Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Young Adult Zombies

28 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

While Zombies have been around for centuries, they are currently hitting the mainstream in a big way. Zombies are not just for adults anymore. Young Adult authors are using zombies of all shapes, sizes and speeds to tell their stories, and they aren’t holding back on the darkness and gore. Today I have asked some of the Top Young Adult authors some questions on Zombies and Young Adult Literature.

Today’s Participants are:

Ilsa J. Bick Author of The Ashes Trilogy.

Darren Shan, author of the Zom-B Series.

Sean Beaudoin, author of The Infects

Growing up in the 80’s most of the Young Adult Novels I read were about Chocolate Wars, being The Cheese and becoming Invisible (So, yeah, I went through a Cormier phase) Today, it seems there is so much more diversity in Young Adult novels. What do you thing makes Zombies so interesting to today’s youth?

Ilsa J, Bick: I’m not so sure they’re more or less interesting today than they were in the past. These kinds of books were around for us, but they were marketed to adults. (Remember: the Borg of Star Trek: TNG are really very much the same thing when you get right down to it; they even walk like zombies–either that, or goose-stepping Nazis.) I think YA writers today have more freedom to write the stuff that kids might want to read. What we churn out, though, is really no different than anything you could’ve read in science fiction and fantasy (the YA lit of my day) or horror. It’s only that kids don’t have to read about adults in these situations; they get to read about themselves saving the day.

Darren Shan: I was (and am) a big Robert Cormier fan too! I’m actually trying to do some of the same things in my Zom-B series that he did in his books — encourage young readers to question the received wisdom of their elders, to think for themselves, to fight for a better and less cynical and manipulative world. I just do it with a bit more blood and gore! To be honest, I’m not sure why zombies are so hot at the moment. While interesting stories can be woven around them, as monsters I do find them rather one-dimensional, so I’m surprised by just how fascinated the mass market currently is with them.

Sean Beaudoin: Well, zombies were pretty interesting to me in the 80’s too. Don’t forget Evil Dead (evil book), Re-animator (evil scientist), Return of the Living Dead (punk rock/evil army experiments) and the original Dawn of the Dead (evil mall). I think everything is cyclical. There was plenty of demented violence in the comic books I was reading then. The technology is just better. Z in HD.

When writing for Young Adults, how do you approach the darkness and gore of the world of a Zombie Apocalypse differently than if you were writing for Adults?

Ilsa J, Bick: I don’t approach it differently at all. Nothing I write is more or less gory than an episode of The Walking Dead, a graphic novel, or the latest shoot-em-up video game. When I include a traumatic or horrible detail, it is to reinforce that actions have consequences. Pull a trigger, someone may died, and while it’s a horrible thing to see, it may, in fact, be more horrible to do.

The main difference, I think, between adult and YA lit is that these stories provide kids with a vicarious avenue for grappling with seemingly insurmountable odds–an awful, ravaged world–and winning, surviving, and doing the right and noble thing. All you have to do is think of the end of Matheson’s I am Legend to see the difference. One is nihilistic; a YA novel is likely to be much more hopeful. It kind of has to be because, at a certain level, what you’re really writing about is the scary transition from childhood to adulthood: to the moment when the kid works up the courage to walk out the door of his house into the wider world.

Darren Shan: I don’t. I learnt long ago (to my surprise) that when it comes to gore you can get away with an awful lot in YA books. Adult watchdogs aren’t that bothered about violence in books for teenagers — they tend to only really object if sex is brought into the equation. Personally I think it should be the other way round, and that in a truly healthy society we would be more concerned about our children’s obsession about weapons and fighting than in their interest in sexual curiosity. But this is the world in which we live, so when it comes to writing for young readers I have to be careful on the sexual front, but have a pretty free hand when it comes to the darkness and gore. That being said, as dark as my novels for young readers get, I do handle them differently to my books for adults, in that I try to introduce moral elements. For instance, I never condone the use of weapons. I always encourage readers to engage in conversation before relating to violence, pushing the message that most problems can be solved peacefully if we can engage openly and directly with those who we see as our enemies – although  in my books, for dramatic reasons, this rarely happens! There is a clear line between good and evil in my YA books — while I don’t hide the darkness of the world from my readers, I do always say to them that it’s a darkness they can light up if they have the courage and the drive, that they can make the world a better place if they’re prepared to knuckle down and be better people than their elders.

Sean Beaudoin: I pretty much write exactly what I was going to write anyway and for some reason they keep publishing my stuff. I don’t write specifically for any age group. Some study just showed that 50% of people who buy YA novels are adults anyway. My new book, Wise Young Fool, definitely pushes the envelope. I’m sort of still half surprised I haven’t been arrested yet. But that may just be because it isn’t out until August.

What popular singer or hit TV series cast would you most enjoy seeing facing down a horde of carnivorous undead?

Ilsa J, Bick: NCIS: I want to see Leroy Jethro Gibbs and especially ex-Mossad operative Ziva David kick some undead butt.

Darren Shan: Singers and actors are harmless. I’d like to put Simon Cowell up before
them. Soulless puppet masters are the ones we should be wary of in this life, not their eager-to-please puppets.

Sean Beaudoin: I would love to see Ted Nugent quickly run out of ammo and then be eaten by a busload of zombie Girl Scouts. As far as TV, it wouldn’t bother me at all if a ravening hoard gorged on that Millionaire Matchmaker chick.

What aspects of today’s youth do you feel makes them better suited to surviving in a Zombie Apocalypse over us ummm…. older young adults?

Ilsa J, Bick: To be honest, I don’t think they’re well-suited at all. Most kids spend their entire lives these days staring at teeny-tiny screens and texting madly instead of having an open-ended conversation. They have no ability to sit quietly and do nothing, or notice much of anything that isn’t fed to them through earbuds or on a computer. Many have the attention span of gnats. A couple nights ago, there was some special Jeopardy for college kids, and while these guys knew about YouTube and songs, they had no idea what latitude and longitude were. So they’ll be both lost and starving. The only thing going for kids today is they might be faster, but only if they occasionally get off their butts and go for a walk or ride a bike. Otherwise, I think they’re dead meat.

Darren Shan:They are creatures of hope. I’m no benign hippy. I know children can be even crueller and more heartless than their older counterparts. But they also have a capacity for change that a lot of us in the greying brigade lack. Countless generations of children have grown up to make the same mistakes that their elders have, becoming money-driven, self-obsessed, planet-harming monomaniacs. But I keep hoping that coming generations will find a way to break the cycle and take us in a more positive direction. A zombie apocalypse could be beneficial in the sense that if the slate is wiped clean, maybe the young can build a better world out of the ashes of the old. That’s a concept I explore in Zom-B.

Sean Beaudoin: I don’t think teenagers believe anything any more, which is greatly to their advantage. Twenty years ago we all still were sort of under the impression that The Authorities would show up at any given disaster and take control and save our collective fannies. At this point any smart 17 year old knows you gotta make your own contingency plan, gas up the mini van, steal a few pallets of canned beans, and head for the hills. Let the walking appetizers stand there crying and bitching because the zombie cops haven’t shown up yet.

Most of characters in your novels are embroiled in some stage of a Zombie Apocalypse, spending each day fighting for their lives. What type of lives do you think they would have had if instead, they lived in a zombie free world?

Ilsa J, Bick: Well, if you’ve read my books, then you know my guys were haunted from the get-go. I’m not convinced their lives would be any better. In fact, in a couple cases, I think having to focus their angst on an apocalypse saved them.

Darren Shan: This isn’t actually the case. Without giving too much away, in Zom-B there are two types of zombie — the standard, braindead type, but also a small band of living dead teenagers who have regained their mental faculties (albeit while still needing to eat brains to survive). These are the central characters of the series. I wanted to look at what it would be like if you became a real monster, and if it’s possible for human kindness to exist in even the most unlikely of places. For some of these characters, the zombie apocalypse is actually a weird sort of blessing, as it forces them to become better (undead) people than they would have been in ordinary life. In a nutshell, the main message of the series is that there’s hope for every single one of us — even those of us who for whatever reason find ourselves strewn among the seemingly damned…

Sean Beaudoin: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that Nick wasn’t having the greatest life. But I think everyone feels that way at his age. I certainly did, and so did everyone I knew. Anyone who seemed too pleased with their lot was probably spending too much time with the airplane glue. It’s possible that is one of the themes of the book, if I believed in themes: there’s really not that much difference. Survival is relative, but the love of a girl in steel toe’d boots is eternal.

Thanks to Ilsa, Darren, and Sean for stopping by. Look for more Zombie Roundtables this week, plus reviews of Zom-B City and The Infects.

Audiobook Review: Zom-B City by Darren Shan

28 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zom-B City by Darren Shan (Zom-B, Bk. 3)

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Young Adult Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: In Zom-B City Shan does what he sets out to do. He gives us a dark tour of Zombie infested London while putting B in place for the next part of this tale. While not as impactful as the first two novels, it’s a logical next step in the series.

Grade: B

One of the things that has really attracted me to apocalyptic fiction is the idea of being alone in a city. I think cities are beautiful things, full of classic architecture, distinctive small businesses and a strange blending of history and modernity. Sadly, it’s also full of people. Nice people, mean people, cold people and warm people, they populate the streets and buildings like some parasitic pest seeking to get in your way, buy the last newspaper and, on rare encounters, force you to engage in sociable activities. I always remember that opening scene in 28 Days later where hero wakes up the hospital then walks out into London nearly bare assed to witness an empty city. As a kid I used to have all sorts of last man on Earth fantasies, where I could do anything, steal anything and drive crazily down the street in any car I could find. It was an introverted poor kid’s fantasy. Of course, I could worry about things like a lack of electricity, hygiene issues, clogged roads and wild dog packs, this was my fantasy and dammit, I was going to play Atari, watch PG13 and R movies and gorge myself on pizza and cheesesteaks that would magically appear to me. It was a great fantasy, and honestly, it didn’t always end at my childhood. Occasionally, I still think it would be cool to roam empty streets, sneak into restricted areas, walk the Art museum in my underwear, try on the Philly Phanatic costume, attempt field goals at Lincoln Financial Field, and, maybe in a slight variation of the term Last man, get cheered on wildly by the Eagle’s Cheerleading squad. Hell, it’s my fantasy.

In Zom-B City, B has now escaped the Underground government facility and gets her first glimpse of the changed world. Stuck in apocalyptic London with little information, she travels to her home, encountering other Zombies, strange survivors and empty streets along the way. While the story really doesn’t progress much in Zom-B City, Darren Shan gives us a dark tour through his changed world as he gets B acclimated to the new environment. Zom-B City seems like a bit of a set up novel, a chapter in an ongoing story instead of some complete narrative. Shan offers us a lot of cool things, giving us more information on how the Zombie outbreak has changed the world, and begins to offer us new factions who may or not come into play down the road. There are even some strange darkly humorous moments, including a painter chronicling the apocalyptic visions he encounters for some mysterious purpose, a religious alien conspiracy group who believes they have survived because of their faith in our celestial saviors, and a group of Zombie game hunters. Shan does a good job showing just how much the landscape can change in a brief amount of time. It’s frustrating that few of our questions are answered, and the one sequence that does seem on point is a bit of a rehash of past scenarios, but Shan does give us some clues and a few small reveals about B and her role in the apocalypse. While I enjoyed Zom-B City, the continual piece meal style of storytelling is making me want to wait until there are a few more editions completed before further exploring this world. I like the directions Shan is going, but not sure I have the patience for the episodic storytelling style, even with the relatively short time between entries. Shan does what he sets out to do. He gives us a dark tour of Zombie infested London while putting B in place for the next part of this tale. While not as impactful as the first two novels, it’s a logical next step in the series.

Emma Galvin continues her excellent work in the Zom-B series here with Zom-B City. She gives B the perfect edgy sarcastic British tone, full of urban grit and young adult insecurities. Being that much of this story involved B touring the city alone, this is a less dialogue intensive book, but she does a great job developing B’s distinctive inner voice. The few other characters that do appear are well done. I enjoyed her soft take on the young Apocalyptic painter, and her righteous craziness of the Zombie cultist hit all the right note. Again, Shan ends the tale with an almost dreamlike finale of horrors, and Galvin captures the hypnotic pacing perfectly.  There are still quite a few more chapters to go in this tale, and I’m quite interested in seeing what’s next.

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

Audiobook Review: Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan

8 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan (Zom-B, Bk. 2)

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable.

Grade: B

Note: Zom-B Underground is the 2nd Book in the series, and this review may contain spoilers for Book 1. You have been warned. And mocked, but mostly warned.

There has been a recent trend with me in my Young Adult Scifi and horror reads where a protagonist will totally annoy the craphole out of me in Book 1 and when I reluctantly pick up Book 2, I find that they have actually grown on me for some reason. I find this odd, because in adult fiction, I tend to find second books in series and trilogies less satisfying then their prequels. So, I was trying to figure out if this was something in the nature of Young Adult novels that has me react this way. Now, I’m a man who’s closer to 40 than 14 so my perspectives are different than that of most of the target audience of these books. I think at the core of Young Adult novels, particularly the types I read which tend to be Apocalyptic or Dystopian tales, there is an element of rebellion.  I think, often in YA debuts, the rebellion is either internal or intimate, striking out against the established beliefs of your close circle or family, and when we move away from the first novel, the rebellion becomes more external, and broader. I think, due to my place in this world, I find  that the initial rebellion against parents or guardians tends to come off bratty, based on some misconception of the world but when they strike out against the establishment, whether it be a corrupt government or just the overall world view, they become more reasonable. In Zom-B, there was an added elements, B just seemed to want to strike out against anything, because she was unable to strike out against her father. In a way, her anger was reflecting her establishment, buying into the world view of a racist father. Her rebellion was selfish based in weakness and she became more of a bully projecting the abuse of her father onto those beneath her. In Zom-B I found her not just unlikable, but reprehensible, almost bordering or irredeemable at a gut level. I find this is rare in YA because much of the development is based on the fact that these younger characters can break away from their upbringing and their mistakes can be redeemed. Now, despite my reaction to B, or maybe because of this reaction I was quite interested in where the author was taking the series.

After the turbulent ending of Zom-B, B is now a Zombie. Yet, something about her is different. During an encounter with a group of Zombie fighting teens, she has an awakening, no longer a moaning shambling zombie, but aware. She finds she is part of a strange experiment involving an anomalous group of aware walking dead. Yet, information is sparse and freedom a pipe dream, and B finds herself at the mercy of people she doesn’t trust. So, I found Zom-B Underground a much more enjoyable listen. Here, B is still a flawed character, but now her hatred and vitriol is turned towards more deserving people. I like that Shan is showing a reasonable transformation in B. She hasn’t instantly become a better person, but you get the feeling she is honestly trying. It’s definitely a help that she’s away from her father, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of him. I actually found the story itself quite original. While I felt its predecessor had more gut punch shocks and twists, Zom B Underground had enough small, well executed twists that despite the obviousness of some of them, there were enough to keep the reader on their toes. As far as down right creepiness, Underground wins by a land side. Its crazy finale is filled with some twisted, Acid Trip style horror images that really, I didn’t need in my brain. Let’s just say their may have been spiders involved. And a clown. Well, all sorts of creepy. Shan continues to build a nice little mythology, giving small reveals here are there, but not even coming close to filling out the whole picture. Where Zom-B left me thinking "Hmmmm…" Underground pushed me more into the "What the holy hell is going on and what exactly is wrong with this man for putting these images in my tidy little brain?" category. Did I mention the clown and his twisted accessories? *shivers* My only complaint is that each small book so far in this series feels more like a chapter in a larger novel than a complete work able to stand on it’s own. There is an almost serial feel to the Zom-B series and if that is something that frustrates you as a reader you may want to wait until a few of the books are available before jumping into the pool. Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable. I was sorta interested in seeing where Shan was going to take us in Zom-B Underground, now WANT BRAINS THEN ZOM-B CITY NOW!

Emma Galvin is just a fun narrator, whether she’s using an American or English accent. Here she’s busting out the English accent to bring this story to life. Here accent is relatively soft, but authentic sounding. She brings the wide array or characters to life. She really manages to capture both the brash, in-your-your face external Becky, while also showing her insecurities in her internal dialogue. This struggle is really the essences of the first two Zom-B novels and Galvin delivers it beautifully. She also really ups the pacing, alternating between some dreamlike horror sequences with some fast paced action without missing a beat. Some of the issues with the prequel, where twists that come into play in print just couldn’t be delivered affectively in audio, are no longer and issue, making audio an ideal medium for this story. Zom-B Underground was a quick, fun, and all sorts of creepy listen that had enough thrills for adults, both young and well, not so young.

Note: Thanks to Hachette 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.