Jennifer K. Oliver

Speculative Fiction Writer

Category: Story Reviews

Podcast recommendation: We’re Alive

Trawling through the iTunes podcast library, I stumbled upon an audio drama called We’re Alive – A Story of Survival, by Wayland Productions. It’s a zombie podcast, but before you run for the hills, hear me out. It starts off as you might expect, but it quickly becomes clear that they’re doing something a little different with the zombie post-apocalypse. For starters, it’s done in the style of a fully realised radio drama. It has an ensemble cast of voice actors and high-quality sound effects. There’s also a clever score and custom artwork for each chapter.

There are 48 chapters overall, so plenty to keep podcast fans happy. Plus Wayland Productions are still active, with a new podcast Goldrush.  Generally chapters are split into three or four parts, each part running from under ten minutes to around thirty minutes, which makes it easy to squeeze in on a lunch break, a car journey, a walk, or even just before bed.

The pros:

  • The sound effects are brilliant. Who would have thought that something that’s usually so visual—walking, rotting corpses—could be way scarier when only in audio. And these zombies aren’t the shambling, shuffling dunderheads you see in a lot of other venues. Think 28 Days Later undead who can sprint. Listening with headphones is absolutely the way to go—when you first hear the rapid thump-thump-thump of the monsters running at you, the sound growing louder and louder in your ears, it’s terrifying.
  • Like I said above, they’re doing something different with the zombies. It was one of the main things that kept me intrigued all the way through.
  • Apart from a couple of minor niggles (see below), the voice acting is fantastic and high quality.
  • The score is also very good, building tension or relief at the right moments. I can only bring to mind one instance where I felt the background atmospheric music was out of place.

The cons:

  • Sometimes the dialogue can be hokey. There are a number of cliches that could have been avoided, and at one point a character even says (narrating) that she goes on “an emotional rollercoaster”. That old chestnut. But the podcast is otherwise quite slick and while it jarred for a moment, it didn’t put me off.
  • Once in a while the line delivery is slightly awkward, and you can tell that the actors are reading from scripts. It’s never so bad that I wanted to stop listening, and generally they do an excellent job. It’s just the odd line.

If you don’t usually go for horror or zombies in particular but have always wanted to try some, this might be a good entry point. Its format sets it apart from many other horror stories out there. Plus, if it’s the blood and guts visuals you tend to shy away from, you don’t have to worry about seeing any of it here—only the squishy sounds coming from all directions. 🙂

You can find We’re Alive on TumblrTwitterYouTube and Facebook, too.

Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies

A few years ago I had a small zombie story published (more about that soon, including a cover I designed for the story) at a wonderful magazine called KaleidotropeAt the time I submitted the story I was extremely nervous. I knew damn well that selling anything containing vampires, werewolves and zombies was a hard sell. Back then a lot of the submission guidelines I encountered specifically stated that they would not entertain these creatures. It was pretty disheartening.

The story sold. It was a genuine surprise. It wasn’t that I had no faith in my idea or my characters – I was and still am happy with the piece. But getting a zombie story through slush readers and onto an editor’s desk seemed like a miracle to me.

I’m so grateful to Kaleidotrope for publishing it. That little story even earned a short review at Locus Online, which is ever so groovy.

Vampires, werewolves and zombies still seem to have a fairly bad literary reputation. A handful of authors and magazines I’ve checked out over the years have written – and published – well-written, strong monster fiction. You often hear the phrase “there’s no such thing as an original idea” banded around the writing community, and yet writers reinvent ideas and genres all the time. It’s what we’re born to do.

I’m interested in fresh (or maybe that should be decaying, in the case of zombies) spins. Damnit, bring me the undead in all their slinking, salivating, putrid glory. But give me something new as well, even if it’s only a detail here, or a nudge there to some unchartered territory.

All this said, I can imagine how tedious it is to wade through the same generic plots day in, day out. The general frustration is apparent in a lot of submission guidelines, and as I’ve never read slush or edited a publication, I can’t fully sympathise with slush readers and editors.

So here is a small handful of monster fiction that I’ve liked.

  • Feature Development for Social Networking, by Benjamin Rosenbaum. What spreads just as fast as a zombie outbreak? News on social media. (Zombies)
  • Up, by James Hargrave. A brutal night-in-the-life. (Vampires)
  • Teeth, an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, featuring stories by Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more. (Vampires)
  • Finisterre, by Maria Deira. (Werewolves)
  • The Days of Flaming Motorcycles, by Catherynne M. Valente. (Zombies)

I’ll add to this list as I find more stories. I’m not including all novels and anthologies, as they’re easy to search for on sites like Amazon or Goodreads.

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