Fort by Mark Allan Gunnells (Sinister Grin Press)
I was aware of Sinister Grin Press mainly due to their limited editions from many of the biggest names writing horror fiction today, and I’m pleased to report they seem to be branching out and releasing more affordable titles in both paperback and e-book formats.
I’m familiar with Mark Allan Gunnells’ earlier books from Sideshow Press, having enjoyed his double novella WHISONANT/CREATURES OF THE LIGHT, which led me to purchase TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT from the same publisher, and was pleased to have been asked to review FORT, from the aforementioned Sinister Grin Press, especially when I have to invoke the dreaded Z-word*.
FLASHBACK – the mid to late 80’s – I was a huge fan of Zombie films and fiction, with Romero’s ground-breaking Dead trilogy completed at that time with the release of Day of the Dead. There was also THE BOOK OF THE DEAD, a ground-breaking and outstanding fiction collection from editors John Skipp & Craig Spector. Many horror fans these days, me included are a little jaded from the glut of zombie films and books released in the successful wake of games like Resident Evil, TVs, The Walking Dead and Brian Keene’s THE RISING leading to the mainstream embracing the living dead.
Sadly, for the reasons stated above, I probably would have missed out on a well written, interesting take on this extremely popular sub-genre. In FORT, the author wisely keeps his ghouls in the background for majority of the story, concentrating instead on building his characters trapped in a campus dormitory known as ‘Fort’, by the sudden and unexplained (shades of Romero) outbreak of the undead. Instead we are introduced to many of the regular school clichés including the Jocks, a lesbian couple, the Stoner, a Spiritualist, and the Business Major etc, etc. Mark reveals and subverts many of his characters traits and past actions via flashbacks to earlier moments either during the apocalypse or to their lives before the world turns to shit. I found it fascinating how these revelations affected the way his cast dealt with the hunger and fear of being trapped in such dire circumstances.
This is still a zombie novelette and the climax is suitably gross and full of action, suspense and a few surprises. Personally, I don’t think we have seen the last of these characters or this world, and will not be surprised to see a follow up in the near future, as I did feel that the story could easily continue and benefit from this extension, despite the events of the climax as I did see one of the twists coming before the reveal. An extension in my mind would make it feel less of a final shock ending.
Overall, I’m really glad I got to read this one, and certainly recommend it to anyone willing to give these rotting corpses another shot.
*Slight spoiler: Mark wrote a brilliant paragraph or two on how the group refers to the zombie hoard and their use of modern technology that brought the film Scream to mind, perhaps FORT does for Zombies what Scream did for slasher flicks back in its day. (Martin Roberts)