Neighbourhood Jungle by Brett McBean; Tasmaniac Publications; 2011; 172 pgs; $14.00 US

It was almost a year ago when Tasmaniac Publishers released the original novel in Brett McBean’s, ‘Jungle’ mythos, where trees and other types of brush and foliage sprung up randomly from the ground destroying everything in their path and civilization as we know it.  Concrete Jungle was met with overwhelming praise from the review community as well as horror fans, winding up on more than a few speculative fiction best-of lists.

Concrete Jungle was one of those rare novels that managed to offer something new to horror readers with a plot that was not only frightening, but fresh.  The storyline also provided a myriad of opportunities for further development and installments.  To his credit, Steve Clark, the owner of Tasmaniac realized the potential of the tale and invited other dark fiction authors to create their own short stories dealing with McBean’s mythos and had included them not only in the original release but in this sequel as well.

And while I thought those short stories in Concrete Jungle were a pleasant addition to McBean’s universe, I believe the two stories included in Neighbourhood Jungle play a much more important role in further defining McBean’s mythos as well as adding more punch to McBean’s featured story.

Kealan Patrick Burke’s tale, ‘Mother/Nature’, which opens Neighbourhood Jungle, tells the tale of a woman struggling in this new world while battling internal demons, her husband, and nature’s new way.  It is an emotional roller coater of a tale involving maternal abuse, physical abuse, and the desperate and difficult decision a woman must make to obtain her sense of freedom.  Burke did such a wonderful job in this story of getting us into the woman’s mind that at turns I felt fury at the abuse she suffered and satisfaction over her decision at the conclusion of the tale.

Book ending Neighbourhood Jungle, is R. Frederick Hamilton’s tale ‘Jungle Juice’.  This story does a marvelous job of letting the readers get a closer look at how some vices that were once banished into societies dark corners become not only more mainstream but desirable when chaos ensues.  ‘Jungle Juice’ is a violent and extremely bloody tale about man’s second oldest addiction.

The heart of Neighborhood Jungle is Brett McBean’s story of the same name.  Logging in at novella length, the story picks up 6 months after the world appears to have been nearly decimated from the destruction of the trees.  We learn that there have been survivors and some of them appear to have found strength in numbers.

McBean primarily focuses on two groups of survivors.  The first a rag tag bunch of men, women, and children that have built themselves a fortress in an old supermarket.  This group consists of those who would be considered the good guys; they administer health care to the sick and wounded, provide food, and they have jobs or assignments to insure the ongoing viability of the shelter.

The majority of the second group is male, and they are a savage bunch.  They split off from the group in the supermarket believing that every man should be doing what it takes to insure their own survival and that the weak should placed in cages or treated as cattle.  Needless to say, after this group had been on their own for a while, their selfish ways results in a dwindling food supply and their shelter becomes a shithouse.  You can guess what happens next.

There is an awful lot I enjoyed in Neighbourhood Jungle.  McBeans scenes depicting the new world and the carnage in both camps are very descriptive, evoking feelings of dread, claustrophobia, and paranoia throughout the story.  And one of McBean’s strong points has always been characterization.  His portrayals of Maddy, a young woman who resides in the supermarket, and Mark, the leader of the bad guys, are spot on.

Readers can’t help but be caught up in Maddy’s emotional plight whether she’s seeking love from a man who may be incapable of providing it or when she fights like an enraged  lioness to protect the young children in her charge when her compound is overrun.  And with Mark, McBean’s portrayal of his brutality hits the reader like a punch to the head.  His depiction of Mark’s behavior urges the reader to consider if it is really primal urges that cause Mark to do the despicable things he does or is it just plain insanity.  A good example of this is when he juxtaposes Mark’s infatuation with being a screen writer to his feeding a captive with meat taken from the bodies of the captive’s wife and child.

If I had any misgivings concerning McBean’s story it was due to its brevity as I would have loved to learn more about other characters back stories and their struggles in this new world.  I also thought the last portion of the novel, from the attack on the supermarket to its aftermath, was rushed a bit and I would have enjoyed more gory and descriptive details on the attack.

I can also see where some readers might take issue with the ending of McBean’s story.  I admit to being shocked after finishing it.  But after thinking about it, I now understand that McBean’s story should be considered a vignette in his Jungle mythos, simply a tale addressing only one of the thousands of scenario’s occurring around his new world.   Keeping this in mind, I think the ending was perfect.

I enthusiastically recommend Neighbourhood Jungle to all readers of horror and dark fiction, but I would do so with the stipulation that they pick up the initial release, Concrete Jungle, and read it first for continuities sake.  Reading them in order makes for one hell of an enjoyable and thrilling ride.  I can honestly say that this series has all the earmarks of becoming a classic and I look forward to any future installments.

I would be remiss in not calling to attention the professional job Tasmaniac has done on the trade paperback version of Neighbourhood Jungle.  Never mind the excellent stories within; with its glossy cover art, the high quality paper, and the outstanding drawings by Keith Minnion alone, this book is a keeper and deserves placement on every true horror fans shelf.

Jan 10, 2012

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