Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


Deadline – a review

September 6, 2011


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.


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 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.


This ain’t no Twilight

February 4, 2011

Max Brooks, the author of zombie literary classics World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide has recently published a free short story named Extinction Parade. It’s a fun little story of a zombie apocalypse viewed through the eyes of vampires, and reads very much like a cross between WWZ and Interview with the Vampire. If WWZ left you craving for more, as I bet it did for most of us, this is a nice little fix to ease that withdrawal syndrome. As an added bonus, the book contains no sparkling vampires whatsoever.

You can read the story at the Daily Beast.


I Am Scrooge – a review

January 18, 2011

The whole title of this book is I am Scrooge – a zombie story for Christmas. The moment you read a title like that, you assume the book will either be great or atrocious. You’re not too far off the mark with this one.

As the title hints at, the book is a very, very loose combination of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. In the book, Ebenezer Scrooge lands in all sorts of trouble with the walking dead, as he’s lead through time by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

Before this book, which I got as a Christmas present from a friend of mine, I’d only read one humorous zombie novel. Or rather, tried to read one. The much hyped Pride and Prejudice and zombies was in a word terrible. I made it halfway through it, after which I’d had enough of the miserably poorly written, utterly crap rape of a literary classic. The graphic novel was a bit better, but not by much. With this wonderful blend of humour, zombies and literary classics in mind, I approached I Am Scrooge with more than a bit trepidation.

Humour is such a difficult thing to pull off. At times it’s enough for someone to have a bad bout of flatulence to produce enough laughs for a week, at times you need a bit more. This is especially true with books, and I’m happy to report that I Am Scrooge made me laugh already in the preface, as the writer Adam Roberts sincerely and with a 19th century turn of phrase wishes that his book not be remade as a major motion picture starring Will Smith.

Roberts is a decent writer and comedian, and there a fair few more or less witty puns in the text. He frequently breaks the fourth wall, commenting to the reader and explaining his choice of words. This effect is not used excessively, so it doesn’t turn dreary. Besides, the phrase “Fear stalked the city like a giant, er, stork” became one of my instant favourites as far as book quotes go. Roberts has clearly read his Terry Pratchett, so if you’re into that sort of humour, this should be right up your alley. Roberts has even included a nod in this direction, I believe, by renaming Bob Cratchit as Terence Cratchit. Terry Cratchit, get it? You probably did.

The story itself is a fun blend of the Dickens story, Victorian Science Fiction and zombie pop culture. At 153 pages, it’s a quick read and short enough so as not to get dull or repetitive. My only gripe is that age-old thing which I never get tired of bashing: zombies and brains (or braaaaaaains, as it’s usually spelled). For crying out loud, bloody Return of the Living Dead has forever stapled that thing over the whole genre. Grumble grumble.

Overall verdict: I Am Scrooge is a nice way to spend a few hours, especially if you’re into VSF or steampunk. Some of the jokes are a bit of hit and miss, but as a whole the book does provide a fair few laughs and a definitely original take on a classic story.

As mentioned, I got this as a gift. You can find it for EUR 7.05 (it’s a hardback) at The Book Depository, where it happens to be on sale at the moment.


Feed – a review

January 8, 2011

For me, World War Z has always – since I read it, that is – been THE zombie novel. That position is now heavily contested by Mira Grant’s Feed, the first part of her Newsflesh trilogy.

Feed tells the story of two blogging siblings, Shaun and Georgia Mason, in a post-zombie apocalypse USA of 2040. The apocalypse happened, but it wasn’t in fact an actual apocalypse. Much like the ending in World War Z, humanity prevailed but zombies still remain as a kind of very deadly natural hazard. Life carries on with at least a semblance of normality, but the world is brimming with security measures. Blood tests, decontamination, access zones, licenses and the like are the norm. The world’s not a dystopia, mankind has simply learned the dangers of an outbreak.

Bloggers serve a similar function as today (and no, that doesn’t mean endless home-made fashion pictures of teen girls with pigeon-toed stances or hot young zombie/wargame bloggers reviewing books about bloggers), although their importance has grown substantially. Blogs offer a lot of the entertainment and news available, and are a viable competitor to traditional press. The siblings and their friend Buffy make up After the End Times, a blogging site delivering news (via Georgia), Jackass-style entertainment (via Shaun) and fiction (via Buffy). The presidential elections are coming, and the crew is chosen as the official press corps for a senator that’s running for office. That’s when things start to get interesting, as you might expect.

What makes Feed so excellent? The story itself is a combination of many things, being part horror and part political techno-thriller, without becoming a sloppy mishmash of different genres. Even that’s secondary to one thing, and that one thing is essential in a book: Mira Grant is a great writer. The main characters in the book are well-rounded, likeable and they feel natural. They have their flaws, their fears and their sympathetic little quirks, and importantly, these don’t feel tacked-on. I simply hate the age-old trick of “she’s perfect, but oh my god she has a tiny scar on her cheek which she’s SO embarrassed of, love her!” that a lot of poor writers go for. No cardboard cut-outs here, I’m happy to report. The book does have a bit of an obvious antagonist, though, if I were to point out something negative.

The story rolls along nicely, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader firmly in its grip. There’s humour, there are peaceful lulls, there’s action, there’s mystery and suspense, there’s pretty much everything you need in a book like this. There’s luckily also not a lot of romance going on. Don’t take me wrong, nothing wrong with romance, but again, a lot of poor writers simply misuse it as another way of making character likeable and don’t seem to know anything about basic human relationships besides. Grant works the humanity and love aspect into the tightly knit blogging crew and community, and especially the siblings’ relationship with each other, and it works a treat.

It’s not just the characters that feel realistic. The world seems to function pretty rationally and follows a coherent internal logic. Another point picked up by Ms. Grant here. The science of the zombie outbreak felt realistic, as did the politics and the near-future technology. Grant also seems to have a good grasp of the wonderful world of blogging, which a blogger like me enjoyed immensely. Lots of familiar things there, not least the occasional fixation on getting more and more readers. At the end of the book the writer acknowledges a lot of people responsible for all the little detail. What can I say, the research has definitely paid off and there’s not really much suspension of disbelief needed. Not bad, considering that this is a book about zombies in 2040. Even the names of the main characters aren’t clumsy nods and winks to the genre-savvy reader. Shaun of the Dead and Buffy the Vampire Slayer exist in the world, and the characters have been named after them. End of story.

I can’t really think of much negative to say about the book. It does clock in at a veritable 574 pages, but then again there’s not a lot of filler in there. There is a bit of repetition every now and then, especially with the security measures and tech, but then again that’s a two-edged sword: while it might be a bit dull at times, so is reality. For me it merely served to make the book feel more natural and realistic.

Overall verdict: If you didn’t gather it from the text above, this really is a nice book and easily on par with WWZ. It’s great as a zombie novel. It’s great as a techno-thriller. It’s near perfect as a zombie techno-thriller. It was good enough to keep me from putting my mittens on at the bus stop when it was -10 °C so I could keep reading. Get it.

As always, my copy came from the Book Depository. For more information on Mira Grant, visit her official homepage.


Zombie Apocalypse! – a review

December 18, 2010

Anthologies, even themed ones, are usually a mixed bag. This one  created by Stephen Jones is no different.

Zombie Apocalypse! is a definite tip of the hat to H.P. Lovecraft, who is explicitly mentioned in the credits section. The book is basically a continuation of Lovecraft’s – and Bram Stoker in Dracula, for example – fake-documentary, first person style (see The Whisperer in Darkness for a prime Lovecraft example). There are letters, police and doctor reports, Twitter, IM, and SMS logs, blogs and so on. They detail the eponymous zombie apocalypse that starts off in the UK and before long spreads across the world. Sounds great this far, doesn’t it?

I’ll be very blunt with this next comment: a fair few of the 19 authors in this book aren’t very good writers. As always in anthologies, there are some gems in there, a lot of OK stuff, some that are a bit “meh” and then some that are a bit rubbish. Where a lot of these stories fail is subtlety. Whereas Lovecraft and Stoker manage to tell just enough to leave room for the imagination of the reader, many writers in ZA! fail in this respect. I mean that instead of ending, say, a logged phone call with “ummn..are you ok?” they instead end it with “oh my god, you’re really not ok! You’re a zombie! Oh my god, and now you’re taking chunks out of my arm! There’s blood everywhere! Now I understand, this is the way the plague spreads, through bites! Arrrrgh, I’m losing gallons of blood and my intestines are on the floor, and yet I keep on talking on this phone, I don’t even know why! Please, oh god no!” Catch my drift? The same flaw can be seen in another way as well, as the writers often pretty heavy handedly insert plot elements into stories which should be very realistic in style, such as police or medical reports. This greatly detracts from the whole suspension of disbelief thing. Why would a police officer write in his report that a church has a “strange aura” or that it “feels Gothic” or suddenly describe his female police partner as a “glamorous […] tall, striking blonde”? Sorry, but that’s just plain poor writing. Sometimes less is indeed more.

There’s another major problem. Basically, while the book tells a chronologically pretty coherent story, at times it doesn’t know whether it is a bird or a fish. At times its Dawn of the Dead, at times Return of the Living Dead, before becoming 28 Days Later and segueing to Army of Darkness. Sounds like a very wide spread of different styles, and it is. The book also becomes a bit repetitive at times, as it’s basically “now I’m writing, now I’m depressed, now I’ve been bitten/scratched, now I’m turning into a zombie/committing suicide” over and over again, told through various media sources.

Despite those flaws, the book is mostly a very entertaining read, and I found it difficult to put down quite a few times. A lot of the stories are very short (often thankfully so), and some of them are really rather good, so even at over 500 pages it doesn’t grow wearisome. It could just be the zombie enthusiast in me, but I’ll definitely give this another read, although I might skip a few of the B-grade stories. There’s a fair bit of humour in there as well, with some being hit and miss but others downright hilarious.

Overall verdict: Make no mistake, this is no World War Z 2. The stories vary a lot in quality, and at times the book’s styles and themes are all over the place. It’s still a good way to spend a few evenings or quite a few bus rides, if you’re into zombie apocalypse and the fake-documentary style. I just wish they’d all read their Lovecraft.

As usual, I got my copy from the Book Depository, where the book retails for €7.54.


Hot right now

November 25, 2010

Woah, a good while since my last post. Sorry about that, dear readers! Real life has gotten in the way yet again, with other hobbies and studies taking my time.

After a posting break it’s always nice to do something different, and this time it’s a “Top 5 at the moment” post. Here we go, in no particular order:

Horus Heresy book series

While I’m not a big fan of WH40K in general, these books have got me hooked. They depict a time long before the current date in the WH40K universe, being more like WH30K, and chronicle the catastrophic events of the eponymous Horus Heresy that see the Emperor’s most beloved son turn on his father and bring the galaxy to a bloody civil war.

There are lots of things to like in HH. The series boasts many of Black Library’s top writers, such as Graham McNeill and Dan Abnett, and most of the books – even the not-too-impressive ones – are pretty ok scifi fare. The books deal with a time period ten thousand years distant, so the writers have a lot of space (literally, too) to move and work in. Reading these books makes me wish the regular WH40K fluff was this interesting, with loads of alien civilizations and humanity’s spin-offs.

The best thing for me, however, has to be the point of view. Many of the books deal with the so-called Traitor Legions, the Space Marines that sided with Horus against the Emperor. Regular 40K fluff simply places a terribly boring and bland EEEEEVUL stamp on them, whereas the HH books tell the stories from the villains’ perspective. It turns out most of them aren’t really evil after all, but instead have all too human flaws like vanity or pride, which lead to their downfall. It doesn’t help that the benevolent God-Emperor starts to take on a more and more sinister cast as the story progresses.

I’ve always loved interesting villains. Sauron? Boring as hell. Saruman? One of my all time favourites. Whenever the time is taken to flesh out an antagonist, a story becomes much more interesting to read. At times you don’t know who you’re rooting for, and even if the antagonist IS evil, you find yourself thinking “Weell, he does have a point there.” The HH books are loaded with this, and the stories of Horus, Fulgrim and Magnus the Red are nothing short of delicious. Granted, some of the books aren’t really worth reading (Battle for the Abyss, for example, is a waste of time and money in my opinion), but the excellent ones more than make up for this.

If epic high fantasy scifi is your thing, give these books a go. I got mine through the Book Depository. You can check the publishing order here, for example.

Dawn of War 2

It’s been a long while since I’ve been this hooked on a computer game. Dawn of War 2 is a real-time strategy game set in the world of WH40K. Unsurprisingly, my consuming of lots and lots of WH40K fiction (see above) led me to pick up this game, and it hasn’t disappointed.

The story focuses on the Blood Ravens Space Marine chapter that lays down all kinds of hurt on orks, eldar and tyranids. The story is fine, the cutscenes lovely and there’s a little rpg element too, as your squad leaders gain experience and you can tailor their skills and wargear to suit your needs. All this combines to make a game that has a significant “one more mission, even if it’s 2 am” element.

I played DoW1 to death when it came out, and I’m glad to see the sequel is quality stuff as well. There’s a trailer below to whet your appetite.

Role-playing games

Miniatures are cool and all of that, but I’m a role-playing gamer first and foremost. RPGs are going through a small renaissance in my regular group of gamer friends, with games popping up here and there. A few days ago I had the honour of guest-GMing a game in a massive campaign my friend Petri is running. The campaign – named Century – is a wonderful X-Filesy alternative history romp, with one game played per year of in-game time. My contribution? Zombies in Estonia in 1936. Fun was had.

Our 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons is going strong as well. A lot of RPGs we play nowadays deal with pretty adult themes, ethics and the like. This campaign is about monsters, leveling up and solving mysteries. It’s great fun, and the social gathering is at least as important as the game itself.

Role-playing games have also allowed me to combine my hobbies with the real world. My master’s thesis (in education) is a survey study about the views role-playing gamers have on RPGs as a way of developing empathic intelligence – social skills, creativity, empathy and so on.


Winter has hit Finland yet again. While it brings some annoying things with it – such as loads of snow and freezing temperatures – it also provides a lazy student/blogger/gamer with all the peace and quiet he needs to invest in the things that really matter: games, movies, miniatures and so on. Since it’s perfectly acceptable to stay indoors in the winter, it really is the season of the geek. I’ve prepared for a long winter by stocking up on Horus Heresy books and zombie fiction, as well as making sure that most RPG sessions are held at my place. Oh yes, and there’s Christmas, too!

The Walking Dead

I can’t not-include TWD, can I? For my comments on the subject, see this post. We’re having our second TWD get-together with three of my friends this Friday to watch episodes 3 and 4. Can hardly wait!

Those are the five most interesting things in my life at the moment off the top of my head. Hopefully I’ll have time to get back to my regular irregular posting schedule now.




The Undead and Philosophy – a review

April 15, 2010

My first reaction to hearing about this book was approximately this. Philosophy of the undead? Yeah, right. While books like this – the philosophy of [enter pop culture icon] – do come up fairly frequently, their quality is often dubious: they’re filled with pseudo-philosophy and illogical leaps and generalizations. Why is this? Probably because they’re written by self-taught kitchen philosophers and the like. Don’t get me wrong, books like that are often very entertaining, but they also tend to lack enough hard substance to make you really want to delve in. I’m happy to say that The Undead and Philosophy – chicken soup for the soulless positively surprised me.

Part of the ongoing series of books called Popular Culture and Philosophy (which I will definitely check out, if the quality equals this book), the Undead and Philosophy consists of 19 articles by various philosophy professionals – professors and associate professors mostly – focusing on the philosophical questions that surround the undead, the term in this book meaning zombies and vampires. While some people might dismiss something like this outright – a few friends of mine did – the questions are actually valid and interesting. Here are some examples of articles in the book:

  • The Badness of Undeath by Richard Greene – Is it actually bad being undead? Is undeath bad in itself?
  • When They Aren’t Eating Us, They Bring Us Together: Zombies and the American Social Contract by Leah A. Murray – Individualism and communitarianism in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
  • Zombies, Blade Runner and the Mind-Body Problem by Larry Hauser – The self awareness of zombies paralleled with the replicants in the movie Blade Runner.

Now if these didn’t sound interesting, this probably isn’t the book for you. If they did, read on!

One thing that strikes me as excellent in this book is that the writers know their undead culture sufficiently. They’ve seen their Romeros, Draculas and Buffys, so they can pose valid questions and observations. For a reader like me, with some knowledge in philosophy and a lot more in undead pop culture, this is of huge importance, as failure in either category immediately knocks the book down a notch.

Simplifying the classic philosophical theories to a comprehensible level is a challenge in itself, and again one which the book clears. Many of the writers are teachers, and it shows. They do a good job of making the book an easy read without dumbing it down too much.

The great thing in this book is that it adds a whole new level to the horror genre that we love so much. The articles in the book sparked a lot of those “hey, that’s true, I never thought about it that way” and whenever a book manages to do this, it gets a solid thumbs up from me. I know that watching the movies dealt with in this book after reading it will make me see them in a new light. Not a bad achievement, since we’re talking about films I’ve seen time and time again.

Overall verdict: You’re apparently already interested in the undead since you’re reading this blog. If you have even a passing interest in philosophy to boot, I strongly suggest you pick up this book. It’s bound to give you a few new points of view.

The Undead and Philosophy is edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, and you can get it in bookstores around the world. I picked mine up from  The Book Depository for 14 EUR.


Patient Zero – a review

December 25, 2009

Caution: This review contains the occasional spoiler. Read at your own risk, if you haven’t read the book yet.

Patient Zero is a zombie novel by Jonathan Maberry, best known to me as the author of the book Zombie CSU. It’s the story of Joe Ledger, a police detective that gets drafted into an ultra-secret government agency and lands in all sorts of sticky situations involving terrorists and the living dead.

After reading (and reviewing) Zombie CSU, I was left wondering about Maberry’s skills as a fiction writer. Zombie CSU was loaded with factual information, which occasionally even made it a bit heavy to read, and I wondered whether this style had crept into Patient Zero as well. I’m happy to say that my fears were far from the truth, as this book is a real page-turner. Clocking in at 421 pages, I read the first 260 in pretty much one sitting and then finished the book the next day.

There’s a lot of stuff to recommend about Patient Zero. I’ll start with realism. Realism, or at least a solid internal logic is very important to me in a book, and Patient Zero pretty much satisfied me in this regard. The scenario in all its wonderful horror is eerily believable. Maberry’s knowledge and contacts in the worlds of law enforcement, science, intelligence and military, very apparent in Zombie CSU, are put to very good use here. Everything seems solid, and this really helps the reader immerse him-/herself in the book. Such amounts of knowledge can sometimes drag a novel down, as a writer may be tempted to cram everything he knows into the book. Maberry occasionally dances on the outskirts of this when describing martial arts, equipment and the science behind it all, but doesn’t venture in deep enough for it to get tedious. It’s difficult to pull off, and I salute him for doing it as well as he has. There are a few misses (such as a character speaking “Iranian”, a language that doesn’t exist), but all in all it’s very plausible.

The plot is interesting, and as I already mentioned, believable. The book’s been divided into small chapters, with parallel story lines running throughout. Some people don’t like this movie-like approach with its frequent cuts, but I enjoy it. Maberry is a very good writer and up to date on current events, and there are pop culture references and such to keep the reader well entertained. The language the writer and the characters use is colourful and well written. The underlying tones of the book remain something of a mystery to me. There are lines in the book that throw vicious jabs at post-9/11 America. Then again, the main character’s patriotism and ends-justifying-means -authoritarian views threw me off a fair bit, especially combined with the stereotypical fanatical Islamic terrorists in the book. I would like to think that it’s basically just fiction, as I don’t really care much for pushing political agendas under the guise of something else.

There is suspense in the book, but it’s never really a horror story as much as it is a techno thriller. A fairly accurate description of how Patient Zero reads, is “Crichton or Clancy with zombies.” This definition suits me just fine, although there’s one thing that should’ve been left to Clancy. More on this later.

Action is plentiful, and the realism shows here as well. The action scenes are well thought out and very believable. Maberry’s love – and experience, I believe – of martial arts shines through, and having done years of martial arts myself, I certainly appreciated the realistic approach to combat techniques. No flying super spinning kicks here, it’s all throat punching and joint breaking. It’s brutal, it’s effective and paints violence like it should be: as ugly and vicious.

One of my main gripes about Zombie CSU was its too light treatment of the effects of psychological stress caused by a zombie scenario. Patient Zero addresses this as well, factoring in smoothly the mental strain that gunning down seemingly innocent people puts on a shooter. Psychology is an often visited theme in the book overall, with the main character regularly visiting his psychiatrist, who actually becomes one of the more important characters in the book too.

There’s one thing I haven’t yet commented on, and that is the characters. No book is without its flaws, and the ones that Patient Zero has crop up here. I liked most of the characters. They were well enough written, fairly well rounded and most didn’t feel like paper cut-outs, even if they were the (stereo)typical cast you’d expect to find in a story like this. The bad guys had a solid logic and a working moral,  and the good guys had their occasional flaws too. Except for Joe Ledger, the main character.

For me, the sheer heroism of Ledger, the book’s lead, was a turn-off. While it wasn’t even close to putting me off this book, it did get a tad annoying towards the end. In the beginning of the book, Joe Ledger is painted as a pretty ordinary cop, although very skillful in what he does. He often remarks how he’s getting into things that are way over his head and the like, there are flaws to him such as self-control and aggression issues and the reader ends up sympathizing with Joe quite a lot. However, as the book progresses, Joe turns out to be a bit too good at everything he does. He beats the living daylights out of military special forces guys, terrorists and zombies, out-thinks most intelligence agencies and military strategists, literally saves the world and even picks up a gorgeous woman while doing all of this. For me the low point of the book was when he all but wrecks the terrorists’ plan that’s been built up in the previous 400 pages, because he gets a funny feeling about a random agent smiling. That reeked of deus ex machina and Tom Clancy to me.

Sure, there are guys in films and books that do stuff like this. Indiana Jones, Jack Bauer in 24, John McClane in the Die Hard movies, James Bond and so on. What separates them from Joe Ledger, however, is that they occasionally fail. Jack Bauer gets beaten to a pulp every once in a while, as does the new Bond. Indiana Jones basically survives on luck, and John McClane’s entire character is based on the idea that even if he’s all but destroyed, he still comes out on top by virtue of sheer grit. Ledger as a character lacks this side altogether. There’s never really the feeling that the guy might fail at something, and it’s not because of luck or grit, but simply because he is so good at everything. He never misses a shot, never fails a punch, kick or throw and is only mentally thrown off for split seconds in even the most dire situations. The character flaws mentioned are never brought into play, and as such fail to have an impact. The heroism of Ledger also sadly causes him to draw a lot of attention and screen time away from a bunch of other, more interesting characters. Some of Ledger’s insights and skills could’ve been distributed amongst other characters, to flesh them out a bit and make them feel more important and less like extras.

Joe Ledger ends up a strange character. He’s well written and a nice guy. He’s good at delivering wise-ass lines and I found myself  liking him. Then again, it’s hard to feel for and relate to him on account of him being so perfect in everything he does. I hope that this changes in later Joe Ledger novels! If it doesn’t, Mr. Ledger faces the risk of becoming a major Mary Sue.

Also, the end of the book was a bit of a letdown. After brilliant planning and countless twists and turns, the terrorists pretty much blow it by being petty and emotional. Combine this with the sheer heroism of the good guys, and you have a fairly unsurprising and an unnecessarily happy ending.

Overall verdict: In spite of my last bits of critique, Patient Zero is a nice book. I’d say it’s easily the best piece of zombie fiction since World War Z that I’ve read, and I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel. I’d happily recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for an action-packed, fast read. Hunker down, grab a pack of snacks and dig in.


Zombie CSU – a review

September 30, 2009

Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry

Good zombie books are hard to find. They often slip into cliché-ridden [insert time of day] of the Living Dead copies or include too much underlined angst or present us with an implausible scenario. Occasionally – and far too often – all of these aspects are present.

Zombie CSU – The Forensics of the Living Dead by Jonathan Maberry takes another approach. It plays on that most fruitful aspect of the entire zombie culture: “What if?”

Hands up everyone who has ever speculated on what would really happen if the dead really rose up and started attacking the living. Probably every zombie enthusiast, am I right? Books like Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z both explore this to very good effect, and I’m happy to say that Zombie CSU is a good addition to the fold.

Zombie CSU looks into a possible zombie apocalypse from the point of view of experts, such as law enforcement, medical and military personnel. The book presents several scenarios familiar from zombie movies, and examines – and often debunks – them.

The book makes for fascin…no, not fascinating but very interesting reading. For those of us not inherently familiar with police and hospital procedure such as crime scene investigation and disease control, there a lot of information here written in a style easily digested and well written. The book was in my opinion a bit heavy on the forensics side, as it explored just about every single aspect of crime scene investigation, not all of which seemed particularly relevant in regards to zombies.

The credibility of a book like this depends a lot on the people interviewed, and Zombie CSU succeeds in this department. The experts do indeed seem like experts, being experienced professionals, lecturers, doctors and university professors. It’s great fun that such people have been willing to speculate on such an unlikely scenario in a serious, professional manner.

The book contains artwork and quotes from a lot of current zombie pop culture names as well, such as aforementioned Max Brooks and Robert Kirkman of the Walking Dead fame. The artwork varies tremendously in quality, but breaks up the chapters in a good way.

What conclusions does the book draw, then? Basically, that in most cases the zombies don’t really stand much chance against modern civilization. This basically launches my biggest gripe about the whole book:

While the book presents a psychological point of view also, it is sadly neglected in the conclusions. Sure, zombies are slow and and vulnerable, but are you really sure that basically pretty much anyone can deal with them simply by learning simple arm locks and basic self defense? That people – professional or not – will keep operating according to standard procedure when dealing with the dead returning to life? That people will just magically cast aside cultural and political differences and stand united against a common enemy? Call me a cynic (or a behavioral science major), but seems a bit optimistic. The US point of view of course skews things a lot. Most European countries have very very strict gun control laws, and for example in Finland it always makes headlines if a police officer needs to use his sidearm. Lately we have been discussing whether it is acceptable for taxi drivers to refuse accepting passengers with swine flu. Let’s see a society like ours dealing with zombies, let alone some developing country with limited infrastructure. Such themes aren’t touched upon sufficiently in the book.

Funnily enough, it’s this overly confident approach that would in my view cause the situation to escalate in the first place. People are irrational, emotional and more or less psychologically unstable, and society is composed of people.

Overall verdict: Zombie CSU is an entertaining read, which I’d happily recommend to anyone who’s into zombies. Since you’re reading this, you’re probably a part of the target audience. Take it with a grain of salt, however, unless you have total confidence in humanity and its authorities.

Zombie CSU is available in bookstores, I picked mine up from The Book Depository (which is my favoured choice for online book purchases). See also the book’s official homepage.

%d bloggers like this: