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Empire, or, When Fucking Your Romero DVD Collection is Entirely Inappropriate.

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Title: Empire

Pagecount: 283

Author: David Dunwoody (who is, unfortunately, A)

Published: 2008- Permuted Press


Dear Permuted Press:

Stop printing books.

No. Really. This is not a suggestion, it is not a request, it is a demand. Just..stop.

No love,

Eusapia.


The saga of Empire is a sad one. The local bookstore chain-within-a-chain was going out of business and I happened to stop by when I had cash to burn. It’s a good thing the books were all priced rock bottom. I would never pay fifteen dollars for this crap and neither should you. Doing so is an affront to literature, to liberty, to the American way. A moment, allow a correction. The American way if you aren’t a zombieaholic waste of space whose concept of the horror genre is limited to ‘they’re coming for you, Barbara!’

Moving on.

Empire’s plotline is (predictably) as follows: The American government has failed to combat a zombie plague. They are pulling out of coastal cities, including the fictional Jefferson Harbor, Louisiana. This leaves behind a handful of survivors, one power hungry necromancer and yes, you guessed it, a horde of undead.

But WAIT! In a highly detailed completely unnecessary prologue, we learn that these zombies can’t be killed via headshot. Oh my god, you guys, what do we do? Why, we burn them, of course! It’s brilliant! It’s original! It..lost its charm about five pages in. There wasn’t even a honeymoon. Hell, I’m not sure the couple even made it to the wedding.

Dunwoody spends way too much time in those first few pages expressing to you just how awesome he is by changing zombies. He is so cool, he devised a throwaway character who was totally willing to go into an abandoned zone teeming with flesh eating corpses to leave a letter that explained in excruciating detail how the American government was to blame for the creation of the virus. Dunwoody then continues to be awesome by having this letter found by token extras 2, 6, and 24, one of whom has been bitten. They ooh, they ahh, they get hauled through a supply hatch and eaten. Boring.

If you’re looking for zombie splatter, go watch a zombie movie. The ‘pulled through a window and eaten’ schtick is used at least forty times throughout the book. Also the ‘we thought it was dead’ schtick. As if these Romero imitations weren’t bad enough, Dunwoody steals- quite blatantly, I feel- from better sources of horror.  Exhibit A: Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Look! It’s a malformed zombie! Look, he’s got an apron! And an axe! And he cuts people up and stuffs them into sausage casings!

As if that isn’t bad enough, there’s a zombie clown.

Yes, It fans, a zombie clown. Who..? You’re right. Attempts to eat Token Retarded Kid. Who, by the way, later turns into a zombie and tries to eat his dad.

It gets worse. There are references to bodies in malls, ‘because of some old zombie movie’. The Source- the dark energy that makes zombies, from which the virus was ostensibly diluted- is in theory connected to The Old Ones. Who I’m willing to bet have tentacles and spent a lot of time talking to a fellow named Lovecraft.

I spent so much time gagging on the overzealous gore factor and fanboying that I practically overlooked the cast. To be honest, it wasn’t that hard. People showed up only to be messily devoured three paragraphs later. Police Officer, Rock Star, Convict With A Heart Of Gold- it didn’t matter what label they wore, they died. People who weren’t even significant to the plot were given screentime for their demise. I think what Dunwoody was trying to do was keep you guessing as to the identity of the survivors; unfortunately, the only thing he did right was tag those people from the very start. The rest of the book is just a splatterfest of irritation. Why was I paying any attention to these people? If they were just going to die, why bother trying to make me root for them? The time could have been better spent doing something like, I don’t know, developing the ones who are going to live.

What irks me the most is how much time is dedicated to stressing the differences between this book and other zombie novels. For example, the plague has been going on for years now. The world has assimilated to it; some of the characters are second and third generations born to it. There are tabloids about zombies. The US government has collapsed and is now run solely by a Senate. You can’t headshot the zombies. There’s a platoon of highly religious soldiers. You can’t headshot the zombies. The original undead (oh, sorry, ‘afterdead’) were created by dark energy emanating from the earth’s core. Did we mention you can’t headshot the zombies?

I don’t like having my hand held, and that is what Dunwoody does. Nothing is left to chance or inference. He’s going to tell you everything you never wanted to know about his book and the people in it. There isn’t any joy in reading about survival when the survival part is taken out in favor of foresight. Even brain candy books leave something to the imagination.

If Permuted Press was dedicated to putting out pulp fictionesque works, then I could understand this tripe. However, Permuted Press is an independent press dedicated to apocalyptic fiction. It’s a neat little niche. Now if only they wouldn’t fill it with bullshit like this. Who thought this was a good idea? Who picked up the original draft of Empire and said, “Oh man, this book is just the author attempting to have a lovechild with Night Of the Living Dead,  fan-freakin’-tastic!’

That person needs to be shot. Several times. And then possibly burned, because apparently, a shot to the head won’t kill him.

Did I mention Death shows up?

Yes. Death. Pale horse and everything. Now here’s where Dunwoody could have redeemed himself. Death takes on corporeal form because he notices that people aren’t dying like they should. This is clearly a problem. He forms a scythe made of the bones of the undead in order to combat them. Clever. His body? Made of clay. Also clever. Unfortunately, ‘clever’ is about the only word that I can use to describe Death. He has his moments, brief as they are, but then returns right to the mire of the flimsy paper mask Dunwoody created for him. He is perhaps the only character that goes through something resembling significant development, and even at the book’s end, when he stands a nameless corporeal man, you don’t care that there’s a sequel. There is a sequel.

Empire’s plot- if it could be called that- suffers heavily from convenience. the Convict With A Heart Of Gold just so happens to be Token Retarded Kid’s dad. Angry Homeless Man just so happened to meet up with Necromancer’s Deceased Twisted Father. The story is lazy and littered with things like this, some of them designed only to lead into another bitefight. For example, a tunnel (how convenient) connects the abandoned police station with city hall. A mild mannered clerk just so happens to still be in City Hall when our survivors are swamped with zombies. He leads them to safety a la Moses through the desert…and he’s a cannibal.

I suppose a few moments should be dedicated to the sex. There is, of course, sex everywhere. We meet a senator who was fucking his sister’s husband, the necromancer wants to mack on his thirteen year old adopted sister, two escaped convicts engage in constant coitus in a flashback, and Overweight Former Callgirl was raped by a guy who talked, excessively, about cumming on her face. There is also the little matter of erections. Which are mentioned an awful lot for a book about the end of the world as we know it.

I understand that if we were facing a plague of writhing undead, some people would want to fuck. That’s human nature and it’s acceptable- my Antwerp review also mentioned sex. This sex, however, is awkwardly placed, awkwardly timed, and used either to rouse your interest or make you hope that something interesting is going to happen later, because that’s the way horror movies work. Someone has sex, then they die.

Unfortunately for you, there’s very little to get off on when it comes to the actual descriptive act. Lots of talk, but when the moment of realization comes Dunwoody pussies out. Dear God, man. People are ripping other peoples’ faces off, there’s a zombie with a dog skull running around with an axe, give the audience their porn.

Empire could have been saved. If the book had been written from Death’s POV, for example, the distance he held from humanity could have provided a fascinating and morbid range of descriptions. Cut the letter from the front. Par down the cast. Come up with a better reason for the plague than ‘the Dark Energy made me do it’. Then, maybe, just maybe, this book would be worth reading.

None of this has happened. Empire is a thirteen year old zombie fanatic’s wet dream. Frankly, it should have stayed that way.

Tune in next time when I review Permuted Press’s ‘Bestial Werewolf Apocalypse’.

You think I’m kidding about that title.

I’m not.

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