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: boneshaker

Maybe if I’d read Cherie Priest’s steampunk novel Boneshaker when it first came out I would have been more excited about it. But something about the confluence of time and self and book did not add up to a really great experience even though I can’t pin down anything about the book that might cause this.

It’s an alternate 1880s Seattle where 15 years ago a mad scientist named Leviticus Blue built a giant drilling machine and accidentally unleashed the Blight, a gas that turns people into zombie-like Rotters. This story is about Blue’s son, Zeke, going over the wall into the Blight-ridden parts of Seattle to find some answers about his father. It’s also about Zeke’s mother, Briar, trying to go find her son and bring him back safe.

The storylines don’t exactly alternate chapters, but we see both Zeke and Briar try to navigate the deadly world inside the wall in their different ways. There are airships and grand railway cars and drugs and big suits of armour and mechanical arms and you see a number of characters from both Zeke and Briar’s perspective at different times.

The portrayal of the Chinese people in the city bothered me. They were inscrutable, or scheming viziers, or mindless automatons or “amazingly bright” with technology and language but treated with casual racist condescension by the heroes. I know the 1880s weren’t a wonderful enlightened time, but there’s enough anachronism in steampunk I think you don’t have to reinforce all the racist stereotypes at once.

It’s a well-put-together tale, but I kind of felt like it was all just a chain of scenes to the end. There wasn’t anything that made me think differently about life or technology or mothers and sons or whatever. For something kind of similar that I loved, I’d recommend Mechanique.

book review: dark inside

Dark Inside is Jeyn Roberts’ multi-perspective YA novel about a kind of apocalyptic event that happens after a huge earthquake hits North America’s west coast. Cities are destroyed, yes, but a kind of evil is unleashed, not just at the earthquake site but in everyone’s souls. The book follows a scattered bunch of teenagers as they try to deal with the end of the world.

The book feels like a zombie book, since everyone aside from our protagonists has changed into bloodthirsty terrible murderers, but they haven’t gone brainless, just embraced their inner evil. This evil inside everyone is left pretty nebulous, as is the reason why the characters we’re following are spared it. The people who have turned (so most of the population) are terrible and terrifying, and some of the scenes are pretty intense. It would make for the kind of movie I couldn’t really watch, myself.

The teens are all eventually converging on Vancouver for various reasons (looking for a lost brother, keeping a promise to someone met on the road from Saskatoon, that kind of thing) and there are plenty of good scenes on the way. People feel survivor guilt and show survival skills and all in all it’s pretty good. And props to the book having interesting First Nations characters who didn’t feel like stereotypes. They weren’t the main characters but they were there, doing stuff like the rest of the kids with their own specific problems and issues.

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 dead-tossed waves

When I read Carrie Ryan’s YA novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth I enjoyed it, partially because of how the zombie story and the escape and the doomed teen romance all worked together. The Dead-Tossed Waves is the sequel (and second book in the series), and I didn’t like it as much. It is entirely possible I am getting zombie-fatigue.

Gabry, the hero of this story is the daughter of the hero from The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I quite liked that there was this generational split and that the reader could see Gabry’s mom with different information than Gabry herself had. The big arc for Gabry is how she goes from a desire for safety and security and following the rules to escape and challenge and doing things she didn’t think possible. I’m glad it got where it was going because I couldn’t stand Gabry’s whininess in the first part of the book.

There’s a forbidden love triangle between Gabry, and two boys: Catcher and Elias. Catcher’s been bitten by a zombie (directly after their first kiss – talk about punishing transgression) which makes romance there difficult. Elias is looking for his sister and is so capable but keeps too many secrets (for no real reason other than the plot demands it).

I was also disappointed that there was so little nautical adventure, considering the title. There were tantalizing mentions of pirates but none actually appeared in a book named for the sea. Maybe they’ll be in the third. The end is set up for a direct sequel, not a next generation kind of thing.

It’s not a bad book. There’s a good clever puzzle Gabry solves using Shakespeare to find their way through the gates in the forest, which I quite liked. It pushes a little hard on the doomed romance angle for my tastes; it feels more like the Edward/Jacob setup than a Peeta/Gale situation, but that’s probably because Gabry feels much more like a Bella than a Katniss, at least early on in the book.

book review: awakening (vol. 1)

Awakening is a detective story that looks like it’s going to be a zombie story. There are people on the street being gutted and chewed on; there’s a crazy woman who swears Cline chemicals is behind it all; there’s a private detective who left the police force after disbelieving that his partner was a terrible person. Okay, that last bit isn’t a traditional trope of zombie stories, but still.

I wasn’t a big fan of the story. It moved very slowly and kept throwing itself around in time without a clear purpose. There were these interjections of the detective’s notes that didn’t add anything to the story, just recapped what we already knew. And the story didn’t get very far in this book (which is an in-character frustration as well).

The art though, the art was great. It has this vaguely photo-realistic mixed with rough as hell woodcuts and silhouettes and the whole thing could have been etched onto the rusted hull of a ship. I could look at this book all day.

It was okay. I wouldn’t strongly recommend it, unless you’re a fan of Ben Templesmith’s art (which this is reminiscent of).

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.