book review: zone one

I’ve read a few reader reviews (as opposed to professional reviews, or reviews by writers, or literary critiques of somewhat higher worth than oh say this one you’re reading here) of Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, and it appears that I am the exact audience for this zombie novel about ennui.

First off the three days of “the present” are cut up with tonnes of flashbacks, giving the reader the pieces of how we got to this point. Characters all have the “Last Night” (before the world changed) story and the versions and variations we witness are a big part of the story. So structurally it wasn’t “this happens, then this, then this…” which is something I enjoy.

Second, while there was zombie killing action, the scenes were short and brutal. In books that’s how I like my action. Dwelling on how bullets penetrate undead flesh holds little interest for me, since one of the strengths of the novel is the interiority of the whole experience, how the characters feel about and are changed by the actions they’re taking. Whitehead’s writing dwells on the parts I care about, and can be damned pretty at times (even if there’s a bit of an emotional detachment to the whole thing).

Third, the protagonist was a self-proclaimed average person who ended up being good at surviving. He was not a badass. He was lonely and disaffected, middle class and black. He resembled a Murakami narrator, but one who drifted into a zombie war. The moments when he has to do something besides drift feel earned.

Fourth, I loved the choice to set the main story in the “rebuilding the world” phase. The characters aren’t the first wave of marines clearing out zombie hordes from the streets, buildings and subways of New York; they’re the civilian clean-up crew taking out the last stragglers. They’re more pest-control than soldiers (though they’re being directed by military types for the greater glory of the American Phoenix). It felt more like Bringing Out the Dead than The Walking Dead.

Fifth, the worldbuilding of the war against zombies had exactly the right amount of Catch-22 ridiculousness for me. There are strict anti-looting regulations enforced by the growing bureaucracy holed up in Buffalo, which mean that companies looking for an in when society builds back up again sponsor the rebuilding effort by allowing their products to be looted. I loved those kinds of details. And the language the characters use that doesn’t get explained until you’re used to them using it didn’t feel out of place.

In short, this is now probably my favourite zombie novel.

book review: too far gone (walking dead vol 13) & the rise of the governor

I read Too Far Gone in trade paperback form instead of waiting for the larger hardbound book that The Walking Dead also gets collected in. I think I see the value in endings for stories. The Walking Dead is supposed to be an ongoing tale of survival in a world with zombies. The thing about a story set in that world is that everything seems to happen over and over again. It’s interesting because most stories don’t do that. This book is about trying to restart a semblance of society in a little walled-community when Rick’s crew is so PTSDed out it’s not funny.

And that’s the thing. At this point there’s not a lot of story arc going on any more, which is more realistic, but less satisfying to read. Rick is having leadership pushed on him again for coming into this community and changing it. It’s fine, just, it feels kind of the same. Again, I may be coming down with some sort of zombie fatigue.

I also tried reading Kirkman’s novel The Walking Dead: The Rise of the Governor, but it was not doing anything for me so I abandoned it after they left their gated community. I’d been hoping for more background on how the zombie apocalypse started, but the book only started as the internet and TV stations were going off the air.

book review: the walking dead (books 3, 4, 5 and 6)

I recently went through a binge of reading The Walking Dead, getting books three, four, five and six from the library.

There’s a lot of good stuff to these books. Books Three and Four deal with Woodbury and the Governor, who’s made a town subject to his will near the prison where our main characters had holed up. Book Five sends them out on the road looking for safety again after the prison is compromised, and in Six they find a new community to help.

I do like the character turnover Kirkman pushes through in these books. People die, including mothers and babies, and the characters get all fucked up because of it, even though there are more people in the world. I loved the flashback scenes where Shane was still talking about being rescued. The idea that someone somewhere will be able to help them is so alluring, but it just keeps getting dashed. It’s a great story, even as everyone is dealing with cannibals and murder and generally being scary people.

book review: life as we knew it

[photo credit: Giant Moon by Timmy Toucan]
Life As We Knew It is a book by Susan Beth Pfeffer about survival through massive disaster.

Miranda and her family live in kind of rural Pennsylvania and she keeps a diary. She used to figure-skate and her dad lives in Massachusetts with his new wife. Then an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it way closer to earth. I do not know how possible that is no matter how dense that asteroid was, but don’t worry too much about it, because the take-off point is about what a giant disaster this is for the globe. The moon isn’t crashing into the Earth or anything, but the changes to tides cause tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes. There are ash-clouds and it might be the end of the world.

Miranda and her family are better off than some people. Her mom goes into survivalist mode right away and they stockpile food. They have a wood stove and land to get firewood from. They look after their elderly neighbour but other than that it’s a strict “family first” policy. This all happens in the spring, and things just keep on happening through the (almost) year the diary covers.

The big thing is Miranda dealing with how abnormal this makes her life. She vacillates between self-pity and being really strong in a way that feels realistic to how a person outside a story does. I think that’s something that the diary form for a book like this does really well. In Carbon Diaries 2015 the author used the same diary format to really get at what day-to-day life would be like if everything would be different (though the Carbon Diaries was less apocalyptic than Life As We Knew It).

Apart from the cause of the disasters in this book I feel like it’s a really good realistic look at what life immediately post-disaster would be like. There aren’t any zombies (The Walking Dead) or radioactive wastes (Z for Zachariah), just terrible weather and not enough food. I appreciated that it takes place outside an urban centre, so things like looting and violence are more ominous and less omnipresent.

Very good science fiction for YAs who like realistic fiction.

book review: the walking dead (book 2)

The second book of The Walking Dead is the one where the survivors find a prison and set up camp inside. We meet Michonne, who has a couple of pet zombies that she executes when she comes inside the gates. With her sword. ‘Cause she’s kind of awesome. But then she ruins a romantic relationship. Some people have sex. Some kill themselves. Others are eaten by zombies. A few people are shot. There’s an amputation. Rick goes and digs up Shane’s body and shoots it once he finds out that it’s not the zombies that infect people. As long as you die (without being headshot), you’ll come back.

I like reading this book in these larger collections than the trade paperbacks. And keeping a bit ahead of what’s happening in the TV show (since I see recaps and stuff all over the internet these days, not because I’m watching the show).

book review: what we become (walking dead vol 10)

I haven’t been watching the HBO version of The Walking Dead, but I have read some of the comics before now. I really like the idea of them, being about the longterm survivors in a zombie apocalypse. When I spotted this volume at the library the other day I decided to just read it and catch up a bit.

What We Become is about guilt and the things these survivors have had to do and sacrifice to still be around. There are zombies and people pointing guns at each other. It’s fine, but I like the fact that these people are still trying to survive more compelling than reading their stories, you know? Maybe if I was reading each issue as it came out I’d be more invested in their struggles, but for now I’m fine without knowing all the details.