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown out on the edge of the prairie.” This is Garrison Keillor’s introduction each Sunday morning on his NPR broadcast, which is the podcast I listen to on my iPod each Monday as I pedal my bike to my favorite Starbucks for a summer frappuccino or a winter mocha. So far Keillor has made no mention of zombies, though the Norwegian bachelor farmers who inhabit the outskirts of the village may shamble about some after a visit to the Sidetrack Tap for a bump and a beer.

I have to admit to being a Lake Wobegon addict. I can’t get enough of Keillor’s down-home deadpan humor, even going so far as to purchase collections of past monologues. That’s the reason I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this month’s parody of the undead, The Zombies of Lake Woebegotton by Harrison Geillor (from Night Shade Books, out on September 14th). The book should be particularly appealing to select groups of readers: Keillor addicts like me and anyone who has ever lived in Minnesota (or possibly North Dakota or Wisconsin or Northern Iowa) or has ever visited those cold northern states or has ever known the more enlightened folks who emigrated south and west. Fans of zombie novels with no such backgrounds will definitely miss a lot of the fun.

[The zombies rise in Minnesota and (maybe) the rest of the world after the break…]

Packing for Mars and laughing out loud

Those of us who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s are pretty bummed out. We expected to be driving flying cars by now. And we were sure that vacations on the moon would be commonplace by the 21st century. And, of course, there would, at least, be outposts on Mars. Alas! None of this has come to pass.

However, if the budgets on space exploration don’t entirely disappear, some folks in the know seem to think that that long-awaited visit to the Red Planet might take place around 2030.

If you want to know what the hold up has been, and you want to laugh out loud finding out, you have to read Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

[Get out your suitcase below the break…]

Tom Sawyer and the Undead and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I vividly remember trying to teach Pride and Prejudice to a class of high school juniors. Alas! These were not my best days as an educator. Most of my students found the novel boring. And that was just the girls. The boys on the football team didn’t like the book much either. Indeed, in this survey of American Literature, I was eager to get back to Edgar Allan Poe and then quickly work my way up to Twain, Hemingway and Steinbeck (even the offensive linemen loved Cannery Row).

Where was Seth Grahame-Smith when I needed him? I am pretty sure I could have drummed up a little more interest in Jane Austen’s classic if zombies had been involved.

All of this leads up to a short discussion of two of the latest entries into the fairly recent sub-sub-genre of horror that adapts classic works of literature and famous historical biographies to tell the stories as they “really” were, replete with zombies, vampires, werewolves, mummies and magic.

[Read more about Tom Sawyer and the Undead and Abraham Lincoln’s secret career as a vampire hunter…]

More Stories from the Twilight Zone

Perhaps the most fun anthology published last year was Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary, edited by Carol Serling, wife of the late creator of the seminal television series. Like the TV version, which featured established actors as well as obscure talents and stars of the future, the 50th anniversary edition showcased a few well-known authors and quite a few lesser-known names and an unpublished story from Rod Serling, himself.

[More Stories from the Twilight Zone next…]

Carrie Vaughn’s big week—Kitty Goes to War and Discord’s Apple

Most aspiring authors would be giddy to have one book published. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that even established and popular authors couldn’t get their publishers to release more than one book a year (something about wearing out their popularity), and many resorted to the use of a number of pseudonyms. Dean Koontz is the poster child for this phenomenon.

Fortunately, that trend has recently turned around, and fans don’t always have to wait quite as long to read new books from their favorite writers. But it is still unusual for an author to see two of his or her novels come out in a single week as happened for Carrie Vaughn with Kitty Goes to War (June 29) and Discord’s Apple (July 6). In addition, Voices of Dragons, Vaughn’s first YA novel was released last March.

[Read on for short takes on Kitty Goes to War and Discord’s Apple—only minor spoilers…]

Series: Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy Month

Dom Testa’s The Web of Titan—the second Galahad book

A few weeks ago the U.S. team actually won a game in World Cup soccer. In 2005, Giacomo, a 50-1 three-year-old won the Kentucky Derby and paid over $100 on a $2 ticket. During the last century the New York Jets won a Super Bowl, and the New York Mets won a World Series. Long-shot Frank Shorter won the Olympic Marathon in 1972 in the same country where Jesse Owens won the 100 meter dash in 1936 to prove to Adolf Hitler that blonds don’t necessarily have more fun. Miracles like these happen every so often in the sports world. In addition, people with fatal diseases occasionally have seemingly miracle cures, and lucky folks do win lotteries. And, just about as frequently as these events happen, a major publisher picks up a self-published novel, releases the book, and a star is born.

[Background from The Comet’s Curse and a bit about The Web of Titan follow with only minor spoilers…]

Whitley Strieber’s The Omega Point: Beyond 2012

Whitley Strieber’s 2012, a novel that combines the author’s conjectures about UFOs and alien abductions with predictions from the Mayan calendar, was released three years ago. In that book, which reprises characters and some plot elements from the previous year’s The Grays, sentient reptiles from a parallel dimension are trying to cross over to our side and take over.

Since this summer’s Strieber offering is titled Beyond 2012: The Omega Point, readers might expect that this book would continue the story. This, however, is not the case. In the new book it turns out that the world does not come to an end on December 21, 2012, as the Mayans seemed to predict. And signs of relief come from all around the globe.

[More about The Omega Point with only minor spoilers after the break…]

Justin Cronin’s The Passage—the “big” book of the summer

What many have called the big book of the summer will be released June 8.  It is easy to compare Justin Cronin’s 766-page The Passage with Stephen King’s The Stand, Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, and any number of vampire novels, post-apocalyptic thrillers and tales about government experiments gone awry.  And, although Cronin’s doorstop-sized saga, the first in a proposed trilogy, is far from unique, it is a compelling and addictive read that will keep you up well past your bedtime, and may even affect your dreams once you close your eyes.

[Read on for a short introduction to The Passage with only minor spoilers]

Brains: a zombie memoir by Robin Becker

In this summer’s Brains: a zombie memoir, Robin Becker tries to do for zombies what Anne Rice did for vampires in Interview with the Vampire back in 1976.  By looking at the world from the monster’s point of view, both authors offer new and sympathetic perspectives.  Although Becker’s zombie narrator, former college professor Jack Barnes, isn’t quite as fleshed out (sorry, I couldn’t resist) as Rice’s Lestat, the debut novelist succeeds in making her readers root for a shambling, slowly rotting corpse who makes his way across the Midwest along with a band of equally revolting pals, eating folks’ brains along the way.

When Barnes awakes in his basement after being bitten and infected, he discovers three important facts:  Unlike the vast majority of the zombie hordes, he can think and write, though he cannot speak; he has an intense survival instinct; and he is obsessed with eating non-infected people, especially their brains.  He starts with his unfortunate wife.

[More about Brains after the break…]

Carrie Vaughn’s Voices of Dragons

Colorado author Carrie Vaughn is best known for the seven books starring Kitty Norville, a werewolf who has come out of the closet and hosts a Denver late-night talk show that invites discussions of all things supernatural.  As the series has progressed, readers have learned that, in Vaughn’s alternate universe, vampires, shape-changers, witches and all types of monsters live among us normal folks.

Now, although she still enjoys spending time in Kitty’s world—the eighth installment, Kitty Goes to War comes out in June, and Kitty’s Big Trouble is due next year—Vaughn has let her imagination take her in other directions.  Voices of Dragons, her first young adult novel, and the first published in hard cover, came out last month from Harper Teen, and Tor will release her first adult hard cover novel, Discord’s Apple in July.

Just as she has made the supernatural a reality for Kitty and her fans, Vaughn has created a world that is just slightly different in her young adult book.

[Read below the line for a brief introduction to Voices of Dragons]

Robert Sawyer—WWW:WATCH and Flash Forward

Robert Sawyer wrote the novel, Flash Forward, on which the television series is based.  He and a couple of other writers are finalists for a Hugo for the pilot episode in the best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category, and Sawyer has stayed busy as consultant on each week’s show.  He also wrote the script for the 19th episode in the series, “Course Correction,” which will air on May 6.

But Rob hasn’t totally gone Hollywood.  The first installment of his WWW trilogy, WWW:WAKE, is also a Hugo finalist this year, and WWW:WATCH, which continues the story, was released this month.

Of course, the biggest trouble with trilogies is that reading the second book doesn’t make much sense unless you have read the first, so, if you haven’t read WWW:WATCH, do it now.  (Or, for a teaser, check out my post.)  The second problem with trilogies is waiting for the next book, and this one should be worth the wait.

[Read on for a bit about what to expect in WWW:WATCH, with only minor spoilers]

Heavy Metal Pulp debuts with Pleasure Model

Recently Tor Books and Heavy Metal Magazine launched Heavy Metal Pulp, their collaborative line of noir science fiction books, with Pleasure Model, the first installment of the Netherworld trilogy written by Christopher Rowley with interior art by Justin Norman. Gregory Manchess’s cover aptly illustrates both the essence of the new line and what to expect from Pleasure Model, with the scantily clad beauty and the evil and futuristic robot harkening back to paperback covers of detective and science fiction books from the pulp age of the mid-20th Century.

While Rowley’s action-packed narrative, filled with guns and soft-core sex definitely brings to mind those early detective novels, the proliferation of black-and-white illustrations takes the line into new territory—the trade paperback/graphic novel hybrid.

[A bit about Pleasure Model, with a few minor early spoilers and a typical two-page layout follow]

Werewolf Smackdown; Mario Acevedo’s Latino vampire detective goes south

Werewolf Smackdown is Mario Acevedo’s fifth book starring Felix Gomez, perhaps the only Latino vampire detective.  One of the biggest problems in series novels is keeping them fresh; thus, although the “hero” remains the same, it is important that the villains and locales change.

Although both Acevedo and Gomez reside in Denver, the author sends his detective south for this book, and this time the heartless vampire, who wonders why he still has feelings, takes on lycanthropes.

In a recent interview Acevedo talked about using different supernatural villains and settings to keep his series from getting stale:

…there is a lot of antagonism between the werewolves and the vampires, and they’re always talking trash to one another.  After I had finished writing the third book, I realized that I should start introducing different kinds of supernatural characters, other than the aliens and vampires from those books.  Then I thought, You’ve got to have zombies.  And then, after (Jailbait Zombie), I thought what other supernatural creatures can I use?  And the one that is really powerful is the werewolf.

(Gomez) starts out in Denver, but most of the next book takes place in Charleston.  Charleston is a great historical city with a spooky atmosphere.  And there are werewolves.  The premise is that there are these two factions of werewolves and it’s threatening to turn into a civil war.  When I thought of this idea, it didn’t occur to me that Charleston was actually the place where the real Civil War started with Fort Sumter and all.  So that just worked out.

After werewolves and Charleston, who knows what or where?

[A little bit about Werewolf Smackdown with only minor spoilers follows…]

Bite Me: Christopher Moore talks about Abby Normal

With the publication of Bite Me: A Love Story on March 23, Christopher Moore’s vampire trilogy reached a conclusion.  If you’ve been keeping up, you read or reread Blood-Sucking Fiends and You Suck to get ready.  It turns out that Moore uses the first two chapters of the new book to summarize what has happened so far, so, if you were lax in preparing yourself, you should still have little trouble jumping right in, but you missed the fun of catching up.

In Bloodsucking Fiends Jody was turned into a vampire and made Tommy, the 19-year-old grocery stocker and aspiring writer, her minion.  In You Suck Jody turns Tommy into a creature of the night, and Tommy finds Abby Normal, a “non-perky” (who really is pretty perky) Goth girl, to be the minion for the two of them.

Bite Me is really Abby’s book as the tattooed and much pierced teenager finally achieves her desire to become one of the undead.  In fact, Jody finds herself barely surviving after an accidental dose of the sun, and Tommy has been absorbed into a cloud of vampire kitties led by Chet, the huge hairless vampire cat, and hardly makes an appearance until the last few chapters.

[Read how Chris Moore came up with Abby after the break…]

Getting ready for Bite Me: Rereading Christopher Moore’s You Suck and green beer

Bite Me: A Love Story, the third book in Christopher Moore’s vampire cycle is just over a week away.  If you have been paying attention, you celebrated Valentine’s Day by reading or rereading the first installment, Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story. If you haven’t, do it now.

The next holiday after Valentine’s Day comes next week. So, on St. Patrick’s Day, it is time to suck down a green beer while laughing through the pages of the second novel, You Suck: A Love Story. Be sure you are wearing green: folks have been known to spill. Then you will be totally prepared to welcome the first flowers of spring with Bite Me.

You Suck begins the day after Fiends ended. Tommy Flood, who is in love with Jody the vampire, couldn’t make himself destroy her. So he had Jody and Elijah Ben Sapir, the centuries-old vampire who started all this, bronzed. Tommy’s mistake is that he drilled ear holes in the bronze statue of Jody, so he could talk to her. Jody, who has learned how to turn into a mist, slips out through the ear holes, and turns Tommy into a vampire, not so much because she is mad, but because she is lonely.

[Whet your appetite for You Suck with the following. Be warned, if you haven]