Published by Shock Totem Publications
Videogames and horror can often go hand-in-hand. They’re both mediums that are often marginalized, scapegoated, or ignored as works of art. Adam Cesare clearly couldn’t care less, as his novella Zero Lives Remaining demonstrates the author’s unashamed love for both.
I could tell that Cesare was writing a book for himself—something fun, with just the right amount of nostalgia and love for the arcade scene of decades past. But in doing that, he’s also struck a cord with plenty of other readers—myself included—who have an interest and reverence for the digital masterpieces of arcade cabinet fame and for good old-fashioned supernatural horror.
Zero Lives Remaining is quick, fun, and to the point. The premise is simple: through a freak accident, a pizza “chef” is killed and begins to haunt the Funcave, an old-school arcade that is home to older hangers-on and teenagers with an appreciation for the classics like Pac-Man or Space Invaders and an openness to the newer offerings of the Street Fighter series.
Throughout the years, this ghost builds up his strength, manifesting as ectoplasmic tissue and tentacles, feeding off and influencing the games throughout the arcade. But when he absorbs the hateful spirit of a broken and lost young man, the ghost becomes something more than a benign spook: he becomes hateful and hungry.
In short order, the cast of misfits and classically-trained arcade aficionados are put into mortal danger. As the ghost begins to increase its strength, we’re treated to a brief but exciting tale of survival against increasingly frightening circumstances. Supernatural “accidents” metastasize into out-and-out gore-soaked body horror. If The Thing and From Beyond were equal parts creature-feature and traditional supernatural thrillers, they’d look an awful lot like Zero Lives Remaining.
As I’ve mentioned before, the book is brief. The book’s pace is also quick. You could blow through this book in a weekend without trying to hard. That said, the plot is silly but fun, and Cesare does a good job of investing the principal characters with relateable quirks, issues, insecurities, and strengths… Before tearing them apart in increasingly grisly fashion. This isn’t the deepest experience, but it doesn’t set out to be. It’s meant to be a fun diversion, a Friday-night horror movie rental best experienced with a few beers. And like the fast-paced and exciting arcade games of years gone by, your time with the book might be brief, but it’ll certainly be enjoyable.