Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Maberry’

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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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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.

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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.

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