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review 2017-10-10 16:40
Historical anachronism happens fast
This is the Way the World Ends: An Oral ... This is the Way the World Ends: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Keith Taylor

This poor novel had the bad sense to be published in August, this year of our Lord 2017, though, presumably, it was written earlier. EVEN SO, at the very moment of publication, it was already woefully historically anachronistic. I'm going to blame this, like so much else, on the Trump administration, and the unbelievable chaos and unprecedented violation of governmental, social, and ethical norms that we've seen in this fine country, the US of A, since then. Writing near future science fiction is an unbelievable bitch.


This is what got me. So, This is the Way it Ends is avowedly a love letter and a riff on Max Brooks' World War Z, which is also glossed with the subtitle An Oral History of the Zombie Wars. The writer here, Keith Taylor, notes in his introduction how taken he was by the retrospective and documentary feel of World War Z, and how, after expecting a raft of novelists to take up the style, he decided to fill the gap when no one did. This is the Way it Ends is successful in this Brooksian ventriloquism for the most part, and it you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'll like. (Well, other than a metatextual spin wherein Keith Taylor, current novelist, inserts himself inside this fictional narrative as "Keith Taylor," the documentarian for the novel. His intro dragging on fictional zombie narratives was way too clever-clever. It's the kind of thing that's fun to read to your wife after you write it, but shouldn't make it into the final draft.)


Like Brooks' novel, this one takes place a dozen odd years after the initial zombie outbreaks, after humanity has gone through the meat grinder of a full on zombie apocalypse and come out on the other side, shaky, diminished, but still standing. This is the section that got me: a centrist Republican, one who shepherded the US through the zombie wars, tells a story from mid-2019. Apparently, there are outbreaks happening all over Europe, and there's more and more worry about the zombie threat. At a bipartisan meeting, a reporter asks if maybe the US should close its borders. A democrat steps up, and in an act of partisan showboating, begins reciting the Emma Lazarus sonnet that is carved into the statue of liberty. "Give us your tired" etc. At this point everyone goes nuts, freaking that closing the borders is evil, and certainly no sane (or not evil) person would suggest such a thing. The Republican president is rueful: if only those stupid liberals knew better. 


So here's the problem with this. First, let me tell a joke: at an intersection with four corners, on each corner stands an individual: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, a centrist Republican, and an alt-right nutjob. Someone drops a case of money into the center of the intersection. Which individual gets it? The alt-right nutjob, because the rest of these beings are purely fictional. Second, Trump already tried, and has been moderately successful, in implementing his Muslim ban, just recently adding to the seven Muslim-majority countries he's put on the shit list. Though the courts have put on the brakes a little, public outcry was nowhere near uniform. In fact, I think I was in a minority for thinking that was self-defeating and cruel, in addition to racist. The Trump administration is working hard at curtailing literally all immigration, legal and illegal, and we don't have anything near a zombie fucking outbreak to point at, though you wouldn't know it from some Brietbart articles, boy howdy. No one reads sonnets anymore; those are for effete liberals and they are decidedly not in charge. Third, what is this word, "bipartisan"? I do not understand this strange concept. 


In some ways, this anachronism is adorable, and it dovetails into some blindspots Brooks had in WWZ. The farther Brooks gets from his worldview, the less compelling his narratives get -- the American housewife one is a big fucking mess, but then I have a whole thing about the housewife in fiction. Ditto with Taylor. As a native Brit with a Mongolian wife who spends a lot of time in Mongolia and Thailand, his grasp on pan-Asian politics is pretty great. Americans? Yeah, not so much. I'm not picking on him here though. I'm not sure I understood (even as someone who purported to at least a modicum of wokeness) how unbelievably racist and isolationist the United States is until the last election. And that election technically didn't involve zombies! 


Except it totally did and we're all going to die. The horror of reading horror fiction for me these days is in how unscary it all is. It's nowhere near as terrifying as considering a malignant narcissist who considers Nazis "fine people" starting World War 3, the one that will kill us all, while tweeting on the shitter one Sunday morning. In the words of Mira Grant, rise up while you can. 




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review 2016-10-01 20:33
highly recommended for the Weird Fiction / Sword & Sorcery reader
Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis - Keith Taylor Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis by Keith Taylor is highly recommended for the Weird Fiction / Sword & Sorcery reader. Skelos is a magazine of Weird Fiction (launched via Kickstarter Summer 2016); inside is great Viking-horror Novelette by Keith Taylor called The Drowned Dead Shape. It is great to know that he is still active! I hope he revisits Kamose. Taylor is also known for Cormac Mac Art (Pastiche of REH) with Andrew Offutt. A Sword & Sorcery Group Read made me aware that Taylor wrote nine tales of Kamose, sorcerer priest of Anubis, for Weird Tales in the 1990’s. Interesting is that editor of Weird Tales at the time was Darrell Schweitzer who likewise had an interest in sorcerers in Egypt with his The Mask of the Sorcerer and Sekenre: The Book of the Sorcerer—which are great books appealing to the same readership. The Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis by Keith Taylor is a compilation of 11 weird tales (2 short stories made for the anthology, the others published in Weird Tales; contents detailed below). Kamose functions like a mix between Sherlock Holmes and the Grim Reaper, solving cases and judging supernatural crimes in ancient Eypt. He employs minions who serve him under stressful pretenses; these include the human thief “Si-hotep”, the serpent-human hybrid”Lamia, and demons (“Bone Breaker” and “Green Flame”). He also disguises himself to go undercover. All the while, he is plagued by rival sects, especially from Thoth who unwillingly sourced Kamose’s power (backstory revealed in the book in Chapter 3 “Haunted Shadows”). In a later story, Taylor recaps Kamose’s power: "Kamose could enchant the sea, the sky, and the earth if desired. He understood the speech of beasts and birds, so far as they had language, and could command them also. He knew the secrets of various potions that gave one the power to walk through walls, breathe beneath water or move with a celerity beyond nature—though the first had its dangers and the last exacted a price from the body. He could even change his own face and body if he chose, though the feat called for careful preparation, and required time both to effect and to reverse.” Kamose (and his minions) encounter all sorts of nightmarish magic and creatures; my favorites include (a) an antagonist from “Corpse’s Wrath” that proves the persistence of the undead and (b) a potion that enable people to walk thru walls…but also allows imbibers to see through skin and Cthulhu-esque creatures. Expect lots of tomb raiding, thaumaturgy, betrayals, and awesome magic. The milieu is infused with Egyptian (Khem) mythology and history, from animated shabti dolls, ghostly ka bodies, and alchemy, and haunts/deities from Kush and Libya. Chapter one sets the stage by introducing us to a real Pharaoh Setekh-Nekht, whose future is fictionalized as is the transition to Ramses III’s reign. Although published in serial form, Taylor clearly had a novel-like vision with entwined story arcs spanning across and through all the chapters. The adventure is great stuff, but this set doesn’t close all the story arcs completely; you’ll be left desiring more adventures of Kamose. In fact, there are several obscure points (not really spoilers) that are presented as it there will be a sequel: (1) Ramses III relationship with Kamose is just beginning to brew by the end of this and reeks of untapped potential; (2) the mysterious injury Kamose gets in the opening chapter remains pleasantly obscure; the healing process consumes the remaining ~10 chapters (few years) but there is more to that epic battle yet unexplained; (3) lastly, the opening of the last chapter indicates that the Kush-magician/murder in Chapter 1 may have encountered a different fate than Kamose expected. Contents: Daggers and a Serpent - 1999 Weird Tales Emissaries of Doom - 1999 Weird Tales Haunted Shadows - 2000 Weird Tales The Emerald Scarab - 2001 Weird Tales Lamia - 2001 Weird Tales What Are You When the Moon Shall Rise? - 2002 Weird Tales The Company of the Gods -2003 Weird Tales The Archpriest's Potion - 2003 Weird Tales Corpse's Wrath - 2006 Weird Tales Return of Ganesh - 2012 – new material for this book The Shabti Assassin - 2012 – new material for this book
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