Tagged: zombies

The Remaining by D.J. Molles

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

In a steel-and-lead-encased bunker 40 feet below the basement level of his house, Captain Lee Harden of the United States Army waits. On the surface, a plague ravages the planet, infecting over 90% of the populace. The bacterium burrows through the brain, destroying all signs of humanity and leaving behind little more than base, prehistoric instincts. The infected turn into hyper-aggressive predators, with an insatiable desire to kill and feed. Some day soon, Captain Harden will have to open the hatch to his bunker, and step out into this new wasteland, to complete his very simple mission: Subvenire Refectus.

To Rescue and Rebuild.

While The Remaining purports to be a different kind of zombie story, it’s really not all that different from a hundred other zombie stories.  Only the premise is different: the US government actually prepared for biological warfare by building bunkers and paying specially trained soldiers as a way of having a contingency plan in case the entire military and government fell.  These soldiers in the 48 states on the US mainland are supposed to single-handedly bring order back to a world gone to hell and begin rescuing people and rebuilding society.  It’s really a lot to ask of just 48 people who have been locked in bunkers for two months with no idea what has been going on outside the four steel walls of said bunkers.

Other than that premise (which is somewhat refreshing considering most zombie stories have the government being completely incompetent with no Plan B whatsoever), this is pretty much your typical zombie story.  People have been infected by a virus that turns them into crazed killers.  They’re fast zombies and these ones use weapons like knives and shovels but that’s really all that makes them slightly different from a hundred other zombie stories out there.  They travel in herds, have sensitive hearing that forces the survivors to skulk around using any quiet weapons they can get their hands on and getting bit means infection and transformation into a zombie.  In the hands of a writer who didn’t set out to tell a typical zombie story, they could have been quite interesting.

However, my main issue with The Remaining is that it sticks to so many of the old zombie story tropes.  The protagonist has an animal which becomes exposed to the virus defending him and so must kill him in the tragic climax.  There are heartless looters and survivors who are doing what they can to help the remaining humans.  That’s not unrealistic at all but rather there was no real creativity in the characterizations of most of the survivors Lee encounters.  There’s Sam, the thirteen-year-old boy who traumatically watches his father die.  There’s Jack, the cynical former military man who is thrown into Lee’s group somewhat against his will in the beginning but who becomes a valuable asset.  And then there’s Angela and her daugher Abby, two helpless females the men in the group have to constantly protect.  Really, it seems like Molles just threw stock characters from every other zombie story together and ran with it rather than adding his own flair.

And finally, as for the plot it seems like the invisible hand of the author was always at play.  To make things harder for Lee, Sam must make a dumb mistake and be seen back at the bunker so some looters burn the house (and by extension, the entrance to the bunker) down.  Then of course the only other useful member of the group, Jack, gets bit and must soldier on before dying in battle.  Angela, Abby and Sam continue to be useless.  Then, when it seems like Lee and the group have found safety with another group, they seem to get attacked on the last page of the book for a stereotypical cliffhanger.

With all that said, The Remaining never crosses the threshold into truly terrible territory.  The pace is fairly fast and the pages do move quickly despite the rampant clichés.  The writing isn’t great but it isn’t terrible so this book really does sit in the middle in mediocre territory.  If you want a quick read and haven’t read as many zombie novels as I have, this might be a decent introduction to the genre.  But if you’ve read a few zombie books, watched The Walking Dead on TV or basically any zombie movie, you’re better off skipping this one and reading something a little more unique.  Mira Grant’s Feed would be a much better self-aware zombie novel to read.

I give this book 2/5 stars.

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Omega Days by John L. Campbell

Omega Days by John L. Campbell(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When the end came, it came quickly. No one knew where or exactly when the Omega Virus started, but soon it was everywhere. And when the ones spreading it can’t die, no one stands a chance of surviving.

San Francisco, California. Father Xavier Church has spent his life ministering to unfortunate souls, but he has never witnessed horror like this. After he forsakes his vows in the most heartrending of ways, he watches helplessly as a zombie nun takes a bite out of a fellow priest’s face…
University of California, Berkeley. Skye Dennison is moving into her college dorm for the first time, simultaneously excited to be leaving the nest and terrified to be on her own. When her mother and father are eaten alive in front of her, she realizes the terror has just begun…
Alameda, California. Angie West made millions off her family’s reality gun show on the History Channel. But after she is cornered by the swarming undead, her knowledge of heavy artillery is called into play like never before…
Within weeks, the world is overrun by the walking dead. Only the quick and the smart, the strong and the determined, will survive—for now.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback at Book Expo America 2015 with no expectation of a review.]

One of the things I have to make clear from the start is that this is not the original ebook that some other people have reviewed.  This is the new, expanded paperback edition that was published by Penguin under their Berkley imprint.  I don’t know how many differences there really are between the two editions but apparently there are a few more little points of view to add interest and some tightening of certain narratives in a couple of places.  In the relative scheme of things, I think the few distinctions don’t really matter all that much.

First, let’s start off with the characters.  We have a huge variety of characters from your typical college student who turns into a killing machine to a reality TV show star who has a fully stocked arsenal of guns.  And while Skye and Angie are fascinating characters, one of the characters that isn’t really your typical ‘stock character’ in a zombie apocalypse is Xavier, the priest.  He is definitely an unconventional priest coming from a very rough background but at the same time he really does seem to care about all of the survivors he meets.  For a while he loses his faith (who wouldn’t?) but then toward the end of the novel we start to see a sort of transformation in him as he learns that perhaps all is not hopeless, despite the devastation around him.

One of the things I found very realistic is that people in the Omega universe actually knew about zombies.  It’s not like Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy where people immediately knew what to do with zombies, but they did make occasional references to zombies in popular culture.  Another thing I appreciated was that although the government of the United States fell fairly quickly, independent pockets of the military managed to cling on and try to rescue as many people as they could.  That’s more realistic in my view than a total collapse of everything as surely there would be some military units out there with a strong enough chain of command to hold people together during a crisis, even one as big as a zombie apocalypse.  And throughout the story we see the points of view of various peoples who survive in various ways: doctors whose hospitals were mostly overrun but were protected by the military for a time while they worked on a cure, a Russian military pilot sent to train American soldiers, a crazy televangelist who is about as ruthless as you might expect, etc.  Some of these people play large parts in the story while others only get a single point of view before dying or just passing from notice.  It’s a very realistic look into how different people would cope during a nationwide disaster like a zombie apocalypse.

Which brings me to one thing: the plot.  Normally you would expect all of these points of view to really slow down the plot or make it confusing.  Omega Days really didn’t have that problem, oddly enough.  The little side stories were nice and were short enough that they didn’t take away from the main plot as the different pockets of survivors converged.  They also imparted important information regarding how the military and governmental structures fell and what doctors and scientists were able to find out about the Omega Virus and zombies in general before most of the hospitals were overrun.  I think it will be very interesting in future books to see Campbell expand upon the idea that the zombies aren’t just infected with one virus, they have two different viruses working in tandem.  I would love to gush on about this very different idea of making zombies come to life (so to speak) but I’ll leave that for you to discover as you read the book.

Basically, Omega Days really was a pleasant surprise.  A lot of zombie books read the same or are shameless rip-offs of The Walking Dead, what with its current popularity.  But Omega Days is really different and I appreciated all of the different points of view John L. Campbell wove together into a coherent narrative that told the story of the zombie apocalypse.  I can’t say that this book is the most amazing I’ve ever read but it is very well written, with interesting characters and plenty of suspense.  You can’t go wrong with that.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Blast From the Past: Part One

Lots of other blogs with vast archives do this so I figured I might as well try it out too.  What is a ‘blast from the past’ here on The Mad Reviewer?  Well, for our purposes it will be me plugging some of my older posts way back from 2012 and 2013 (possibly even 2014) that my newer subscribers may have missed.  Some of them are not the best written but I’ve definitely improved over time and my older posts are definitely a reflection of my blogging inexperience.  They’re still pretty cool, though, if I do say so myself.

So here are some random articles over the years that I’ve particularly liked or had fun writing:

1.  Why are Zombies so Scary?  (March 2012)

Here in this post I examine the reasons why zombies used to terrify me and why they continue to terrify other people, even with the popularity of shows like The Walking Dead.  Read the comment section to discover how zombies are like cows as well.

2.  What Makes a Character Memorable?  (March 2012)

What makes a character memorable?  Why is it that some characters stick out to us and we remember them years later whereas some characters you forget instantly after finishing a book?

3.  Accuracy in Historical Fiction (April 2012)

My views surrounding accuracy in historical fiction have slightly changed since this post but the essence of it is true: most history is exciting enough that it doesn’t need to be changed by authors.

4.  A Plea for Diversity in Fantasy (April 2012)

No, this isn’t about racial and other diversity (I’ve addressed that in other posts) but instead this was a desperate plea for some unique plots in fantasy, YA fantasy in particular.  I think part of my problem at the time was the fact it was the height of Twilight fever and I desperately needed a form of brain bleach to displace all the Team Edward vs. Team Jacob nonsense.

5.  Should Reviewers Give Bad Reviews?  (July 2012)

Yep, this controversy has raged for years and will continue to go on long after this generation of bloggers quits.  Should reviewers give bad reviews or simply not post bad reviews?  I think by now you guys know what side I’m on.

Plague of the Undead by Joe McKinney

Plague of the Undead by Joe McKinney(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

For thirty years, they have avoided the outbreak of walking death that has consumed America’s heartland. They have secured a small compound near the ruins of Little Rock, Arkansas. Isolated from the world. Immune to the horror. Blissfully unaware of what lies outside in the region known as the Dead Lands. Until now…

Led by a military vet who’s seen better days, the inexperienced offspring of the original survivors form a small expedition to explore the wastelands around them. A biologist, an anthropologist, a cartographer, a salvage expert—all are hoping to build a new future from the rubble. Until all hell breaks loose…

The infected are still out there. Stalking. Feeding. Spreading like a virus. Wild animals roam the countryside, hunting prey. Small pockets of humanity hide in the shadows: some scared, some mad, all dangerous. This is the New World. If the explorers want it, they’ll have to take it. Dead or alive…

From the blurb of this book, I was absolutely fascinated.  It’s rare that you get a surviving, almost thriving community 30 years after the apocalypse but it’s even rarer that they’re eager to explore and that zombies are still out there.  How did the zombies not rot away?  Is Arbella the only community still out there?  What happens when the next generation of survivors, the ones that have only known a post-apocalyptic world, encounter the rest of the people that have survived?  Answer: nothing good.

In the beginning of Plague of the Undead, our main character Jacob has a huge moral dilemma: he’s the sheriff of the town and a man has committed a crime.  Now normally that would not be a big deal but the problem is that crime was theft and that’s against the Code.  It means death for the man who stole because trust is the most important thing you can have post-apocalypse.  So poor Jacob has to kill his first man in cold blood, looking him right in the face to make sure he doesn’t miss his shot.  With a beginning like that, you’d expect the book to keep being pretty awesome.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t really the case.  The book starts out pretty exciting as Jacob shoots a man, gets promoted, gets approval to take an expedition out into the dead lands and sets out on said expedition.  The problem is that once the group is actually out and about, things get boring pretty quickly.

The main problem in this book is the middle: it drags on and on in one place.  Long story short, the survivors get ambushed by some bad guys and the survivors of the attack are forced into slavery.  Then a huge chunk of the book is devoted to how Jacob and the survivors cope during the slavery and how they try to escape.  In a lot of cases I wouldn’t find this boring because it would be interesting from a psychology perspective or even just from a character development perspective.  But it really wasn’t.  The lack of pacing just dragged the whole plot down to the point where I really wasn’t even interested in the mysterious flying saucers and finding out how much of civilization was really left.  I just wanted the book to be over.

In the beginning, Jacob shows a lot of promise as a character.  He doesn’t want to kill the man convicted of theft but at the same time he has to in order to maintain the Code and therefore maintain law and order in Arbella.  And when he finally gets approval for the wasteland scavenging/information gathering mission, he’s ecstatic and has to plan like mad.  From personal experience I completely understand the frustration he faces as every single person criticizes how he’s going about the mission but he sticks to his guns and sets out with a great plan and a good team.  Then when things go south, Jacob as a character sort of goes downhill.  He becomes more of a walking stereotype.  He pines after Kelly (the woman he used to love as a teenager), becomes colder as the slavery takes its toll and tries to ignore just how skeevy his best friend/enemy is.  It’s like that fascinating, well-rounded character we meet in the beginning was thrown out the window and replaced with a total wimp that lacks the psychological depth of the first character.

The world-building was decent in comparison to the pacing and the characterization.  I liked the explanation Joe McKinney gave for why the zombies weren’t rotting even thirty years later and I liked the way he set up Arbella as a good model of what people can do during the apocalypse.  There are some horrible communities like you’d expect, but he shows that not only the bad people survive and thrive during the apocalypse.  That’s quite a bit different from your typical zombie apocalypse tropes.  I also love how he explained the ammunition problem and how he solved some of the problems with guns during the apocalypse, like the sound issue.  I think a lot of research went into Plague of the Undead but the problem is that the actual story itself was rather boring.

In the end, I don’t know whether or not I can recommend this book.  It won a Bram Stoker award so clearly some people didn’t think it was rubbish or disappointing but at the same time I just can’t say that I enjoyed it.  I guess you just have to do your own research, read a couple of reviews from different sides of the issue and make a decision.

I give this book 2/5 stars.

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Discussion: Books You Want to See Adapted

Every book fan has had their favourite book butchered in either movie or television form.  (Trust me, I used to be an Eragon fan.)  But sometimes you get a very faithful adaptation of the books that are in some ways even better than the source material.  See: Harry Potter (done well) and Game of Thrones (sometimes even better, sometimes worse but generally done well).  One of the things that really annoys me about movies these days is that they’re remaking movies that no one wants to see remade: movies that just came out a couple of years ago, classics, etc.

Then that got me thinking: what if the movie industry decided to adapt more worthy books instead of remaking old movies again and again?

One of the books I would love to see on the silver screen is Feed by Mira Grant.  Zombies are popular now and Shaun and Georgia are main characters that are fairly easy to relate to.  Mira Grant wrote the book in such a cinematic fashion that it would be very easy to adapt and make a two to two and a half hour movie out of the novel without really cutting all that much.  Plus, there’s a ton of humour, political intrigue and of course zombies (with extra added science!).  If the right director got his/her hands on it, I would probably be first in line to go see it as a movie.

What I want to know now is this: If a good director that stayed faithful to the source material was going to adapt any book, what book would you want to see as a movie or a TV show?  Why?

After the End by Bonnie Dee

After the End by Bonnie Dee(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

The end of the world is only the beginning.

Zombies are on the loose and the world comes unraveled. A group of strangers on a Manhattan subway are brought together in the name of survival following the lead of Ari Brenner, a young man who represents authority because of his army uniform. Even though Ari doesn’t feel worthy of their trust, he steps up during the crisis as he’s been trained to do.

College student Lila Teske finds her non-violent beliefs tested in the crucible of a zombie attack as she takes her place fighting by Ari’s side. There are other members of the diverse group, but the focus of the story is on Lila and Ari, young people who learn about sacrifice, inner strength and even love during their ordeal.

With infrastructure down and communication with the outside world broken, the survivors head toward the nearest marina to escape New York. When they meet a lab tech who may know the key to defeating the virus, he must be protected at all costs. But the reanimated dead aren’t the only danger that impedes them on their perilous journey.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

It’s actually kind of funny that I found this book on NetGalley because 3-4 years ago I read an excerpt from the original version.  The voice of the author was so unique that even though I didn’t have money to buy it at the time, it’s been on my list for a while.  So when I saw a chance to read the whole book (a new revised edition, mind you), I leaped at the chance.

First off, Bonnie Dee’s zombies are not your typical zombies.  They’re a little smarter and are surprisingly strong, but what really stood out for me was how you kill them.  Just disabling their brain doesn’t work; you have to go for their spinal column to get to their so-called ‘primitive’ or reptilian brain that drives them.  So having a bunch of guns and some sharpshooters isn’t necessarily going to save your butt this time like in so many zombie books.  They’re also a little smarter and some of them are quite strong, so you’ve got the makings of a perfectly terrifying apocalyptic scenario.

So while the zombies and general world-building was good, my relationship with the characters was so-so at best.  Ari and Lila were both very good, solid characters with lots of development.  Ari has to fit into his unasked for leadership role as the only man with military training around and Lila has to reconcile the new everyday violence with her pacifist tendencies.  If they don’t succeed in changing, they’re all going to die.  There’s a definite romantic element to the plot as Ari and Lila become close, but it’s not always the main focus.  The main focus is survival.

That was the really good part of the characterization.  The bad part is that for her secondary characters, Bonnie Dee tends to use stereotypes.  The pampered model, the cute and helpless kid, the scientist with the cure, the disgruntled teenager, etc.  I would have liked her to flesh out her secondary characters a whole lot more, but she never really did.  There was so much potential with many of these characters that was never lived up to, so in a way the characterization was rather disappointing when you compare it to that of the two main characters.

However, the plot is incredibly fast-paced.  Bonnie Dee grabs you into her story and doesn’t let you go until you’re done reading.  There’s a constant undercurrent of tension from the very real threat of the zombies as well as the many interpersonal conflicts that crop up in a diverse group of survivors.  She has an excellent writing style that describes things in detail without ever really letting go of the fast pace.  Thankfully, there was no middle sag in this book either as Ari’s group got their footing.  It’s fast-paced pretty much all the time, which is what you really want in a post-apocalyptic novel.

So overall, I was pretty happy with how After the End turned out.  The main characters were good, the zombies were terrifying and new and the plot was insanely fast-paced.  The only real letdown was the secondary characters, which could have had so much more depth and added so much more to the story.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Zombies: More Recent Dead by Paula Guran

Zombies More Recent Dead by Paula Guran(Cover picture courtesy of Prime Books.)

The living dead are more alive than ever! Zombies have become more than an iconic monster for the twenty-first century: they are now a phenomenon constantly revealing as much about ourselves – and our fascination with death, resurrection, and survival – as our love for the supernatural or post-apocalyptic speculation. Our most imaginative literary minds have been devoured by these incredible creatures and produced exciting, insightful, and unflinching new works of zombie fiction. We’ve again dug up the best stories published in the last few years and compiled them into an anthology to feed your insatiable hunger…

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ve been suffering from a severe case of Walking Dead withdrawal for a few months, so I figured that I might as well get back into that zombie kind of mood with a new anthology from some well-known authors.  Jonathon Maberry, Neil Gaiman and so many more authors that I actually like were included in this anthology.  Where could it go wrong?

Apparently, almost everywhere.  This is a non-traditional zombie anthology, which I knew when I requested it.  All of these zombies are either thinking zombies or just kind of dead shells of their former selves come back to life.  I don’t mind reading about these types of zombies.  It’s a newer (more terrifying in some ways) take on a creature that is a little over-hyped by pop culture.  Of course, being that people are people, sometimes they would do disgusting things with these zombies: have sex with them, make them servants, etc.  It’s sad to see that my faith in the worst impulses of humanity is still justified.

Except, by the end of the anthology, I was really, truly struggling to finish it.  This is not a long book, by the way.  It’s only 480 pages and it should not have taken me so long to finish, but I really had to force myself to keep reading about 2/3s of the way through.  Why?  Because, for the most part, it was boring.  Most of the stories, even by authors that I really liked, were quite boring.  Yes, they showcased the new type of zombie very well but some of them didn’t seem to have a point (or a plot) and still others were so boring that you forgot how the story began by the time you got to the end.  It’s not like I have a short attention span, either.

None of the characters really stood out for me here and even though it’s only been a week since I read this, I couldn’t really name more than two or three of them.  This anthology just did not pack the punch I’ve come to expect from authors like this.  In the end, I was more disappointed than entertained, which is not something you want when you’ve just read through almost 500 pages.

I give this anthology 3/5 stars.

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