Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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Author interview – Wayne Simmons

January 6, 2013

In the third Dawn of the Lead author interview, Wayne Simmons, the author of Flu and Fever, is put on the spot. Enjoy, and go check out his homepage!

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DotL: The important question: Why zombies?

WS: Because I’ve loved zombie stories since the first time I watched George Romero’s Dead series. Night of the Living Dead is my favourite because, in a way, it’s the most character-focused: the zombies themselves are only a plot device. The main horror comes from what the people in that movie do to each other, how an event like the zombie apocalypse, and the pressure it brings, can make even people with the best of intentions turn on each other, often with terrible consequences.

I write zombie stories because I love the human stories they evoke. And, of course, who doesn’t like a good ol’ gory headshot?

DotL: Any personal zombie favourites – for example books, movies or games – you wish to share with the readers?

WS: Definitely Night of the Living Dead, the original ‘68 version, of course (which I reviewed recently). I also rave about a lesser known French z-flick entitled Mutants. It’s an absolute winner. You should look it up, if you haven’t done so already.

DotL: Especially in Flu there seems to be a very strong anti-establishment sentiment, care to shed some light?

WS: I rarely talk politics, apart from with friends. Politics, like religion, is a hugely divisive topic and can leave otherwise perfectly balanced individuals at each other’s throats. But, without going too deep, I consider myself a left-leaning Libertarian and view all political parties and governments, whether to the left or right, with suspicion. I don’t on any conscious level try to hammer this, or any other message, into my writing: my primary concern is to entertain and engage readers. That said, these books are a product of me and a great deal of my experience, whether it be the characters or the world within which each story is set, can be found there. There’s an anti-establishment sentiment because I’m an anti-establishment kind of guy. Simple as.

DotL: On a related note, how did you feel about tackling The Troubles in your books? I assume it’s still a touchy subject for many. Have you received feedback regarding the subject?

WS: I think it’s a much less touchy subject these days than it might have been, say twenty or thirty years ago.

Again, because I consider myself apolitical so to speak, I don’t feel my writing sways one way or the other. The story is always told from the perspective of its characters, all of whom have a very different angle on The Troubles. You have Pat Flynn in Flu and Mairead Burns in Drop Dead Gorgeous, both of whom are ex-IRA yet feel very differently about their actions of the past. Then you have the two cops in Flu, who think another way entirely. Or soldier Roy Beggs in DDG.

Like I said before, the z-poc brings a lot of these human emotions to the fore. I like to think we see some very interesting drama unfold within my writing because of that.

Either way, I think us Northern Irish folks don’t take ourselves too seriously. Sure, there’s The Troubles and, while it is a very serious topic and I, like many others in Ireland and beyond, have lost family to the conflict, it’s also proved a great source of parody. Local comedians are forever taking the piss. As a novelist, Colin Bateman has been writing about The Troubles for a lot longer than I have, and isn’t shy of sending the whole thing up. And that’s cool.

DotL: Flu and Fever depict some of the most disgusting zombies I’ve ever seen described. Did you ever gross yourself out writing them?

WS: Ha! Not really.

As a lifelong horror geek, I’ve a pretty strong stomach. I’m an old-school gorehound. Love all the messiness of horror, and they don’t come any more messy than zombies!

It was fun going to town with the body horror of it all.

DotL: Fever was in my opinion a lot more bleak than Flu. Was this intentional, or did it just creep in there?

WS: It was bleak, for sure, but I like to think there’s plenty of dark humour within my writing to offset that. Whether the humour comes across, or not, is another thing. Some people mention the humour, and seem to enjoy it, others don’t seem to get it at all.

It’s no big deal either way: each reader’s experience will be different and that’s cool.

With zombie horror, it’s hard not to be bleak. It’s the most brutal survival horror genre out there. Richard Matheson set the precedence with his 1954 classic I Am Legend, the story of the last man to survive a vampire apocalypse (although the vamps behaved more like zombies).

There is no way out. Everyone is most likely going to die.

DotL: What’s next? Are we going to see a third book in the Flu series?

WS: Absolutely. The third will probably be the final book in the Flu series, although I plan to return to that world on a regular basis with short stories and the like. I hope to have it written some time in 2013.

Before that, I have a cyberpunk book to get out there, as well as two crime books, a vampire book and a fun homage to 80s slasher horror (co-written with fellow genre hack, Andre Duza).

I’m very busy, but, as a lifelong fanboy, very happy to be working in this industry.

DotL: Let’s say an actual zombie apocalypse happens. How do you rate your chances for survival?

Pish-poor.

Everyone has a plan and here’s mine: get to the safest and most secure spot I can find. Grab some food and water, and a good book or two, and lockdown. Then try and enjoy the little time I have left.

DotL: Wayne Simmons, thanks very much for the interview. Any last words for the readers?

WS: Just a big thanks to you, Mikko, for your time. Thanks for the reviews and taking the time to talk with me. And a HUGE thanks to all my readers and potential readers. Means the world to me that people take an interest in what I do.

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Fever – a review

November 3, 2012

Earlier this year I reviewed Flu by Wayne Simmons. Fever is a sequel to the book – or rather a prequel and a parallel story. Fever exposes the origins of the virus and takes a look at the entire epidemic through the eyes of various different players. I was originally supposed to review Fever right after its publication, but never received the review copy and proceeded to forget about the whole thing until recently. Better late than never, right?

The book follows different characters and their storylines. As is typical of a structure like this, the storylines are somewhat interwoven. What made me happy were the references to Flu, seamlessly tying the two books together. Many of the things I wanted to see more of in Flu were present in Fever, for example the military aspects that felt a little detached in the first book.

There are many similarities between the two books and many of the same comments still apply. Simmons keeps his writing compact and efficient, and there’s a lot crammed into the 290 pages. At times this borders on excess, with a lot of different storylines and characters getting introduced, but it gets easier as the book progresses. The style is still very brutal and carnal, and I think Simmons still holds the title of “Author with the most disgusting zombies”, with the flu-ridden corpses (and soon-to-be ones) spewing bloody mucus from every orifice and so on.

With their similarities, we’re still talking about two different books. While Flu had a strong political vibe, with a large part of the conflicts rising from an establishment/anti-establishment setup, Fever draws more from the pool of social conflict. This is helped along by a cast of characters different from your usual zombie fiction fare, through which themes such as sexual minorities and disabilities both physical and mental are explored. This results in a book that feels refreshingly different while retaining a solid genre feel. While not as prominent as in Flu, the anti-establishment sentiment is still present, and you definitely get the feeling that the government isn’t doing a very good job at reacting the problem to say the least.

On a related note a word of possible warning: Fever is bleak – very bleak. While not quite reaching excessive, David Moody -like proportions, this book definitely isn’t a happy read. Personally, I liked it, but I understand it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. A large part of the dark humour present in the previous book is missing this time, making Fever pretty depressing at times. This is something of a double-edged sword: humour helps you relate to the characters (Shaun of the Dead being a prime example) but can easily lead to the whole thing getting silly and unbelievable. Luckily, Simmons is a good enough character writer that his characters function even with the humour turned down a bit.

Overall verdict: If you liked Flu, you’re bound to like Fever. It’s a gripping, bleak zombie read, with thoughtfully crafted characters and plenty of interesting storylines and points of view to keep the reader interested. While it probably won’t leave you feeling warm and happy inside, it’s an interesting, harsh example of a worst case zombie outbreak scenario. If you haven’t read Flu, I suggest reading it before Fever.

As usual, I picked up my copy from The Book Depository.

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The Caldecott Chronicles No. 1 – a review

July 2, 2012

Victorian England. Zombies. With an intro like this I was immediately reminded of the dire Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and more than a little apprehensive. Luckily, I was positively surprised by R.G. Bullet’s first YA book (or rather, “excerpt”) The Caldecott Chronicles. It’s a very short book, so this review will also be a compact one.

The short book of 120 pages is written in the form of a diary, and it details the exploits of the 32nd Earl of Rothshire. In 1896 everyone – aristocrat and peasant alike – is inexplicably hungering for warm flesh, and the fine Earl must adjust with the aid of a young peasant girl and a fine Purdey shotgun. What follows is a lot of fun.

What makes The Caldecott Chronicles so enjoyable? Since I can’t avoid comparisons with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, here goes. TCC isn’t too over the top. You won’t find ninjas, katanas, Shaolin monks or any of that here. What you will find is bear traps, steam technology and a somewhat stiff upper lip. Bullet is also a pretty fluent writer, and the book is an easy read. While not quite reaching “hilarious”, the book did give me a fair few chuckles mostly relating to the polite and reserved mindset of the main protagonist. The book is fairly well grounded in the period, and there weren’t any glaring historical errors. All in all, TCC was what I had hoped PaPaZ to be.

As mentioned, TCC is a quick read. I read it via Amazon’s Kindle cloud on my Android phone, and the book was nicely suited to that platform. The second book is available now, with more on the way soon.

Overall verdict: The Caldecott Chronicles nicely combines the elegance of Victorian England with shambling undead. The result is a fun, humorous mix of period and zombie fiction, and yet another great YA book. Definitely worth getting, if you’re looking to grab a quick bite-sized read.

At $3.44 from Amazon it’s a steal – and if that’s too high for you, you can get it for free for a limited time.

You can read my interview with R.G. Bullet here!

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Author interview – RG Bullet

June 27, 2012

It’s time for another author interview, this time with RG Bullet, the author of The Caldecott Chronicles – a new series of zombie fiction set in Victorian England. A review of the first book will follow eventually!

DotL: My usual question: why zombies?

RGB: They remind of my neighbors (both sides), the people I went to school with, and of course, myself. All-in-all we are somewhat predictable, smelly and driven by very base emotions.

DotL: The Caldecott Chronicles isn’t the first book combining 19th century Britain with zombies. What is the appeal in combining those two seemingly very distant genres?

RGB: I was going to stretch the zombie apocalypse back to Neanderthal times but knew I’d get hopelessly confused when it came to the fight scenes. I am British and whether my fellow “Limeys” admit it or not there is still quite dogged mentality that stems from the Victorian period. And even if there isn’t –we’re still perceived that way in Hollywood. The Victorian era encapsulates all this and is a superb mix of duty, social structure and daring adventure. Think Sherlock Holmes or Michael Caine in Iron Man or Zulu. But it’s not all stiff stuff as you can read from the stories as they unfold – eccentricity and humour is there too.

DotL: Why did you pick the style you did – journal entries, that is?

RGB: It’s was a challenge to pull it off in the form of journal entries but I enjoyed the process. I had written my middle grade adventure, The 58th Keeper in a third person narrative and although it is powerful, I felt I wanted to tackle this adventure differently. First person is always much more intimate and there’s no buffer when it comes to action. I needed to place the reader straight into the mind of the Earl – so they walk in his shoes and familiarise themselves with his hurdles.

DotL: What about the YA demographic? What lead you to target that?

RGB: When I wrote the middle grade novel, I had to withhold the spontaneous rage even if children can sometimes express it. Although it is an adventure story it still had to be tempered to appeal to children aged 8-13. The Caldecott Chronicles was my way of taking the gloves off.

DotL: What are your favourite zombie book/movie picks? The more obscure the better!

RGB: Romero’s originals/re-makes are tough to knock. Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland were great fun. And as far as books go–I really enjoy Jonathan Maberry’s stories.

DotL: Literature-wise, what does the future hold for Mr. Bullet? More Chronicles on the way?

RGB: For now I am going to concentrate on short stories. My goal is to make them fun, addictive and affordable. I want to squeeze as much as I can into a small package, so the reader is happily hooked. That’s why I got the superb illustrations by Michael Gray. The Caldecott Chronicles is my first real stab at all that.

DotL: Last but not least, how would you rate your chances of survival in a zombie apocalypse?

RGB: Wholly useless. I’d be first “meat.” My neighbors (having read the above comments) would gather around me and say: “He knows all about Zombies! Get him out there to find an escape route!” and I’d say, “I…I just… write stuff. It’s fiction! I don’t really know about flesh eating idiots except you lot. No wait! I didn’t mean it like that. It was a joke. Don’t push me…Aaargh!”

DotL: RG Bullet, thanks for taking the time to do this interview and all the best!

RGB: Thanks for inviting me, Mikko. I look forward to coming back soon.

For more info on Mr. Bullet, go check out his homepage and blog. The first two books of  The Caldecott Chronicles are out now, with 3, 4 and 5 upcoming soon. The first book of the series is currently available for free, so definitely check it out – it has the DotLOSoZA (Dawn of the Lead Official Seal of Zombie Approval), which I just came up with.

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Author interview – Jonathan Maberry

February 6, 2012

Kicking off something entirely new for Dawn of the Lead, here’s my first interview. I’m starting big, as the first interviewee is none other than Jonathan Maberry, author of Zombie CSU, Patient Zero, Rot & Ruin and Dead of Night. Click the first three titles for their respective reviews, the one on Dead of Night is upcoming.

DotL: Why zombies? What is it about them that appeals to you?

JM: Zombies are one of the few monsters than can scare anyone. Vampires have been largely de-fanged by making them the romantic central characters;
werewolves are too often a one-note monster; mummies are slow. And most of these are solo monsters. Zombies come at you by the thousands. By the millions. Damn…you can’t really win against those kinds of numbers. And that is really frightening.

As a storyteller, I love the fact that the personality of the zombie doesn’t intrude into the story. They are metaphors –ravenous, shambling metaphors who stand in for anything we’re really and truly afraid of. Racism, nuclear war, pathogens, you name it. So, once they’re introduced into the story all of the characters are reacting to the same shared threat. That allows the writer to focus on real people and real human psychology. That is an infinite canvas on which to paint dramatic images. I mean, look at the more celebrated zombie novels: Max Brooks’ World War Z, Joe McKinney’s Dead City and its sequels, Brian Keene’s The Rising, S.G. Browne’s Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Ryan Brown’s Play Dead, and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. They’re all zombie novels and they aren’t even remotely close to one another. And they’re all about the human experience during a crisis. All of them.

Here’s a secret: the best way to tell a zombie story is to NOT focus on the zombie. Focus on the people and let the zombies be the Big Bad. Those are the best stories, and they are far more frightening than when all of the attention is on the shambling dead.

DotL: Are you a fan of other media promoting apocalyptic scenarios? If so, any examples and some elaboration?

JM: Apocalyptic scenarios are very much the in thing right now, and I’m all for it. I love the fact that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) sent a mass
mailing on what to do during a zombie outbreak. Inspired…because the information is truly useful if there is an outbreak of any major disease, but because it was zombie-themed, more people read it. So many, in fact, that it crashed the CDC servers!

But zombies are showing up everywhere, and that’s wonderful. I love zombie comics – Marvel Zombies is a favorite, of course, because I had the chance to collaborate on the New York Times bestselling Marvel Zombies Return, with Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), David Wellington (Monster Island, etc.) and Fred Van Lente (Cowboys and Aliens). And, Robert Kirkman owns zombie comics, probably now and forever, with his brilliant The Walking Dead. I’ve been a fan of that comic from the jump, and I love the TV series.

There are zombies everywhere – advertising, toys, video games, food, you name it. And I love every damn bit of it. Zombies, zombies and more zombies. Keep ‘em coming.

DotL: Every zombie buff out there has seen their Romeros, Fulcis and read their Max Brooks and Kirkman. Any interesting, lesser-known genre picks and personal favourites you wish to share with the readers?

JM: As much as I love Romero, my favorite zombie movie of all time is the Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead. Specifically the unrated director’s cut. James Gunn’s script was brilliant, the cast was perfect, the soundtrack kicked TOTAL ass, and the action is great. I love fast zombies on film as much as slow ones.

But my favorite flicks are in the sub-genre of ‘rage virus’ films. 28 Days Later, and both versions of The Crazies. I want to see more of those. In fact I plan to write a rage virus novel.

I also love the RomZomComs. Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Fido and Braindead. Love ‘em to pieces.

DotL: Back in Zombie CSU you presented an informed guess that law enforcement and humanity in general would be pretty efficient in containing a zombie outbreak. However, in Dead of Night things go to Hell in a handbasket pretty quickly. Is this purely a dramatic choice of worst-case event, or are you having second thoughts regarding the scenario?

JM: Zombie CSU dealt with the zombie apocalypse as viewed through the filter of our modern-day high-tech infrastructure. I do think that, given the technology and resources we have available that we would, in fact, survive a zombie outbreak. However, there is no such thing as a guaranteed win. Ask the builders of the Titanic. So, in Dead of Night, I throw a major storm into the mix. We know from experience that society, communications, cooperation, efficiency and infrastructure can quickly go to hell in a handbasket if Mother Nature gets cranky. So…it’s a timing thing. Lately, we’ve seen an increase in the frequency and severity of storms, tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters. If we’re unlucky enough to have a major catastrophe such as a pandemic timed to a natural disaster….well, yeah, that’s your apocalyptic moment right there.

DotL: The main characters in both Patient Zero and Dead of Night (and Rot & Ruin to some extent as well) have anger and aggression issues. Do you have a general penchant for angry characters, or are these fictional people a way to let off steam? Do you see yourself writing a zombie novel with a happy-go-lucky protagonist?

JM: I was a troubled kid, so I grew up with some rage issues of my own. I’ve since conquered them (and in fact I’m kind of an affable goof these days), but I remember what it’s like to have emotional damage and to struggle with anger. My own life experiences, and those of many of the folks I know who have had similarly troubled lives, inform the complex characters I prefer to write about. Fiction in general is seldom interesting when the focus is on well-balanced people having a pleasant day. In fiction we take complex characters and totally screw up their lives…and then watch what happens. That’s the core of drama.

That said, I did write one zombie short story that was a straight comedy: “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World

DotL: Zombie CSU and Dead of Night both demonstrate (to me at least) a good knowledge of law enforcement procedure. Where did you pick up all this information?

JM: I grew up in a blue-collar Philadelphia neighborhood where it seemed like everybody’s dad or uncle was a cop, and my sister was a cop. Also, I was the CEO and chief instructor for a small corporation that provided hand-to-hand combat and arrest-and-control workshops to all levels of law enforcement including SWAT. Plus I have a large number of friends in that line of work.

DotL: Can we expect a sequel to Dead of Night? If not, do you have plans for more zombie fiction in the future?

JM: I have no immediate plans for a sequel to Dead of Night, at least not a novel. However I do have some other stories set in that world. First up is a novella called “Jack and Jill”, which will be including in the upcoming anthology, 21st Century Dead, edited by Christopher Golden (for St. Martin’s Griffin, June 2012). That story takes place at the same time as the events of Dead of Night but with a different cast of characters. I also have the first of several sequel stories – outbreak stories, really — that will appear in various magazines and anthologies. The first of those is “Chokepoint”, which will be in issue #2 of The Uninvited. And more to come. Now…that doesn’t mean I
wouldn’t take a swing at a sequel, but at the moment I haven’t pitched one to my publisher.

DotL: If we in all seriousness hypothetically consider a zombie outbreak happening, how do you rate your chance of survival and why?

JM: I’ve been practicing and teaching jujutsu and Kenjutsu (the art of Japanese swordplay) for almost fifty years. If the zombie apocalypse comes…I will fight my way out. Stick close.

DotL: Jonathan Maberry, thanks for your time and all the best for the future!

See reviews of Maberry’s books here on Dawn of the Lead, and visit his homepage at www.jonathanmaberry.com.

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Rot & Ruin – a review

January 28, 2012

(This review contains no spoilers)

Closing in on thirty, I’m going ever further from the Young Adult demographic. That didn’t keep me from picking up Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. A zombie novel’s a zombie novel, and I quite like Mr. Maberry’s work.

Rot & Ruin starts the story of Benny Imura, a boy of fifteen, living in a post-apocalyptic world. Fourteen years ago zombies happened, and since then the world has degenerated into a Wild West of sorts. Kind of Mad Max meets Fallout meets The Walking Dead. Technology is severely lacking, and Benny lives with his brother Tom in a small settlement. It isn’t long before things get funky, and what starts out as a teenager’s quest to find a job quickly turns into a fast-paced adventure.

I don’t read much Young Adult stuff, but I guess I should if it’s the same quality as R&R. Having read Maberry’s Patient Zero and Dead of Night (review forthcoming soonish), I didn’t quite know what to expect. His main characters tend to be hard boiled kick-ass types, and I wondered how he would portray a 15-year old. I was happy with how the character of Benny was handled. Yes, he tends to be annoying, petulant, irrational and just plain dumb, but then again who wasn’t at fifteen? In my opinion he’s Maberry’s most human character to date. The supporting cast is none too shabby either, and I ended up caring about their well-being. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad. Neither are from cardboard, however, and there are justifications to their actions.

Where Rot & Ruin excels, however, is in its treatment of the zombie apocalypse. Surprisingly it’s a much more mature book than either of Maberry’s previous works of zombie fiction. Whereas in those books the zombies were basically just a very clear and present, acute threat, in Rot & Ruin the apocalypse and zombies are viewed in a wider scope. Key questions of the genre are asked: are zombies monsters or victims? Are they morally responsible for their actions? Why is it difficult to kill zombies? I think that asking questions and seeking answers are a staple of YA books, and such an approach is very suitable in the zombie genre as well. Just like Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, the zombies in R&R are shown as not only monsters, but also creatures heartbreakingly empty and lost. As is often the case in zombie stories, the worst monsters are usually the living and breathing ones. Rot & Ruin manages to be a genuinely touching book, an all too rare occurrence in a world where the only qualification required to be a published zombie novelist seems to be the ability to write “braaaaaaains“. The fact that Maberry manages to include a lot of suspense and gory action into the mix is proof of his skills as a writer. Another testament is that the book carries its length of 460+ pages easily.

Some minor issues irked me, but these are things often encountered in books about unexpected heroes (Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter books spring to mind). In R&R some characters suddenly act just a bit more callously or bravely than you would expect them to. As mentioned, this is in my view a part of the genre but nonetheless somewhat disrupts the coherency of the characters momentarily. There is a bit of a deus ex machina ending, but I’m more tolerant of it here as well. I would also have liked a bit more of a surprise in the climax of the book. It was all in all a good scene, but not as effective as it could have been.

Overall verdict: It’s hard for me to describe what exactly it is about Rot & Ruin that makes it so appealing. Maybe it’s the grassroots approach, maybe it’s the YA vibe that comes from easy readability and themes such as growing up. Maybe it’s the thoughtful take on zombies. Whatever it is, it works very nicely. Paradoxically, writing to young adults, Jonathan Maberry has written his most mature piece of zombie fiction. There is a sequel to the book, called Dust & Decay and it’s already on my shopping list.

As usual, I picked up my copy from the Book Depository.

On a related note, Jonathan Maberry will be interviewed on Dawn of the Lead at the start of February. Stay tuned!

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Flu – a review

January 21, 2012

I’m currently vacationing in sunny Sri Lanka. To while away my time in the sun, I took a fair few zombie books with me. This serves the triple purpose of providing me with both entertainment and something to review and offering you something useful to read. First up is Flu by Wayne Simmons.

The concept behind Flu is very simple. It’s another flu (just like with the avians and the swine) that hits, first provoking the usual panic, jokes and cynical dismissal that these things tend to do. Only it starts to get a lot worse. There are quarantines, deaths and eventually re-animations. You know how it goes from there.

The book’s setting is an interesting one, as it’s set in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The place has a rough history of political division and internal strife making it an interesting backdrop for a story with or without zombies. Wayne Simmons has managed to incorporate strong elements from the setting into the story, and Flu doesn’t feel like yet another foray into the generic US city that frames most zombie novels. There are bitter enmities and deep regrets as well as historical references and the like. The writer manages to write these into the story without being too heavy-handed. When criticism is levelled, it feels done by the characters and not the author. Personally I hate having a political ideology, religion or anything similar crammed down my throat when I’m trying to enjoy some zombie action, so I was happy with the way Simmons handled his subject matter. They serve the story’s purpose and not the other way around. Simmons hails from Northern Ireland, and it’s apparent he knows what he’s writing about.

Another thing I applaud is Simmons’ writing style. He doesn’t waste his pages and there isn’t a lot of empty filler in the book. In roughly 280 pages he manages to tell a good story, introduce the reader to a handful of characters and include the above mentioned themes into the mix. He drops nice hints here and there about how things went down when the flu struck, and there are some excellent little details there that make it hit a little closer to home.

The characters are a nice collection, too. None of them feel like cardboard cut-outs. The story follows each character’s perspective at some turn, and you get a glimpse or their motivations and inner workings. Nobody’s perfect, nobody’s a complete mess-up. They feel pretty much human, with their good and bad traits. At times it feels like Flu might make a nice movie, probably a Guy Ritchie one. The reason for this is the combination of a tragic situation, some dark humour and imperfect characters. It works wonderfully for me.

There wasn’t much in the book that irked me. A pet peeve of mine raised its head a few times. What is it with zombie book authors and firearms? Seriously. Once I know it’s a Glock 17, it can be referred to as a pistol. Do I even need to know it’s a Glock 17? This isn’t to say that the book is brimming with gun information, thankfully. There’s just a bit too much needless repetition at times. Also, the military strand of the story could’ve been developed a bit more as it felt a bit detached. Apparently this is taken further in the upcoming sequel Fever, which is a welcome piece of news.

Overall verdict: Flu doesn’t really bring that much new to the genre. A lot of the usual tropes are there – the tension between survivors, hidden agendas and friction between the establishment and civilians. Normally I’d view this as a failing on the book’s part. A book with nothing much in the new idea department needs to be pretty good otherwise to float, and luckily writer Simmons pulls it off. Flu is an intense, compact book, and well worth your reading. I ate it up in two days, and am still hungry for more.

I picked up my copy of Flu at the Book Depository.

You can check out Simmons’ homepage here.

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Enough with the braaaaains!

September 30, 2011

I’ve been busy with a lot of other stuff, so DotL has been on the back burner lately. As pretty much all my miniature projects have been on hold for a while, I’ve been posting mostly about zombies, and this post’s no different. It’s also one of my few and far between editorials, this one a bit more rant-ish than usual. It’s about a pet peeve of mine, that I’ve no doubt mentioned before:

Enough with the braaaaaaains!

No, seriously. I’m sick and tired of the enduring connection between zombies and the eating of the human brain. This is what I’m talking about:

 

Why does this bug me? Because the whole zombies/brains thing stems from Return of the Living Dead. While a fun film, it’s not a real zombie “classic” if the term can be used in this context. Let’s take a look at some of the seminal works of zombie film:

Romero’s original trilogy. Night, Dawn and Day, what do the zombies eat? Flesh.

Fulci’s Zombi films. What do the zombies eat? Flesh.

Resident Evil franchise. What do the zombies eat? Flesh.

Dawn of the Dead remake. Flesh.

Shaun of the Dead. Flesh.

Zombieland. Flesh.

Braindead/Dead Alive. Flesh.

Pretty much any zombie worth its salt. Flesh.

Return of the Living dead films. Braaaaains.

Do we see a pattern emerging?

In fact, I’ve kind of developed a personal habit of immediately looking down on any work of zombie pop culture, that starts heading down the braaaaains road. To me, it speaks to me of superficial knowledge of the genre. Sounds silly? Might be. Then again, imagine the case that in 20 or so years, whenever you mention “vampire”, people start talking about glitter (as per the Twilight novels). Vampire books start focusing on the whole glitter aspect. Eventually, the glitter thing becomes the defining feature of vampires in general. Horrible.

While this might sound and even be peevish, there is a larger issue underlying this. Zombies have been the early 21st century’s pop culture hit, and that has led to movies, books and comics coming out of the woodwork. It’s inevitable that a lot of that material will be of subpar quality, mainly cheap cashing-in on the phenomenon. When you try to find the works worthy of your interest, it’s not a bad idea to see if the creator seems to have some grasp of the history and nuances of the genre. If the focus is on braaaaaains, there’s a good chance that it’s simply a case of riding the hit wave. The atrocious Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a perfect, if dire, example. The opening line reads

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

And that should’ve been reason enough to skip it altogether. I eventually gave up about half-way through.

There is a lot to the cultural niche that is zombies (see these two for example). While it’s strongly anchored in gory and often trashy entertainment, there are also more interesting, subtle undercurrents: the primal human fear of death, alienation and loss of individuality, the mirroring of whatever is currently the top unknown fear (radiation, pandemics, terrorism) and the questions of whether humanity is capable of cooperation and worthy of survival to mention a few. To skip all this and go with braaaaaaains displays a major lack of said.

The next time you’re thinking of picking up any work on zombies, whether it’s a film, a book or a comic,  see if it passes the ODotLOZDH (Official Dawn of the Lead ordained Zombie Dietary Habit) test: flesh=good, braaaaaains=bad.

You’ll thank me for it.

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Deadline – a review

September 6, 2011

NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE PREVIOUS NOVEL IN THE TRILOGY, FEED. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT, DO SO NOW.

Deadline is the second installment of the Newsflesh trilogy, written by Mira Grant (pseudonym of writer Seanan McGuire). It follows the praised zombie novel, Feed, but can it live up to its predecessor? To be blunt: no, it can’t.

Feed is a modern zombie classic. Just see my review to see why, exactly.  It was a suspenseful, excellently paced story with good characters and an intriguing plotline, combining zombie action seamlessly with a political thriller. I think it was fair to expect the same from its sequel.

Deadline kicks off some time after the end of Feed. With the demise of his sister, Shaun Mason is left to run the show. Dead but not forgotten, Georgia has stayed as a voice in his head, making him effectively crazy, although very aware of the fact. Shaun starts investigating the death of his sister, and unsurprisingly quickly runs into a conspiracy. And that’s about all I can say without giving the plot away.

Let’s set one thing straight first. Deadline isn’t a poor novel. It’s a decent read, despite the heavy criticism I level at it below. It simply had big shoes to fill and has tiny feet. There are many good parts throughout the book, even if they fail to come together. Grant is a good writer, and still manages to paint a good picture of a post-not-quite-apocalypse world. Despite its failings, I went through Deadline in a few days and it was difficult to put the book down at times.

What are the aforementioned failings then? I’ll just list them. Sadly, Deadline fails at the parts where Feed excelled. This was the cause for most of my disappointment.

Characters. Georgia Mason was the character that carried Feed, while her brother served as an excellent supporting character. Now Georgia is gone and Shaun is the main protagonist. This is where things go wrong. Shaun simply doesn’t have what it takes to be a leading character, kind of like a master stuntman taking up acting. He’s pretty much one-dimensional, and the talks-to-dead-sister gimmick becomes old and repetitive pretty quickly. When things go wrong, he punches walls instead of providing insight or dwelling on things. Sure, this is true to the character but boring for the reader. I can’t help the feeling that Grant herself has noted this and kept Georgia on as a voice inside Shaun’s head. The fact further undermines Shaun as a character: even if he is the main character, he never feels independent but is left playing second fiddle to her dead sister. I think that’s a major flaw in the book. The death of Georgia Mason at the end of Feed was a real shocker and keeping her on as a semi-character robbed a lot from that effectiveness. The supporting cast doesn’t fare much better. There’s Alaric who has a computer, Becks who has a gun and Maggie who has money and a mansion. Yes, that’s being a bit harsh, but that’s the way I saw it.

Pacing. Another one of Feed‘s key strengths, another one of Deadline‘s stumbling points. I hate to say this, but the book is frequently boring. When there’s action, it’s great. When there isn’t, it’s..not great. Feed managed to keep up the suspense even when there was nothing much actively happening. Due to Deadline‘s faulty cast, this doesn’t happen. Also, the plot doesn’t help this, but more on that below. Deadline clocks in at over 500 pages, and that’s 100-150 pages too much. The book takes forever to really get rolling, and when that finally happens – the book ends with a dead stop. At times I found myself reading onwards just thinking that maybe when I turn the next page, it finally gets going. Which it mostly didn’t.

Plot. This goes hand in hand with the pacing. Whereas Feed had a coherent story of upcoming presidential elections, Deadline lacks this. There is the conspiracy they’re trying to uncover, but that resembles a boring adventure game: find a clue, follow said clue, find another clue, follow that one, something happens, find another clue and so on. Sure, this doesn’t sound too bad. Now take a look at that structure, and replace every comma with “nothing much happens for 20-40 pages.” As said, the plot and the poor pacing combine in a disappointing way. Overall the conspiracy is much more vague and frankly uninteresting than the one in Feed, and when the main point is uncovered, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of “and that’s it?” And this might sound silly, but there are just far too few zombies in the book. This would be fine if the characters carried it, but as mentioned before, they don’t. The best bits of the book are those in which the undead make their appearance.

Overall verdict: Despite my harsh words, Deadline isn’t a complete dud. It simply compares very poorly with its predecessor, which in turn highlights the book’s failings. As mentioned, there are severe problems with the book and it feels like a rushed sequel recycling a lot from the first book. It also suffers from major sequelitis, as it feels like a bridge between the first book and the upcoming third one, with no real merits of its own. To sum it all up, Deadline is a direct-to-dvd sequel to the surprise of the year major motion picture that was Feed. Not great by any means, but worth getting anyway.

As usual, I got mine from The Book Depository, where it currently retails for just over 6 EUR.


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Theories of International Politics and Zombies – a review

March 8, 2011

Imagine a world ruled by creatures with limited brainpower, bent on the eradication of the human race via rampant consumption. Now imagine what would happen, if this world faced a zombie catastrophe. This is a scenario presented by Daniel W. Drezner in his book Theories of International Politics and Zombies (referred to as TIPZ from now on).

Zombies are all the rage now, or rather have been for the last ten years or so. The years have seen all sorts of books. Some have been blatant attempts to cash in on the zombie craze, while others have actually offered an interesting take on the subject. It is with true joy that I include TIPZ in the latter category. Why? Well, that’s what this review’s all about, isn’t it?

I love zombie books that deal with the question of zombies with a degree of seriousness. Actually, I’ve even reviewed one or two. While TIPZ has its fair share of humour, it still presents us with the very very interesting question of how international politics would cope with a zombie uprising. Or insurgency, as these things tend to be called nowadays. I don’t think there’s one zombie enthusiast who hasn’t toyed with the idea of how the world would actually react. It’s right up there with “what would you do if it really happened?” I’m glad someone finally grabbed the bull by the horns and put it in writing.

That someone is Daniel W. Drezner. As well as a blogger for the Foreign Policy magazine, he’s a professor of international politics as well as a published author on the subject. As such, he knows where he’s coming from in terms of politics. What about zombies then? To my surprise he nails this part as well. The book references a whole lot of zombie pop culture, including some very current outings such as Left 4 Dead. This most certainly warrants a tip of the hat, as a lot of authors of zombie books basically equate zombies with someone green going “braaaaaaaaainssss”and don’t get me started on that.

Drezner knows how to write. That’s quite important when publishing a book. His text flows nicely, it’s informative and easy to read even if you know nothing about international politics. A true academic, he provides referenes for pretty much everything he claims, giving the book a lot of credibility. There’s a fair bit of humour and wit, and the part about neo-conservatives had me in stitches. It’s also not too difficult to see from which side of the political field the author hails from.

The book is very much what the title suggests. It examines how different political ideologies and the people who adhere to them would likely deal with a zombie catastrophe. There are no glaring inconsistencies as far as I can tell, although there are a few comedy exaggerations. It presents fairly logical scenarios that are easy to swallow.

No book is perfect, of course. With all its merits, TIPZ has one major thing going against it. The book is a measly 114 small pages, leaving out the notes, references and acknowledgements. The book is an extension of the author’s article Night of the Living Wonks, and if you’ve read that you know a lot of the book’s content as well. This leads to the book feeling a bit rushed. Not rushed in the sense that it’s poorly written, but in the sense that a lot of very interesting points are just briefly touched on. This book could’ve easily been twice as long and it would still have been able to hold the reader’s interest. As it stands, it’s almost like a teaser. Another thing that some might consider a flaw is that Drezner occasionally moves too far into the humour territory, slightly detracting from the informational content of the book in my view. This is a horses for courses thing, however, and I know a lot of people won’t mind that at all.

Overall verdict: If my biggest gripe about a book is that it left me wanting more, I believe you can easily catch my overall feelings about it. This is a very nice book. It provides the always important food for thought, as well as some genuine laughs. It’s a quick read, too. If the subject interests you at all, do get TIPZ. You won’t regret it.

Prices for the book vary a lot. At the time of writing it’s 13 EUR at the Book Depository, but half that price (6,70 EUR) at Amazon.com. 13 EUR is a pretty hefty price for a small, short paperback, so do a bit of comparison before ordering. I got mine as a reviewer’s copy, which is just cool.

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