Apex Books has a new imprint called The Zombie Feed, and among the first books to be published is a novella from budding author, Mark Allan Gunnells. With Asylum, Mark takes the shambling hordes of the walking dead and gives them a new target: a gay bar.
While the story shifts between several characters, all of whom find themselves barricaded inside the nightclub Asylum, the main character is Curtis, a small town boy unaccustomed to the gay lifestyle of the city. Not to mention that the twenty-year-old college student is still a virgin and intimidated by the sexual confidence of his friend Jimmy. His first visit to Asylum turns out to be a shocker in more ways than one when zombies creep out of the darkness to ambush he and his friend in the parking lot as the night winds down. They, and the few stragglers who remain inside the club, become trapped inside as the city seemingly becomes overwhelmed by the walking dead. And authorities don't seem to have a little gay bar high on their priority list.
In one sense, the subject matter feels very familiar. Take a group of people, usually two-dimensional stock characters, and hole them up in some secluded place as zombies try to get at them. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead kicked that off decades ago, and it's become well-worn territory ever since. To Mark's credit, the inclusion of a nearly all gay cast of characters is different--at least in my experience with zombie fiction--and the characters are presented in a more organic manner than the average American sitcom. Will & Grace this is not.
The tone carries some of that old Romero charm, and even the faintest hint of Tarantino's From Dusk Til Dawn thanks to the whole trapped-in-a-bar setting, but with less than eighty pages to tell this story there isn't quite enough time for the story to make as big an impact. Quite a few of the characters are fleshed out, rather than leaving them as pure fodder for the zombies, but I felt the story lacked in terror. The climax does offer much appreciated excitement, though. Maybe the tone is meant more to be tragic than terrifying, and I'm so used to a group of disparate characters turning on each other in zombie tales, I stepped into Asylum with too many preconceptions.
Overall, the story is a pretty good first crack at the bat by Zombie Feed, and Mark Allan Gunnells shows real promise with more of his work on the way through other outlets. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but zombie addicts will likely find a quick and satisfactory distraction in Asylum.