Posts Tagged ‘zombie’

Miniature review due to absence of Internet and wifi. In fact, only now possible because phone can – sometimes – get some reception…

I bought this for my son and wanted to cast my eye over it before he read it. He is only twelve and these are zombies. My ears still ring with his squealing at the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

I have to say, I was quietly surprised. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of Darren Shan: I quite liked the Cirque du Freak series but The Demonata left me completely cold. I was expecting lots of gore. Lots of blood. Significant amount of entrails.

What I didn’t expect was an interesting main character, B: streetwise and sassy, decent at heart, but poisoned by the father’s extreme right-wing neo-Nazi racism. Certainly, B was capable of saying and doing appalling and racist things but, somehow, Shan never diminished my engagement with or sympathy for B.

As to the zombies, they are fairly standard fare and, once they reach the town the novel is set in, things progress as you’d expect. The GQ (gore quotient) rises exponentially.

There are also other antagonists: a number of mutants who seem to be able to control the zombies and a rather creepy supervisor.

The ending contained two twists, one of which I anticipated pretty early on, the other of which I did not.

In all, I was impressed.

But I’m also glad that my son left it behind when he went back to his mum’s house: I think it is a little too old for him, personally. But I may well pick up the next in the series….!

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I’m a sensitive soul, me.

I like books and words; I wear my heart on my sleeve. I cringe at the sight of gore and blood.

So why have I been immersing myself in gore recently? The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin and now Feed, book one of the Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant.

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Zombies are the new vampires with World War Z hitting the cinemas and this book’s been kicking about in my ‘mildly intrigued’ sub-pile of my ‘to-be-read’ lists on my e-reader.

What was it that intrigued me? It’s hard to say: the cover was pretty cool; I liked the ambiguity of the title referring to the appetite of the zombies and to the blogging news feeds that the book revolves around. Moreover, though, the biggest intrigue derived here (as it did with Brooks’ World War Z) from a single question:

“What on earth do you do with zombies once you’ve got them?”

Now, I don’t mean that in a survivalist sever-the-brain-stem kind of way.

Narratively, what do you do with zombies once the visceral reveal has happened? There’s no suave temptation that drips from the pores of every non-Twilight vampire; there’s no cunning intelligence; there’s no eternal conflict between the animal and civilised, the id and the superego, epitomised by the werewolf or Jekyll and Hyde. Once you have revealed your zombie and the audience has received it’s visceral thrill or shock, they’re actually a pretty rubbish antagonist. By definition.

Max Brooks ramped up the tension by scale and the sheer weight of numbers.

Grant doesn’t.

Unlike Brooks, Feed shows little interest in rise of the zombies. It’s events take place a generation post-Rising. The dead rose. The living adapted. Life continued.

The skill in this novel is in the imagining of how our world might adapt to cope with a threat such as zombies. How would behaviours change? How would politics alter? How would the media mutate itself? What variations would creep into our lives if something horrific occurred? How would terror of the living dead be responded to? Or be taken advantage of?

Is it too great a leap to see parallels between the post-zombie world, populated by people whose fears lead them to isolate themselves and exclude anyone else, with a world coming to terms with a War on Terror? Or a world in the grip of a fear of the incurable AIDS virus?

The rise of the blogger is the key feature of Grant’s world: where traditional print media failed to respond to the rise of the undead, blogs recognised, recorded and reported on it thereby lifting their status to that of ‘true’ journalism. Again, the parallels with The Arab Spring, the Occupy movement and a whole host of other ‘grass roots’ movements connecting through Twitter and the blogosphere feels credible. In Grant’s world, bloggers are divided into three categories: newsies such as the first-person narrator Georgia Mason, who report on the news; Irwins, such as her adoptive brother Shaun, who record their field exploits and encounters with the undead for entertainment value as much as education; and fictionals such as the Masons’ partner Buffy who appear to write rather poor doggerel to make us all feel better. Oh and Buffy is also a whizzy techno-geek. This little trio has it all therefore: a driven and ethical reporter backed up by her action-hero brother and nerd friend. And they drive around in a van. Solving mysteries.

I did spend half the book expecting Shaggy and Scooby-Doo to arrive!

The trio manage to secure a job reporting on the campaign of a Senator Ryman in the American Primaries and then Presidential elections. Shady things happen. Tragedies unveil themselves. A conspiracy is uncovered.

I am generally a little slapdash with spoiler alerts: it is possible to enjoy a journey even if you already know the destination. Especially if the journey is a good one with nice scenery. With books, I’m more interested in the characters and writing than I am with plot and events. But here, I am going to tread carefully: there are events in the book which do warrant coming to fresh and being ambushed by.

It’s not the uncovering of the conspiracy: Grant red flags the culprit pretty obviously!

And let’s face it, the writing here is not great literary prose that has much merit in its own right. To continue the journey metaphor, it’s like driving through the flat fenlands of Norfolk. Pretty flat. Nor do the characters work terribly well for me: they are pretty two-dimensional at times with the exception of George, our narrator.

So I’m going to let you enjoy the few way markers you come across without spoiling them!

So, to return to my question: what do you do with a zombie? Grant’s answer seems to be, very broadly, ‘get over it’. This is a book set in a world in which zombies live… No… Inhabit… No … Exist? But it is not a zombie book: our antagonist is not a zombie; there are perhaps two or three zombie attacks seen in the book. It is, essentially a political thriller. With a handful of zombies.

One thing I did like – and which I suspect might have put other readers off – is the nature of the virus that gave rise to the zombie plague. Apparently Grant objected to the “It’s a virus” plot device (a devil ex machina?) to explain zombies and we are treated to a fair amount of detail about the mechanics and vectors involved. I liked that part. It was, again, credible.

In short then… The good points were: some interesting world building with a fair amount of social parallels – enough to start you thinking; a string sense of the mechanics of the virus; a playful reverence of existing zombie lore and movies; decent, if slightly two dimensional, characters; some strong plot twists and pretty decent and contemplative pacing (I’m afraid the somewhat frenetic pacing of some plot-driven novels gives me a headache!)

Bad points included: competent but uninspiring writing; a lack of depth to many characters; a slightly obvious villain (though, as book one of three, I suspect this will develop); and, in my electronic version for reasons I cannot fathom, an absence of apostrophes and speech marks. In a writing style that often interposes lengthy narrative into dialogue before returning to speech mid paragraph, that became really annoying really quickly.

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My teeth grated together in horror as soon as I listened to this: “World War Zee by Max Brooks!” intoned the narrator. “Zee”? “Zee“?! No!! World War Zed!

Despite that, this was a brilliant book to listen to as an audiobook: it is formed from interviews with various survivors of the war against the undead. Z for zombies. Because of the episodic nature of the narrative, it was perfect to listen to one or two interviews on the way to or from work.

And some of the voice acting here was brilliant: more dramatisation perhaps than audiobook. The feral child who recalled the ragged (stertorous perhaps, stealing Bram Stoker’s word) breathing of the zombies as they attacked her family was particularly effective. As was the pilot who was shot down. And the family forced to trade goods for human meat when their daughter is ill, seen through the eyes of her older sister.

The problem is that the stories and accounts are all – more or less – effective. But fairly repetitive.

I missed having continuity. When I had invested in the characters for a while, I wanted to know how they dealt with the later parts of the war.

Episodic narratives: excellent for audiobooks listened to in the car; poor for allowing investment in characters.

I am wondering whether it is possible to create a spoiler here. Zombies rise in China. That’s chapter one. The blurb would tell anyone that. Not a spoiler. Through a combination of idiocy, greed and corruption, the virus spreads across the world through human migration, organ and people trafficking. World War Z? No spoiler there! Zombies eat lots of people. The army is ill prepared (who would be?) and fail spectacularly to protect the world. People fight back. America saves the world.

Yes.

America saves the world.

The US President makes a speech. And everything gets better.

Imagine Abraham Lincoln crossed with Bill Pullman in Independence Day.

It is terribly Americocentric. Yankiecentric. There are many other countries and nationalities interviewed but they are all sidelined by the U S of A. China originated the virus. Russia is corrupt and dishonest. England is romanticised to Disneyesque proportions: Her Majesty refused to leave London and inspired us the populace. God bless her!

I was heading towards the four / five star area with this book when I began listening to it. But I think in retrospect that was due to the quality of the voice acting and the coincidence of the narrative structure with my listening habits. On reflection, if I were asked to rate it out of five, I’d maybe say 3.5 stars.