Chris Hall reviews Gerald Dean Rice’s novella, Fleshbags
Gerald Dean Rice
The world of horror fiction has been heavily saturated with tame, teen-vampire mush over the past few years, so it is quite pleasing to come across something that pulls no punches in the gore department. Gerald Dean Rice’s Fleshbags is a short, if somewhat clumsy, shiv to the ribs that packs in more guts and quivering organs than most zombie movies. It takes an innovative approach to the idea of what a zombie can be, and fills its sixty-four pages with a plethora of characters that for the most part avoid the survival-horror clichés. Unfortunately, Rice hampers his own best work by making this story so short, and whilst his ideas and characters are fresh and interesting, he lets himself down with just as many mistakes as triumphs.
Juggling so many plotlines and characters in such a short novella is tricky, so it is forgivable that Rice drops a few during this fast-paced gore-fest. After a mysterious and unexplained ‘explosion’, people all over an anonymous city are infected with a gruesome disease that makes them carnivorous, gooey and inflames their abdomens to a grisly, translucent sack of oozing organs. The ‘fleshbags’ of the title make for grisly reading, and Rice is never afraid of giving you the most disgusting description possible of an encounter between them and the various survivors. Cops, care workers, ex-cons, and ordinary people of all kinds are woven into the plot, which Rice handles admirably for the most part, if not altogether successfully. The frequent switches between characters and settings can be a little hard to follow, and it is clear that Rice enjoys writing some characters far more than others.
The main problem with Fleshbags is the number of errors. Not necessarily spelling mistakes, but the incorrect use of words, and the occasional slip in style that disconnects you from an otherwise compelling story. Rice can get a little carried away in his action scenes, and there are several moments where characters seem to not react to bone-crunching pain, or suddenly perform unintentionally comic feats of martial prowess. One such moment is when a previously fearful manager of the day-care centre suddenly kicks a zombie “in the chest Leonidas style, howling at him as he flew backwards, smacking his head off a decorative stone.” It is things like this that a good editor could have helped with. One of the biggest problems with a lot of self-published fiction is self-indulgence, and Rice falls foul of this a few times, not often enough to ruin the story, but certainly enough to stop it from being great.
Errors and missteps aside, it is still a mostly enjoyable until the end, which comes about far too abruptly and smacks a little of laziness. I sincerely hope that Rice gets attention for this book, because it does a lot of things right. I would really enjoy reading a full-length novel built from the story of Fleshbags; one that polishes the rough edges, spends more time with its characters, and delivers a satisfying ending. A short story included at the end of the novella suggests that Rice has plans for further stories featuring the ‘fleshbag’ zombies, and I look forward to reading them. Whilst the story overall was disappointing, the innovation displayed in the crafting of his characters and the pacing of the story mark Rice out as someone to watch. Hopefully, with the right editor and agent, we will see him reach his full potential.