“Infection” is out! Another page-turner from Elle Klass

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If you were left gasping by the ending of “Premonition,” then you’ll want to grab your copy right away of its sequel, “Infection,” latest of Elle Klass’ thrillers in the “Zombie Girl” series. While I’m not particularly enamored by zombies, I do enjoy and appreciate a good story, which the author never fails to produce. As always, her characters come to life before your eyes, the plot’s believable yet full of surprises, and the imagery gripping, to say nothing of plenty of breath-taking action.

In this episode Maddie finally meets Bryce, face-to-face, their first encounter in a shared dream you can read about in “Premonition.” After that, she sees him at the hospital where recognition strikes them both. They marvel that they’ve shared the same dream about the coming apocalypse and ponder its meaning. Were they supposed to somehow prevent it? Before long they find out it’s too late, it has already begun. Having been prepared by their premonition, they gather Maddie’s parents and her friend, Sarah, and head for their boat, picking up the neighbor’s cat and a strange and somewhat unstable but non-zombified man named Jack along the way.

The group heads toward Italy in her father’s sailboat, Earnest Earl. Maddie’s father, who has been failing since leaving the hospital following his accident in “Premonition”, appears to be turning into a zombie. Unable to accept the reality and dispose of him, Maddie and her mother tie up his unconscious and seemingly dead body with pantyhose, hoping they’ll be able to help keep him alive with love, encouragement, and some gentle physical therapy.

They proceed across the Atlantic, Bryce and Jack taking turns at the helm. For a while they have TV and radio reception, but before long, that, too, is lost, just in time for them to face a nasty storm in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. They survive and eventually reach Italy, where even Mother Nature is rebelling, resulting in more page-turning hazards and adventures I won’t spoil by revealing.

The best part of this vividly portrayed story and what makes it so convincing are the familiar daily activities the characters engage in while they deal with this crisis, albeit with a fair amount of luck. Personality clashes, disagreements, and simply surviving in a world that is falling apart make the story memorable and thought-provoking. Everything they do is well-motivated and it’s easy to picture yourself in a similar position, sometimes agreeing with their decisions and others advising “No! Don’t do it!” Yet it has a somewhat fantastic “Super Girl” feel which is fun, even if some elements stretch credibility. Maddie definitely has all the makings of an everyday girl turned “super heroine.”

I see zombies as an adept analogy for the “walking dead” among us, i.e. those who are so stuck on their daily treadmill that they fail to notice either the little joys in life or the effect their attitude is having on the deteriorating world around them. Their negativity attempts to pull everyone down to their level, even as they feed on those who still know what life is all about. If only it were as easy to get rid of these real-life figurative “zombies” as their fictitious counterparts.

That may sound a bit heavy and beyond the comprehension of most who indulge in the YA genre, but sometimes I can’t help philosophizing. All that aside, this story as well as its precursor make excellent beach reads or a grand escape into a world that will make your own seem like Utopia. Don’t miss it!

You can pick-up your copy here.

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Creepy & Too Believable: “Daimones Trilogy” Volume I

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I usually don’t have that much trouble putting a book down. Most of the time I have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen next and even if I don’t, it takes a lot of suspense to keep me reading beyond my usual half-hour morning session on my stationary bike or in the evening before I go to sleep. I’m not impressed by either vampires or zombies. This book, however, was another story, literally and figuratively.

Not only was the suspense palpable, it sucked me into a world that in some ways was too familiar. All quality fiction transports the reader to another place and/or time, but it’s usually relatively easy (at least for me) to separate the story from reality. Not so with this one.

Apocalyptic/dystopian fiction has been extremely popular the last few years, which isn’t surprising given the state of the world. Things have gone crazy and have been heading that way for several decades. There are end-of-world prophecies from various religions and cultures with the signs that they are near clearly upon us. The world has ended before and will again. It’s just a matter of time. Things can change dramatically overnight, as we witnessed with the events of September 11, 2001. As pervasive as that influence was, however, life did manage to go on, at least for those who weren’t directly affected. I think most of us suspect that we’ll have some warning, if no more than a bad feeling, before, as the preppers say, when TSHTF.

But will we?

This story begins in the here and now. A somewhat normal but bad day for the protagonist, Dan, who loses his job. The next day a predawn windstorm comes through, doing what amounts to moderate damage. Except for the fact that as far as Dan can tell, he, his wife and daughter are the only ones left alive. Vehicles of all descriptions are askew on the roadways, their drivers dead. The neighbors are dead in their bed. Animals mysteriously seem to have been spared. Unlike most apocalyptic stories, the world itself is unharmed. The power is still on as well as the internet but there’s nothing to be found in any media source that even hints at anyone else on the entire planet being alive. Unlike other apocalyptic stories where some sort of natural or man-made catastrophe sets things off, in this case there is no known cause.

So now what?

Dan and his family live in Switzerland on what could most easily be described as a comfortable homestead. They have a large home with a guesthouse surrounded by a well cared for yard and a garden. He and his wife are educated people with some idea how to take care of themselves. Since there is no massive destruction other than the pervasive loss of life, they can go to the store and get whatever they need, which they do. Their actions under the circumstances reflect what most of us would do and reflect today’s world. For example, he ran a Facebook ad looking for others.

The story depicts how the world changes with the people gone. The skies are clear and blue, wildlife, packs of dogs, and vegetation start to take over. After a while they get paranoid as they wonder if any other survivors might be hostile. Dan’s young daughter goes into a depression as she realizes she will never share her life with anyone besides her parents. The realism and level of detail in this first person account are chilling and too easy to imagine. But why has everyone died? Or conversely, why has Dan and his family survived?

I don’t want to get into spoiler territory so will leave it at that. There are numerous interesting plot developments and a few more surprises. I will say that the majority of questions are answered by the conclusion and the explanations are not as far-fetched as you might expect, again adding to the rather alarming message underlying this brilliant novel.

The human species remains barbaric in spite of our technological achievements. We are not taking care of our planet as we should. Wars are everywhere and violence in the name of religion has got to be the ultimate travesty. Different animal species care for each other better than too many humans. They have evolved more than we have.

If you had the power to do something about the status quo what would you do? “Daimones” describes one scenario that’s real enough to give considerable pause to the next predawn windstorm. The next volumes in this trilogy are definitely on my list and are bound to be extremely gripping as well.  You can get your copy at Amazon here.

A Detailed and Convincing Post-Apocalyptic Tale that Hits Close to Home

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Without belaboring how it got there, the author has developed a detailed and convincing post-apocalyptic world. Modern as far as the vehicles, weapons and computer technology are concerned, other elements have a medieval flavor including a feudal social structure and a bit of sword play. In this case the holdings of the elite are not so much land itself but what all need to survive–water. In other words, a few have gained control of the water supply with the different “houses” within “The Collective” system jockeying for positions within their own hierarchy while keeping the unfortunate masses at bay. The complexity of the political structure is well thought out and demonstrates a keen understanding of human nature as a relative handful of individuals struggle to maintain what they’ve acquired while also trying to advance through whatever means necessary.

Victor Xonox is the primary villain among many. He’s cruel and ruthless regarding everything and everyone save his beloved daughter, Pheona. He maintains his position with the proverbial iron fist enforced with lethal consequences. No one is allowed to obtain water except through his distribution channels. Anyone found having their own source such as a well is quickly dispatched. And thus we meet Abel, son of a former Army Ranger, whose family has their own covert water supply. Discovery results in the usual punishment except Abel escapes, bent on vengeance. As you would expect, Abel’s quest results in his meeting up with a variety of interesting characters. Each is well-developed with a detailed background and agenda of their own which brings them vividly to life.

While some action-oriented stories lack detail, that is not the case here. I measure fiction through a system I call IDEAS, an acronym which stands for Imagery, Dialog, Emotion, Action and Suspense. As a whole, a good story has an appropriate balance of them all. In this regard Hillard did an outstanding job. Visual, societal, weapons and character detail were outstanding, dialog convincing, enough emotion to make the characters human and provide motivation as well as plenty of action and suspense.

At times I felt as if there were too many named characters and I had trouble keeping track of them all with their exotic names. However, life itself is populated with legions and given the plot and situations, having so many people around contributed to the story’s convincing tone. So convincing, in fact, that its dark and gloomy essence was hard to bear at times since I’m not usually a fan of apocalyptic and dystopian tales, especially ones as vividly portrayed as this one.

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On a personal note, I have seen a modern version of this story play out, albeit less violently. I live in the second row from one of Central Texas’ largest reservoirs, Lake Buchanan. In the above picture you can see it as it appeared on 29 January 2011. Little did I know when I snapped that picture that I may not ever see the lake at that level again.  Ironically, at the time we considered it low!

This area has been in a severe drought for several years and during that time I’ve seen the lake drained at the behest of those in positions of power, putting the drinking water of millions at risk. In a long and complicated story which, if written, would undoubtedly be the length of an epic novel, since 2011 the lake has receded until it eventually fell as low as below one third capacity.  Note the boat ramp in both pictures is one and the same with the second picture taken exactly eight months later.  The lake view vista is now obstructed as well with an exposed strip of land to the left of the distant stand of trees which in normal years is inundated. The second picture below shows looking back from the waterline to the houses, where the lake level should reach their retaining walls.

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Thus, I have witnessed first-hand how water can spark a political battle until at long last a local leader rose to the occasion and led a fight for the rights of those whose local businesses and property values had been decimated for the good of corporate rice farmers downriver who sold their product mostly overseas.

Residents along other lakes in the Highland chain deemed “constant level” (which just happened to have multimillion dollar homes along their shores) were blissfully unaware there was a serious drought. Meanwhile, along Lake Buchanan property values plummeted while resort and business owners closed as the lake was no longer accessible. Furthermore, what was left was too hazardous to enjoy since the pecan orchards inundated with the lakes creation in the 1930s were now exposed, giving it the appearance of an eerie swamp. In some cases, those who were once waterfront could no longer even see the water, yet were still required to pay the excessive tax rate they were assessed for their supposed prime location.

So how did this come about? Our former governor (and aspiring presidential candidate, by the way) at one time was over the state’s Department of Agriculture. Thus, he had a close relationship with corporate rice farmers on the far end of the Colorado River near the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these farmers were thus his appointees on the governing board of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) who supposedly “managed” what are known as the Highland Lakes. In normal years, releasing water for the rice farmers to flood their fields, a practice related to controlling weeds, not the growth of the rice itself, was not a problem because winter and spring rains would replenish the supply.

This, however, was no longer the case with the drought. The usual release was made, nonetheless, which was further exacerbated by human error when someone failed to close the dam’s flood gates when they should have been. It was as if someone had pulled the plug in a bathtub and the lake fell to less than one third capacity, its precious waters eventually spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. And thus it has remained for years.

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This spring Texas received a lot of rain, relieving much of the drought in some areas, but much of it missed our watershed. Lake Buchanan is now at 52% while the others in the Highland Lakes chain are at capacity. Hopefully it will eventually be full again but so far that is not the case.

Clearly a commodity needed for life itself can be a powerful tool and those who seek position and control for selfish reasons will never hesitate to exploit situations that advance their personal agendas without regard for the good of anyone or anything else that stands in their way. Unfortunately, we see this every day. Thus, the premise itself of “The Collective” is highly credible given that there will always be despots like Victor Xonox who build an empire on the backs of those less fortunate.

The plot exposes and investigates the character of those with no regard for the lives of their fellow human beings. It inspires hope in that a leader or coalition of those opposing their evil intent will eventually also arise in the form of heroes and a few antiheroes. While this story had a reasonably satisfying ending, the author also left it open for a sequel which is sure to come. Whether or not you’re a fan of dystopian tales, this one is exceptionally well-written and worth reading as a reminder of what can happen when a few power-hungry individuals assume control of an essential commodity. I have seen it happen with near-tragic consequences from my front porch.

You can purchase a copy of this story at the link below.  Don’t think it couldn’t happen where you live.

The Collective