Italian Zombies, Dread Machine, Demeter, Censorship

I’m excited to announce that I’ve sold the next story in my Italian-hitman-in-the-zombie-apocalypse odyssey for the New York Times-bestselling Black Tide Rising series. Entitled “Isle of Masks and Blood”, the story moves the action from Umbria to Venice (one of my favorite places in the world). This will appear in the United We Stand volume of the series due out next year, and is a direct sequel to my story “Descent into the Underworld” (published in the We Shall Rise anthology) which introduced this particular cast of characters and the threats they face.


I’ve taken a real liking to this series, which was unexpected because I’d long ago tired of the zombie genre. I dropped off from The Walking Dead shortly after the fourth season, and found that much of the ensuing subgenre was shambling along the same tired path. Conversely, John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series does unique things with the concept, and so I wanted to do some unique things as well. How many zombie stories are set in Italy, after all? Both “Descent into the Underworld”  and “Isle of Masks and Blood” focus on the question of what happens after the apocalypse. After all, the world has seen apocalypses before. There’s always an after. We didn’t have one Dark Age–we’ve had several. From the Toba Eruption to the Bronze Age collapse to the fall of Rome to the malignant parade of pandemics that decimated entire continents, history is a tapestry of rises and falls and rises again.


Speaking of the undead, I’m not a big fan of Hollywood right now, where franchises like Star Wars have collapsed into parody, remakes keep emerging like weeds, and the superhero bubble has burst due to corporate greed and horrendously bad writing.

But the upcoming Dracula movie, The Last Voyage of the Demeter? It tempts me to hope.

Rather than retell the story for the umpteenth time, The Last Voyage of the Demeter focuses on just one chapter from Bram Stoker’s book: the “Captain’s Log”, which relates the ill-fated voyage of the Demeter, whose crew is unaware they’ve got a vampire aboard. This has real potential–akin to the isolated “it’s in the house with us” dynamic of The Thing and Alien. Bear in mind that in the book, Dracula is not a sexy character pining for true love (that storyline was cribbed from 1932’s The Mummy); rather, he’s an ancient and sinister monster, who regards humanity as nothing more than prey. Think Nosferatu as opposed to Gary Oldman in stylish shades. The Demeter chapter also showcases Dracula’s other abilities, like turning into mist and a wolf, and hearken back to the earliest vampire legends, where the monster isn’t just an alpha predator among the human flock, but an evil spirit, capable of transcending flesh and bone at will. Mummies and zombies can be stopped by a good strong door; Dracula can seep under it, coalescing like a malevolent poltergeist, and throttle his prey like Renfield in the cell.

In the right hands, this can be promising indeed. And it may (fingers crossed) strike that coveted balance between faithfulness to the source material, and finding a story to tell that hasn’t been done before. Hollywood has become the ultimate undead thing, exhuming franchises and trundling them out with a cynicism that leeches the life out of everything it touches. We don’t need more remakes. We need to climb out of this creative apocalypse.


And speaking of apocalypses, we’ve entered a new age of censorship. Because everything old is new again, and the 21st century has been rolling out the worst playlists from the past.

It doesn’t matter if you’re conservative or liberal. Doesn’t matter if it’s Florida banning books that say “gay”, or sensitivity readers taking a razor to Agatha Christie. If you’re censoring books, banning books, then you’re the villain.

As Bradbury himself said, there’s more than one way to burn a book. People forget that in Fahrenheit 451, the dystopian world came about from various special interest groups (across the political spectrum), as each took a bite here, a slice there, until literature ceased to exist. As he wrote: “Every story, slenderized, starved, bluepenciled, leeched and bled white, resembled every other story.”

It’s happening right now. From Toni Morrison to Doctor Seuss to Ian Fleming to Jodi Picoult. From government panels to book publishers. It starts with extracting a word. Then scenes and characters, themes and dialogue. Like a cancer, it spreads to other forms of art, until the tendrils are in every aspect of our lives.

And make no mistake: this is how dystopias are born. “We’re only removing the words that are offensive to god/government/race/sex/party/gender/decency/marriage/faith/president/corporation.”Book burners always feel justified in what they do. They’re always “protecting” something. And they always destroy.


Defying a potential apocalypse is the theme of my story “Legacies in Light and Dark”, which has just been published in The Dread Machine’s Darkness Blooms anthology. A colony on a tidally-locked world encounters a malevolent mystery, one that will decide the future of who they are and what the hope to achieve. I particularly adore the gothic-apocalypse feel of the cover.

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