Audiobook Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

15 08 2013

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Read by Mikeal Naramore

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Lives of Tao is a fun filled, twisted buddy comedy between a slacker and his ancient alien parasite. Welsey Chu tells a tale full of light hearted humor, yet balances it with fascinating relationship full of hidden depths and well executed action. Listeners should expect to have a whole lot of fun with The Lives of Tao.

Grade: B+

A few months back I was watching Oz: The Great and the Powerful, and getting more and more frustrated. The Wizard of Oz was one of my first literary discoveries as a child, and along with Narnia, was the place I most dreamt of someday getting to visit. So, there I was, watching this movie about a carnival wizard who would be sucked through a tornado into the land of Oz, and all I could think of was that this guy was a total asshat. Here is this misogynistic shyster with almost no redeeming qualities, and he was going to get to visit the wonderful Land of Oz. I cry FOUL, good sirs and madams. Now, I understand that often times, stories require transformation. That for there to be a true payoff at the end the character must discover some new aspect about themselves, or find true love or some such hooey. Yet, do we have to start the transformation process at douchebag? There are some good, everyday people who don’t kick puppies, force fathers to work on Christmas day instead of being home with their sickly child, or treat women like pieces of meat that deserve adventure in magical lands with the potential to find true love with a beautiful good witch. Now, I don’t need my protagonist to be perfect, in fact, I don’t want them to be perfect. I like flawed characters. But why do we need to always have this handsome, physically fit, devilishly clever character who also happen to be incredible assholes? Can’t we find flaws in other areas to explore? This was one of the things that drew me to The Lives of Tao. Roen Tan is a slovenly, heavy set slacker, who is socially awkward and blames others for his own poor choices. He’s not what I would call hero material. Despite these flaws, I’d much rather see a transformation from lazy slacker to hero, than the typical Hollywood shitheel meets a beautiful women in a magical land so decided not to be quite as much of a total shitheel.

After another disappointing and pointless night drinking too much at the clubs, Roen Tan, an underachieving computer programmer, is hit with a sudden wave of nausea. A few weeks later, he begins to hear a voice in his hear encouraging him to stand up to a mugger, and questioning him on why he’s staying at a job he hates. Is Roen going crazy? Nope, it’s just a Quasing named Tao, an alien parasite that has inserted itself into his body and won’t be able to leave until Roen dies. Eventually, Roen discovers that he is now a part of an alien civil war raging among two factions of a species who have been stuck on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs. The Lives of Tao is a twisted buddy comedy between a young slacker and the alien parasite that must turn him into skilled agent. When I started The Lives of Tao, I expected a light and breezy science fiction comedy that bordered on slapstick. For the most part that is what I got. What did surprise me was that it was also a solidly written action novel with a lot of hidden depths. The first two thirds of the novel was mostly about building the relationship between Roen and Tan, developing the background on the war between the Prophus and the Genjix, and a training montage to show Roen’s transformation from out of shape desk jockey to a lean, mean fighting machine.  This segment was a lot of fun, full of funny moments, interesting characters and a great exploration of the intricacies of a human/alien parasite relationship. At times I felt it lacked a bit of depth. More often you were informed that Roen was now skinnier, better trained and really progressing as an agent, instead of actually experiencing the transformation. This caused a bit of dissonance, as you had to remind yourself that this wasn’t the lazy, whiney character that you met in the beginning. Chu peppers the novel with small tales of some Tao’s successes and failures with some of his past hosts, many of whom were influential historical figures. I found these segments to be fascinating, yet I wish these tales had also been a little more detailed. Yet, I did experience one thing that I didn’t expect. I felt a bit resentful towards our little alien friends. Sure, their war caused a lot of bad things to happen to humanity. This I could accept. Yet, the aliens seemed also to be responsible a lot of the great things humanity has accomplished. It would be one thing if this was just great leap forwards in technology or political philosophy, but when the aliens also revealed themselves to be responsible for some of the cultural and artistic achievements, I was like, DAMMIT! Can’t we have had achieve anything of value on our own, you meddling bastards!  The final third of the novel was a well orchestrated action scenario that was actually quite fun. Though the basic setup was typically action movie fare, it was well executed and full of well choreographed action. Overall, I liked The Lives of Tao a whole heck of a lot. While I wasn’t surprised by the humor that permeated the tale, what truly won me over was the relationship between Roan and Tao. Chu deftly handles this relationship, often leaving it up to the reader how much influence Tao truly had over Roen. In the end, this relationship wasn’t just about symbiosis, but how two separate entities could manage to make both themselves and the other better.

This was my first experience with Mikael Naramore as a narrator, and I was quite impressed. Naramore delivers a clean, well paced performance that easily handles the specific challenges this tale had to offer. He has a pleasant strong voice that suited this tale well. As the heart of the story is the relationship between Roen and Tao, he does a good job brining these characters to life. He gives Tao an almost dreamlike quality that almost seems like a breezy version of Roen’s own voice yet distinct enough to allow their interactions to feel natural. I also like how slowly you here the development in Roen’s character. As the novel progresses, Roen sounds more self assured. He loses a bit of the whininess of the early character which fits well with the character development. Naramore handles the action with a sharp consistent pace that allows the listener to perfectly picture the events as they unfold. The Lives of Tao is a fun audiobook experience with just the right mix of action and humor as well as a great exploration of the sometimes tumultuous relationship between a man and his alien parasite.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Swarm by B. V. Larson

28 12 2012

Swarm (Star Force, Book 1) by B. V. Larson

Read by Mark Boyett

Audible Frontiers

Length: 9 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Swarm is simple, escapist military science fiction fun. Larson writes with a "what the hell, let’s go for it" style that’s reminiscent of a train hopping a track and running into a truck full of fireworks in front of a car full of clowns. Don’t expect lots of depth, but do expect plenty of huge robotic sandworms killing off tons of enhanced super soldiers.

Grade: B

So, some things you should know about me. I have never been abducted by aliens. I have never been taken aboard any sort of ship, whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial and had my anus probed to learn important things about our species. I ha’ve seen the images that come from colonoscopies, and I’m not sure exactly how that helps, and have to wonder why the aliens don’t just hack into a doctor’s system and download intra-anal images, and not worry about getting their hands dirty. I have seen plenty of UFO’s, but, let’s face it, there are plenty of flying objects out there that I just can’t identify either because of ignorance, or just my poor vision. Now, I believe that there very well may be aliens out there, but I can’t help but wonder why they would bother to even come to Earth. Now, the biggest reason used among science fiction novels has been the mysterious collection of "resources." Now, I am not fancy smancy asteroid physics sciencey guy, but that sort of seems to me like flying to Turkey for a pack of Camels in a world full of 7-11’s. What resources does Earth have, that the thousands of planetary flotsam and jetsam along the way don’t? And if earth is full of these awesome natural resources, can they only be detected through the anuses of drunk rural bumpkins? Why not just use the kinetic force of a really big rock, smash earth to pieces then collect what’s there? Yet, despite all these issues, I love alien invasion stories, whether they are lizard men, little gray dudes, or robot collectives. This is mostly due to the one reason I think would give a valid explanation for inter planetary contact, curiosity, even if it did kill the psychic tree cat.

Unbeknownst to humanity, there is a vast war going on between large Macro Machines, and an alien species that uses a swarm of nanomachines to fight them. These nanomachines called Micros are in search of flesh and blood operators to help fight the machines, whether they want to or not. Now, the Macros are heading towards Earth, and the Swarm has arrived kidnapping people off the face of the planet, and putting them through a series of test, which if failed, those tested are discarded to lethal affects. Kyle Riggs has passed their test, and now must battle the coming Enemy while trying to keep their mysterious new allies from destroying humanity.  Swarm is a fun filled action pack military science fiction thriller full of high stake battles, over the top characters and plenty of humor. Now, I’ll be honest, looking back at Swarm, there are just tons of head shakily inconsistent moments in the story, but the story is so damned fun, you don’t even think about them while in the midst of all the action. Kyle Riggs is a totally cool character, if you discount his flawed persona, ability to shrug off things like the murder of his children and his total superhero, Mary Sue-ishness. Larson writes with a "what the hell, let’s go for it" style that’s reminiscent of a train hopping a track and running into a truck full of fireworks in front of a car full of clowns. It’s just too over the top to be realistic, but crazy enough that I just didn’t really care if it made sense. Larson does a great job of making things explode, developing bad ass ways for robots to kill us and for us to kill robots, and filling his characters with a blend of testosterone, bravado and paranoia. Swarm reminded me of a less nuanced version of John Ringo’s Posleen War series, which is like saying a bunker buster bomb is a less nuanced version of a tactical nuke. Moving forward, I hope to see more character development, a deeper look into the enemies and allies Earth makes, a bit more tactical reason to the battle scenes beyond a "kill them all" attitude and female characters that serve as more than just the sexy conscious of the men.  Yet, I have no doubt I will be moving forward with this series.  Swarm is simple, escapist military science fiction fun. Don’t expect lots of depth, but do expect plenty of huge robotic sandworms killing off tons of enhanced super soldiers.

The positive thing about Mark Boyett’s performance is his no hold barred approach to reading Swarm. The negative thing about Mark Boyett’s performance is his no holds barred approach to reading Swarm. Boyett takes on these characters with an abandon which adds a sense of excitement to the production, but also forces a bad caricature feel onto many of the characters. In many ways, Boyett gave the novel a graphic novel feel, with his over the top accents and rapid fire pacing. I think his reading totally fit the book. There is no need to tone it down as Riggs and his boys are dropping nukes and fighting killer robots in the Amazon Basin. Yet, sometimes, particularly during the moments that were supposed to be Rigg’s introspective and emotional moments, Boyett’s style muted the emotional impact. Yet, those moments are pretty sparse, so we get quickly back to the fighting which Boyett delivers wonderfully. Swarm is a great audiobook for those moments when you just want to lean back, and listen to something explody and violent. Or, what I like to call, Thursday.

Audiobook Review: Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

21 12 2012

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Read by Todd Haberkorn

Brilliance Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Young Adult Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: Monument 14 is a whole lot of fun. It’s an Apocalyptic Breakfast Club, the end of the world as appears on The CW. You may not find a whole lot of hidden depths to the tale, but what you will find is a teenage apocalyptic fantasy that could be this generation’s version of Z for Zachariah.

Grade: B

When I was a kid I developed a lot of Post Apocalyptic Fantasies. For the most part, these fantasies revolved around what I would do when The Rapture came, and little sinful pre-teen Bob was left behind as his more godly family members went to heaven to be with Jesus. My first plan was to go to New Life Island, a Christian camp I spent many summers at as a kid. I thought it would be the perfect place to hole up during the Great Tribulation. First off, being a Christian Camp, it should be totally abandoned. There would be plenty of unused buildings and leftover canned supplies to keep me going for 7 years. Secondly, I knew a lot of great hiding places. So when the Antichrist and his legions showed up to put his mark on my right hand or forehead, I’d know where to hide. My second plan was basically to lock myself into a huge mall or department store. Now, as an adult I see the folly of this plan, but as a kid, particularly a poor kid, the mall, or Kmart was like an elicit heaven of things other kids had that we didn’t. The ability to gorge on non-generic brand cookies, or spend hours playing the high tech Atari 2600 game system would make the Apocalypse just fly by. I mean, hell, it’s the Apocalypse. Armageddon is at hand when Christ and his army will take it to the Devil. So, while Gog and Magog are being destroyed, and the Abomination of Desolation was taking place, I might as well have a bit of fun before being called before God to answer for all my youthful lusting and occasional swear word.

Dean was just a normal, quiet, unimposing kid who had a crush on the popular girl, was occasionally bullied, and spent much of his time writing in his journal. Then, one day on the bus heading to school, huge hail rains down, causing the bus to crash. Now, a group of kids hole up in a department store, locked in, as they watch the world start to come apart around them. Monument 14 was a fun, surface level Young Adult Apocalyptic novel that the 15 year old version of me would have absolutely loved. The older more mature version didn’t find it half bad. Emmy Laybourne writes in a pretty straight forward accessible style relying heavily of classic teenage caricatures. Amongst the cast of characters you have the popular girl, the jock, the mysterious new kid, the bully, and the young rebellious girl who wants all the older boys to find her sexy and while some of the characters are a bit underdeveloped, you can’t help but recognize them. The disaster set up is actually pretty well done and interesting. Along with natural disasters resulting from a huge Volcanic event, an accidentally release of a biological agent adds a unique spin to the tale. Another unique aspect is the inclusion of a group of elementary school kids that the older kids must care for. This provided a lot of humor and "oh so sweet" moments to the story as well as a bit of tension building annoyance. The story is told through the perspective of bookish Dean who serves as the perfect narrator for the tale, combining his teenage angst with the observational detail of a writer. You can’t help but want to cheer for the unassuming kid, while he pines for the girl, deals with the bully and just tries to survive and do the right thing. Monument 14 is a whole lot of fun. It’s an Apocalyptic Breakfast Club, the end of the world as appears on The CW. You may not find a whole lot of hidden depths to the tale, but what you will find is a teenage apocalyptic fantasy that could be this generation’s version of Z for Zachariah.

Until listening to the audiobook I had never heard of Todd Haberkorn. After listening, I discovered he is a rock star Anime Voice Over artist with a huge following. One of the hardest things for an audiobook narrator is to authentically portray children, particularly a large range of them. In Monument 14, Todd Haberkorn totally nails it. He brings the kids to life in a way that I think enhances the book. Haberkorn’s narration actually helps the book by assisting in the development of these characters. Each child comes alive, from the young twins to the Spanish speaking Ulysses, each one is voiced with authentic detail. Haberkorn gives the novel and almost cinematic feel. I swear there were times I forgot I was listening to an audiobook, and began expecting a musical montage scene of the group of kids cleaning the store, stocking shelves, and building up their sleeping areas. Yet, it wasn’t all fun and games, there were some tough, emotionally moments in this novel that Haberkorn handled with care. I had a lot of fun listening to Monument 14 and look forward to the sequel.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Zombie Fallout 3.5: Dr. Hugh Mann by Mark Tufo

20 12 2012

Zombie Fallout 3.5: Dr Hugh Man by Mark Tufo

Read by Sean Runnette

Tantor Audio

Length: 2 Hrs 42 Min

Genre: Zombie/Plague

Quick Thoughts: I really didn’t like Zombie 3.5, but luckily it is more of a background piece, creating a frame of reference for the history of the virus in the Zombie Fallout series. Plus, it’s short. So, even though I didn’t really like it, I say, if you are a fan of the series, go ahead and give it a listen. You may like it more than me and it does provide some interesting backstory on the virus and some of the characters.

Grade: C

So, I’m about to take a risk with my life, but, I have to be honest, I don’t think of Mark Tufo as a great writer. I think Mark is a great storyteller with an enthusiasm that bleeds into every word. I also believe that Mark is willing to take more risks than many other writers. One of the reasons Mark’s fans love him so much is that he writes for them, to tell them stories that he as a fan of the genres he works would love to read. He doesn’t hold back at all. If he decides that a brain sucking alien would simply just be awesome at this point in the story, then, some slimy green thing with brain sucking appendages will show up, damn the critics. This is something I like about Mark Tufo, but I also knew that it’s something that would eventually lead me to writing a less than stellar review of one of his works, because, in many ways, I like to think I’m a little like Tufo, and willing to write what I want despite knowing that it could lead to his legion of fans hunting me down and dismembering me. I think there is a great freedom with independent authors to simply write what they want to write. Those that do it well, and truly embrace their fans, dealing with them honestly and not just shilling at them, will find that genre fans are some of the most loyal people in the world. Yet, most writers will also tell you that not all ideas work, and more specifically, not all ideas work with all people. Sadly, this was the case for me with Mark Tufo’s Zombie Fallout Novella, Dr. Hugh Mann.

Zombie Fallout 3.5 tells the story of an early 20th century obsessive research scientist, who makes a discovery that captures the imagination of the public as well are the interest of shadowy governmental figures. Yet, when Dr. Hugh Mann realizes this this discovery could lead to tragic consequences, he must break out of his social awkwardness and figure away to keep a new deadly new weapon out of the hands of those who may use it. I totally appreciate what Mark Tufo was attempting to do with this story, but for me, it just came off kind of silly. Tufo’s patented humor and gift for the absurd is pushed to the extreme here, and some may enjoy it, but for some reason I was just unable to keep my head from shaking and my eyes from rolling. Listening to Dr. Hugh Mann reminded me of when your best friend finally meets your new friends and attempts to tell a really corny joke that just falls flats. You want to laugh to make it seem better than it was, but what you really want to do is hide in the bathroom and curl up like a baby. I also think that while the novella is positioned between Zombie Fallout 3 and 4, that people who have read book 4 probably would enjoy it more. I have yet to listen to Zombie Fallout 4, and some of the things that happen in this novella seems to play into a new plot thread that should be starting in that book. On the positive side, the middle of the novella, where the focus moves from Dr. Hugh Mann to his daughter, is much better and definitely provides a little more heart to the tale. Then, it sort of falls apart in the end with a segment at Area 51, but, that’s OK. Luckily, Dr, Hugh Mann is more of a background piece, creating a frame of reference for the history of the virus in the Zombie Fallout series. Plus, it’s short. So, even though I didn’t really like it, I say, if you are a fan of the series, go ahead and give it a listen. You may like it more than me and it does provide some interesting backstory on the virus and some of the characters.

So, Sean Runnette. He’s this guy that I know almost solely as the voice of Mark Tufo’s work. I see Runnette a bit like Michael Talbot, a bit goofy, a bit awkward, but he seems to get the job done. Runnette is best when he is bringing Michael Talbot to life, and since Michael isn’t a character in this isn’t the best way to experience Runnette’s work. Yet, he still manages to do a pretty good job with it. It’s obvious that Runnette knows and appreciates the world created by Tufo, and is able to consistently portray the characters, reminding you of their history. This is important for a background piece like this. Runnette manages to keep it feeling like a novel within this world, despite some of the overall weirdness of the story.

Audiobook Review: Mutated by Joe McKinney

19 12 2012

Mutated by Joe McKinney (Dead World, Bk. 4)

Read by Todd McLaren

Tantor Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 56 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Mutated is a great example of how a series can come together. For fans of this series, it’s like each previous novel was the wrappings and Mutated is the reward. A fun, furious Zombie tale with hidden depths and wonderfully flawed characters that Zombie and Apocalyptic fans shouldn’t miss.

Grade: A-

As we all know, the world is ending. You see, years ago, the Mayans had a crack team of astrophysicists, and experts on all sorts of sciencey whosumwhatsit, and used their vast stores of knowledge, with plenty of help from other worldly or extraterrestrial temporal drifters to make a calendar. Now, the Mayan’s were a frugal bunch, and didn’t believe in wasting anything from stone tablets to the entrails and marrow of their fallen enemies, and knowing through their calculations and hints from inter-dimensional Lizard Men exactly when the earth would be destroyed they saw no point in expanding the calendar past this date, Also, being stingy with their information, they decided not to actually write down how the world would end, knowing that exiled Nordic gods from Ragnarok would use that information to tip the balance between order and chaos. Now, we can only speculate to how the world will be thrown into chaos. Perhaps a global shifting of tectonic plates causing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Maybe a freakish alignment of bodies within our solar system will force the shifting of our polar axis leading to a reversal of gravity briefly flushing humanity into space. Or, just maybe, the Lizard Men will open a portal to an alternate dimension, allowing Cthulhu and the Great Old One into our dimension to snack on our souls. The only thing I am sure of is that it won’t be Zombies. That would just be ridiculous. Zombies are made up creatures, and authors have full license to do with them as they please, whether they walk or run, moan or speak, shamble or even drive a car, Zombies basically just need to be sort of deadish and it’s all good. Because, Zombie, unlike Lizard Men, only exist in fiction and won’t be responsible for the Mayan Apocalypse.

Mutated is the latest entry in Joe McKinney’s Dead World series, which, in my book, is one of the more comprehensive and unique look at a Zombie Apocalypse. McKinney examines his changed world through a series of interconnected Zombie novels and novellas, that, while each entry in the series stands well on it’s own, all come together to create McKinney’s true vision. In Mutated, McKinney takes us past the initial breakout, and the collapse of society, to give us the first true Post Apocalyptic look at his world. While some communities have managed to create strongholds, an army lead by a mysterious Red Man is ravaging the landscape, using the undead as weapons against the living. Ben Richardson has spent the years since the initial outbreak traveling the country collecting stories for the definitive book on the Zombie outbreak, acting as a passive observer. Yet, when he comes upon an old acquaintance in jeopardy, he gets involved. He discovers that this group, along with an immature young man they meet along the way, may hold the key to finding a solution to the zombie scourge. While Mutated works well on its own, it pulls together many tangents from the past books in a way that really pays off for readers of the series. The Dead World really stands out with it’s depiction of the evolution of zombies. Many books have tackled this angle, but few have explored it with such depth as McKinney. McKinney creates a brilliant parallel between the devastated land, with its abandoned buildings and empty cities and the very nature of the Zombies themselves. Also, the characters in Mutated are better fleshed out than in his other entries to the series. McKinney gets us right into the head of his characters, exploring their motivations and base natures of these people. His group of unlikely heroes are flawed and frustrating, yet together as a group, become greater than themselves. McKinney does a great job here with his action scenes, including a finale that will leave you breathless. McKinney pulls back for these scenes, giving us multiple perspectives, intricately choreographed so that these scenes aren’t just a record of what happened, but an experience you share with the characters. It’s wonderfully done, and a whole lot of fun. Mutated is a great example of how a series can come together. For fans of this series, it’s like each previous novel was the wrappings and Mutated is the reward. A fun, furious Zombie tale with hidden depths and wonderfully flawed characters that Zombie and Apocalyptic fans shouldn’t miss.

Todd McLaren continues his solid work on this series. He brings the right amount of saltiness to a wide range of characters, from militia members and older smugglers to the undead themselves. His performance of the Red Man is spot on, with a slurred mumbling voice that still manages to drip with venom. Yet, the best part of McLaren’s performance is his handling the grand choreographed scenes of battle against both human and zombie hordes. McLaren careful pacing and cadence brings the right amount of tension to the scenes, while still keeping them from getting muddled. McLaren shifts focus like McKinney, capturing the kinetic pace within the hordes, while describing the scenes from the outsider perspective with deliberate pace. Mutated and The Dead World series stands out in the crowded sea of Zombie Audiobooks, and the pairing of McLaren and McKinney once again proves to be an excellent team.

Note: Thanks to Tantor Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End by Manel Loureiro

18 12 2012

Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End by Manel Louriero

Read by Nick Podehl

Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 31 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: I think Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End has enough going for it that those who take infrequent forays into the zombie subgenre may enjoy it, but for those of is who true obsessive zombiephiles, it will seem like a pale copy of better tales of the undead.

Grade: C+

Despite what some may think, I don’t consider myself a Zombie expert. What I do think is that, comparatively, I am pretty well read within the Zombie genre, particularly within the Zombie Apocalypse aspect of the genre. This year, I have listened to 34 audiobooks where Zombies are the major theme, which make up a bit over 15% of my total reading. This doesn’t include a book like Leviathan Wakes, which has brief scenes involving vomit zombies, but is basically a space epic, or books like Gil’s All Fright Diner or Death Warmed over, where zombies is one of a pantheon of mythical creatures. The reason I bring this up, is right now, I am at the stage where I am sort of balancing my love of the subgenre, with the fact that I may have over indulged. With 2012 coming to an end, I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any really good Zombie and Post Apocalyptic novels before I started compile all my year end lists. Yet, I wanted something a bit different than the typical Zombie fare. I had a few Zombie novels coming up from series I enjoy, so the typical Zombie Apocalypse feel was covered. Scanning the many Zombie novels available on Audible, I ended up selecting two that I thought seemed unique. The first was The Reanimation of Edward Schuett, which I reviewed earlier and loved. The second was Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End. I choose Apocalypse Z for one reason. It was written by Spanish author Manel Loureiro and takes place in Spain. Ever since listening to Zombiestan earlier this year, I’ve been looking for Zombie novels with international settings. I truly hoped this would give the book an interesting twist over the everyday Zombie tale.

It starts with rumors of a strange disease in Russia, and then spreads into global panic. One man, a lawyer in a small coastal Spanish town, documents his struggles from the first days of the rumor, until the discovery that the dead are rising and attacking the living. Now this lawyer, along with his cat must travel through a devastated land looking for a place of safety.  Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End is a fast paced, Zombie journal style novel that fails to stand out amongst the wide field of the genre. There is nothing blaringly wrong with the story but for a writer declared a best seller in three countries, and the Spanish Stephen King, Apocalypse Z was a basic by the number zombie tale. I was hoping for something more with this tale. Despite its international setting, this novel both stylistically and thematically has a been there, done better feel to it. Its style is reminiscent of JL Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon without the military themes. There were things I did like. I like that the main character survived pretty much by luck, and maybe a touch of ingenuity. I like that that main character wasn’t some stoic Alpha male, but showed that the situation was devastating him emotionally. I like that the main character had a cat, and risked his life repeatedly to keep it safe. Yet, none of the things that I likes made up for the cookie cutter plot, or lifeless feel of the overall narrative. The Zombie mythology was pretty standard, the Post Apocalyptic situations uninspired, and while full of action, it came in dull waves instead of a consistent storm. While I appreciate the desperation that Louriero built into his main character, his thought process was often to scattershot and inconsistent to provide any sort of driving force to the book. Being that it was written in an almost blog like style, this internal inconsistence really hurt the voice of the character. Our main character couldn’t even decide what to call the zombies often switching his chosen name for them within the same paragraph. I think Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End has enough going for it that those who take infrequent forays into the zombie subgenre may enjoy it, but for those of is who true obsessive zombiephiles, it will seem like a pale copy of better tales of the undead.

Nick Podehl is a wonderful narrator, and as always brings the text alive with his voice. I have no complaints with his technical performance and I feel he did a great job capturing the emotional fragility of the main character. That being said, there was an obvious directorial decision that seemed to bleed the international flavor from the audiobook. While listening, I posed a question on Twitter about whether or not a narrator should attempt a Spanish accent for a Spanish character in a first person tale set in Spain. I got two interesting responses. While narrators and industry people seemed to believe that no accent is better than a bad accent, most novice listeners seemed to believe some accent should have been attempted. I believe there could have been a middle ground. First off, I have listened to plenty of Nick Podehl narrations and I believe he could have pulled off a consistent accented narrative voice that would have given the audiobook an international feel without being annoying. Also, there where other things he could have done, with the rhythms and cadence of his voice that could have captured that flavor even if he chose not to go with an accent. The way the novel was read, its setting was more Akron, Ohio than coastal Spain. The fact is, this novel was a journal written in the first person by a Spanish character, and Brilliance is a big enough company that I believe that if they didn’t think Podehl was able to give it this feel, then they could have brought in someone who did. This is why I don’t blame the narrator. I believe it was a directorial choice by the company. I believe someone thought that a Zombie fans wouldn’t embrace an audiobook read in a non-American accent.  And maybe, they are right. I hope not, but it’s a possibility I can’t ignore. Yet, I was disappointed. I found that my hopes for a Zombie novel with international flavor was instead just another zombie tale that could just as easily been set in the next town over from me.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Zom-B by Darren Shan

14 12 2012

Zom-B by Darren Shan

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Young Adult Zombie Outbreak

Quick Thoughts: Zom-B is a very uneven experience. It’s very much like witnessing a horrific accident, you really don’t want to keep looking at the carnage, and parts of it turns your stomach, but you just can’t look away. I didn’t love Zom-B. In fact, I’m not even sure if I liked it all that much, but one thing I do know is that when the next entry of the series comes out, I’m going to be all over it.

Grade: B-

There are few things as insidious as racism. I hear a lot about how this world is changing, how this newest generation is growing up in a world where the old racists ways of thinking are changing. Yet, racism is like a virus or insect, it adapts and changes and finds a way to linger. Racism has become more subtle, taking on a lexicon of code words and masks. I am a child or the 80’s when this transformation really started taking root. I grew up in a very open and accepting household when it came to race, but still had seen plenty of examples of more subtle racism. My church discouraged interracial dating, not because it was morally wrong, but because the societal pressures would be too hard for the couple, and the children of the union will face bigotry. Many people who believed this never saw the irony of these beliefs, that what they were espousing only contributed to the bigotry they were decrying. One of the effects of my upbringing, was I found it harder to spot true racism. The old school Archie Bunker style racist became like cartoon figures to me, a product of a time past and doomed to take the road of the dinosaurs. Later, when I encountered actual hard core racists, I was floored that people like this actually existed, and that they were open and blunt about it. Also, I saw how their beliefs influenced their children. Oh, the kids were more nuanced, but there were plenty of "between you an me" moments where they perpetuated the beliefs of their parents, just, in prettier words, and dressed up in discussions of things like "immigration." I have also seen plenty of good people struggle to break away from their parents belief system. People who strive to see the true motivations behind their beliefs. It’s not an easy fight, because, racism, like most insects, wants to survive, and it takes constant vigilance and self awareness to keep it at bay.

Zom-B by Darren Shan tells the story of B an English teenager whose father is a racist. When stories of outbreaks of zombies throughout the country hit the news, B’s father things it’s all some publicity stunt. Yet, when the bloody truth is revealed, and zombies invade B’s school, B must find a way to survive. I have to admit, I struggled a lot with Zom-B. There was a lot of stuff I really liked about it. Shan throws some interesting twists into his Zombie mythology, setting up the potential for some interesting scenarios in future editions to the story. Yet, not much of that potential is seen in the first book. Most of the book surrounds a group of kids, acting like pricks, getting into fights, and basically being unruly. These kids are almost proud of their ignorance, lack of motivation in school, and ability to act like a bunch of jackasses. Basically, these were the kids I hated being around in school. I can understand that some will find them kinda cool in that, we don’t give a shit about anything way, but, for me, I just found them to be totally unlikable. There were some things I thought were cleverly done, for instance the nicknames gave the prose an almost sing songy feel that was interesting. There where a few characters I actually liked, but they were all overshadowed by B, who I found utterly unlikable, even though I wanted to like her. Then, there were the racist elements to the story. I thought Shan did a good job showing both the cartoonish lout version of a racist as well as the more subtle, modern day, almost politically correct sanitized type of racism. B’s internal struggle to overcome her father’s belief system was fascinating, but I wish it showed more in her external actions. It was basically, “Oh, I really don’t want to be a racist like my dad. Hey, there’s a black kid, let’s harass him. That will make dad happy.” When the zombie action did come, it was hardcore, gory and fast paced. The final moments of the novel will leave your breathless, shocked and appalled, in equal measure. Shan does a good job setting up his finale, with jaw dropping moments and shocking reveals. Shan plays on your expectations and prejudices as a reader, then basically kicks you in the balls, whether you have them or not. All together, it’s a very uneven experience. It’s very much like witnessing a horrific accident, you really don’t want to keep looking at the carnage, and parts of it turns your stomach, but you just can’t look away. I didn’t love Zom-B. In fact, I’m not even sure if I liked it all that much, but one thing I do know is that when the next entry of the series comes out, I’m going to be all over it.

I really have mixed feelings about the audio version of Zom-B. Emma Galvin gives a simply wonderful performance. In fact, most of my experience with Galvin as a narrator had her taking on American roles, and I was pleased to see just how well she did with British characters. She has a wide range of character voices, and manages to make them all feel real. One of the things that I discovered was that a really talented narrator makes some of the racist elements of the story that much more jarring. It’s easier to write off some oafish racist jackass on the page, but when you hear the vitriol and emotion that a talented narrator can bring to a reading, it makes it that much more stomach turning. So, if I loved the narration so much, why the mixed feelings? Well, I actually had read about half this book before an unfortunate situation occurred and my bag containing this novel as well as my Nook was stolen.  There are certain aspects to this novel that just are not as effective in the audio format, which if I talked about more would be a major spoiler. This is why it is tough to recommend the audio over the print version. While you do gain an excellent performance, and Galvin’s work gives key moments that much more sting, you also lose something in the audio version. So, while I highly endorse this audio version, if you are struggling to decide between the print and audio, I say, go for both. Read it first, and then give it a listen. I’d be quite interested in your reaction.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.