Review: “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” By Mark Morris (Novel)

Since the weather was still pretty hot, I felt like reading a nice relaxing zombie novel. So, I thought that I’d take the chance to read a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a few months, namely Mark Morris’ 2014 novel “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”.

I first saw this book online a few months ago and was impressed by the dramatic title and gloriously melodramatic cover art. But, since it was slightly expensive at the time, I ended up reading Alison Littlewood’s “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” instead. However, a couple of weeks before writing this review, second-hand copies of the book were a little bit cheaper online, so I decided to get a copy.

Although this book seems to be a spin-off from Stephen Jones’ “Zombie Apocalypse!” series, it seems to be a fairly self-contained novel. Yes, some elements of the book will probably make more sense if you’ve read the main series (which I haven’t, since they seem to be epistolary novels. And, although I read “Dracula”, “Carrie” and “World War Z” during the ’00s, I’ve kind of gone off of this narrative style). But, this is pretty much a self-contained stand-alone novel with conventional third-person narration 🙂

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Robinson (UK) paperback edition of “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” that I read.

The novel begins in London, in a dystopian version of Britain (well, more dystopian than usual). A night-shift nurse called Cat Harris is on her way to Lewisham Hospital when a frenzied person covered in blood lurches out in front of the car. Luckily, Cat is able to get away but she feels slightly shaken by the incident and somewhat guilty about not helping the person who lunged at her car. Still, there is work to be done at the hospital’s A&E department…

Meanwhile, a seventeen-year old gang member called Carlton is preparing for an attack on a rival gang. Although Carlton’s gang have the element of surprise on their side, Carlton ends up getting stabbed in the hip by a youth from the rival gang. So, naturally, he ends up being taken to A&E at Lewisham Hospital….

Whilst all of this is going on, there’s a hen party in a nearby nightclub. Although the evening is going well, a bearded man in a white robe enters the nightclub and begins to rant about beltane, fleas and other arcane things – before suddenly biting the bride-to-be. Whilst the other people at the club beat the bearded man to a pulp, the hen party make their way to Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is basically an updated modern version of classic 1980s splatterpunk fiction 🙂 Everything from the cynical dystopian satire to the gritty inner London setting to the gallons of gore is wonderfully evocative of classic ’80s splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc…

But, it is also a modern novel too – about the best way to describe this is that the novel is maybe a little bit like Attack The Block mixed with the film adaptation of V For Vendetta mixed with 28 Days Later and/or possibly the first “Resident Evil” movie.

As a horror novel, this story works really well 🙂 Although it isn’t exactly scary, it is filled with the kind of intense, ultra-gruesome, claustrophobic, tragic, dystopian, fast-paced and suspenseful horror that you would expect from a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel.

Likewise, this novel also includes some transgressive horror, some medical horror, a bit of paranormal horror, lots of apocalyptic horror, a few moments of gothic horror and some insect-based horror too. In other words, this isn’t a novel for the easily shocked or horrified.

Interestingly, the zombies in this novel are modern-style fast-moving zombies – with the zombie virus also being spread via infected fleas (like the bubonic plague) and having some kind of paranormal component to it too.

This allows for some fairly inventive scenes, such as infected characters having psychic visions or pickled specimens in a nearby medical museum returning to life. In addition to this, the fast-moving zombies also help to keep the later parts of the story suitably thrilling too. But, thankfully, some classic tropes of the genre (eg: aim for the head!) still remain too 🙂

Like any good zombie story, this novel also contains a fair amount of dark humour too 🙂 In addition to a few movie/TV references, a subtle reference to James Herbert’s “The Rats“, arguments about whether the zombies are actually zombies and some amusing dialogue segments, there are also a few brilliant moments of grotesque humour too (such as a heartwarmingly romantic reunion… of zombies) which will either make you laugh out loud or feel slightly queasy.

The novel’s dystopian elements are pretty interesting too. Although they’re mostly kept to the background, this story is set in a vaguely “V For Vendetta”-style version of Britain that has a nationalistic UKIP/Tory-style government, daily curfews, armed police, mysterious conspiracies etc.. With the only reason that it hasn’t turned into a full-blown 1984-style dictatorship mostly just being because of governmental incompetence, stinginess/austerity etc.. Seriously, this novel is a brilliant piece of political satire.

However, one fault with this novel is that it overloads the reader with characters and sub-plots during the first half of the novel. Yes, all of these sub-plots do add scale, suspense, emotional depth, narrative breadth etc… and the story does become more streamlined later, but it means that the crucial early parts of the story aren’t always as fast-paced or focused as they should be.

This wouldn’t have been too bad if this novel had used the classic splatterpunk technique of killing off most of the background characters after just one chapter, but they’ll often get at least a couple of chapters (if not more) – which bogs the story down a bit.

In terms of the characters, they’re all reasonably well-written. Like in classic splatterpunk novels, the focus is more on ordinary people rather than on soldiers, politcians, police officers etc.. Although, as mentioned earlier, the focus on introducing lots of characters near the beginning of the story does make the story feel a little bit less focused than it should be.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is really good. In addition to switching between more formal and more informal narration depending on the situation, the story’s narration also contains some absolutely awesome descriptions – like this one: “The church was a squat, ugly, moss-covered building that perched like a toad in a sea of mud and tangled vegetation, from which broken, slanted gravestones jutted like old teeth.

However, one minor annoyance is that the novel randomly switches to present-tense narration during one or two chapters though. Even so, this novel is wonderfully readable 🙂

Like with the other “Zombie Apocalypse!” spin-off novel I’ve read, this one also includes a few greyscale illustrated pages too. But, most of these just seem to be pictures of blood-spattered hospital corridors and they don’t really add too much to the story. Then again, if you’re having difficulty picturing the settings, then I suppose they might come in handy.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 343 pages, it’s a little long by classic splatterpunk standards but on par with other modern horror novels. Likewise, although the novel becomes a lot more focused and fast-paced during the later parts, the numerous character introductions and the emphasis on suspense etc.. near the beginning means that the novel gets off to a slightly slower and less streamlined start than I would have liked.

All in all, this is a really good zombie novel. Yes, it isn’t quite perfect, but it’s still really brilliant 🙂 If you want to read a slightly more updated, modern version of the type of awesome old 1980s splatterpunk horror novels that used to be common in second-hand bookshops/charity shops a decade or two ago, then check this novel out.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.

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Review: “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” By Alison Littlewood (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I read a zombie novel (I think the last one I read was Weston Ochse’s excellent “Empire Of Salt). And, a week or so before I wrote this review, I was looking for books online and I happened to stumble across the “Zombie Apocalypse!” series.

Although the main series didn’t interest me that much, several of the spin-off novels caught my eye. So, I ended up ordering a second hand copy of Alison Littlewood’s 2015 novel “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now”.

So, let’s take a look at “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Robinson (UK) paperback edition of “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” that I read.

The novel begins in Acapulco, where a new luxury hotel called the Hotel Baktun is getting ready to open. The mysterious multi-millionaire who built the hotel has also paid to have an ancient Mayan pyramid moved to the hotel.

Whilst a waiter called Iktan (who, to his annoyance, is pushed into using a western name by the hotel’s British staff) starts his day, the first guests begin to arrive in preparation for the grand opening ceremony. In addition to ultra-rich celebrities, music promoters etc.. a poorer family has also won a trip to the hotel in a competition too.

Whilst all of this is going on, the hotel’s new head of security – Stacy Keenan – is arrives from London too. She doesn’t think that it will be a particularly eventful job. But, unknown to her, an armed gangster sneaks into the hotel in order to carry out a mission for his boss.

And, of course, it isn’t long before strange things start happening. A cruise ship is quarantined near the hotel, due to a mysterious illness. There are news reports about a plane being shot down, a historical plague pit being discovered back in Britain, America closing it’s borders etc.. It almost sounds like there could be a… zombie apocalypse.. about to happen.

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was wonderfully fun to read 🙂 It’s a good, traditional zombie story, with a rather interesting setting. Plus, like a lot of good zombie stories, it has the fast-paced intensity of a thriller novel and the unstintingly gruesome horror of a classic splatterpunk novel 🙂 In other words, this is a zombie novel 🙂

As for the novel’s horror elements, they work really well 🙂 In addition to the numerous grisly scenes of gory horror that you would expect, the novel also includes several other forms of horror too.

These include things like suspenseful horror, claustrophobic horror, character-based horror, body horror, mythological/supernatural horror, social horror, disease horror, bleak horror and psychological horror. Although the novel’s exquisitely grotesque gory horror is the most prominent type of horror here, the other types of horror really help to lend it some extra drama and impact too. This horror is also counterpointed with a few well-chosen moments of comedy too.

The novel’s thriller elements also work really well too. The novel spends the first seventy pages or so slowly building up suspense, which contrasts really well with the unrelenting action and drama of the rest of the book. And, yes, this novel is a fairly well-structured thriller. Not only are the few survivors outnumbered and under-armed, but there are several groups of them and the novel’s third-person narration switches between them in each chapter (in traditional thriller fashion).

This novel strikes a really good balance between these two genres, with both the thriller and horror genres complementing each other really well. Yes, a lot of the novel focuses on the survivors running, fighting and/or making plans but they are also constantly confronted by scenes of horror and are relatively under-armed and vulnerable too. Seriously, unlike some zombie stories, most of the characters don’t have guns – which really helps to add some actual suspense and creativity to the story 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is more than enough characterisation and character development here to make you care about what happens to the main characters. Plus, even the novel’s more satirical ultra-rich characters will sometimes get a bit of characterisation too. Oh, and there’s a pirate zombie too. Seriously, the novel’s cover art is actually accurate about this 🙂

As for the novel’s settings and atmosphere, they’re really good too. The contrast between the luxury hotel and the poverty surrounding it helps to add to the story’s uneasy atmosphere. Likewise, the shiny new luxury hotel is also contrasted brilliantly with both the old pyramid and the grisly horrors that take place within such pristine settings.

However, one slight flaw is the fact that the novel includes several pages that are filled with greyscale photos. Although some of these are kind of cool (eg: you’ll turn the page and suddenly find a zombie glaring at you etc..), the photos of the resort are kind of annoying – since they will inevitably look at least slightly different to how you pictured the location.

As for the writing, Littlewood’s third-person narration is really well-written and it kind of reads like a more descriptive version of a modern action-thriller novel. It’s a bit like a modern equivalent of the old splatterpunk novels of the 1980s. The narration’s focus on characters and descriptions really helps to add to the horror of the story, whilst the slightly more “matter of fact” narrative tone helps to keep many parts of the story grippingly thrilling and fast-paced.

In terms of length, this novel is a reasonably efficient 309 pages long. This helps to ensure that the story never really feels too bloated or too abrupt. Plus, since it’s reasonably gripping and most of it is fairly fast-paced, the length feels absolutely right. In short, this story is pretty much as long as it needs to be 🙂

All in all, this is a very good zombie novel 🙂 If you want a thrillingly suspenseful, gleefully over-the-top and brilliantly horrific zombie story, then this one is worth checking out. Yes, it isn’t too different to other zombie thriller novels I’ve read (with the exception of the settings, characters etc..) but this is what makes the story so enjoyable to read 🙂 In other words, if you’re a fan of the zombie genre, you’ll have a lot of fun with this novel 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Today’s Art (4th March 2016)

Well, here’s the next comic in my (probably fairly short) revival of my old “Damania” webcomic series (in the style of the old comics, rather than my two other modern revivals of the series – here and here).

Fun fact – this is actually the second time that the zombie apocalypse has happened in this comic series – the first time was in 2013.

As usual, this picture is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Damania Redux - Be Prepared" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Redux – Be Prepared” By C. A. Brown