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: Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff

7 09 2012

Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff

Read by Stephen R. Thorne


Length: 1 Hr 41 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection is a production that is definitely worth a listen. It’s a quick and dirty slice of the Zombie apocalypse that fans of the genre should have a whole lot of fun with.

Grade: B

I really don’t know the history behind the whole "found footage" style of storytelling. I know my first real experience with this style was The Blair Witch Project. Blair Witch came out when I was in college. I remember heading down to The Ritz in Philadelphia during its initial limited run not really knowing what to expect. Now, remember, I was young and impressionable back than, and easily manipulated by the machinations of the big screen. Basically, what I am saying is this movie scared the crap out of me. While intellectually I knew this was just a movie, it felt real to me. Now, I am much older and wiser now, and have experienced the dog crap that is known as Blair Witch 2, so, no longer can the "found footage" style manipulate me so blatantly.   Sure, I saw and loved Chronicle but, I never had any problem keeping my sense of reality. I am beginning to think the whole Diary/Blog style of novels is the literary counterpoint to "found footage." Diary style novels take a step beyond the traditional first person POW, stripping away another level of reality so it seems that we are reading the actual words written by our main character. It’s a fun style when done right, but sort of obnoxious when done poorly. Yet, I think there is a reason why these types of stories sometimes don’t translate to audio very well. I think it’s because narrators are often too good. Sometimes, it seems the audiobook is too flawless, like they hired a professional studio with a trained actor to bring their diary to life. This is because, well, that exactly what is happening. Yet, in Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff, AudioGo attempts to truly bring the found footage style to Audiobooks.

Caught in the midst of an outbreak of a necrotic infection, Dr. Robert Twonbly, a hematologist from Seattle, records his flight from his laboratory to a community in North Canada and his attempts to avoid the zombies that now pestered the land. His recordings, made on a hand held recorder, and his journal are eventually discovered by Canadian officials and are one of the few first person accounts of survival amidst the chaos of the initial zombie outbreak. I found Zombies to be fascinating on many levels. The story itself will not break much new ground. It is a basic Zombie Apocalypse survival tale told in a first person stream of consciousness style. The story itself is notable for two things. First, I found the probably cause of the outbreak, a food additive that made foodstuff more desirable, an interesting twist. Second, the author does a good job showing the mental deterioration of the main character due to the high stress situation.  This is the second found footage, false document style Zombie novel I have listened to recently, and while I enjoyed the scientific slant of The Zombie Autopsies, Zombies had a much more human story. There is definitely a real sense of dread and despair to this story. It emotional manipulations are often obvious, but affective. In essence, if you are looking for some groundbreaking spin on Zombie literature, you won’t find that here. What you will get is a quick fix of zombie mayhem, told in an intriguing style. It’s basically, just enough zombie fun to keep the hardcore fan sated. 

The true payoff of the experience is the style of the audiobook. Adapted from a graphic novel, the production has a lot of obstacles to overcome. The biggest negative to the whole production is that you don’t have the illustrations. I highly recommend that you obtain a copy of the original work as a supplement to the audio production. What AudioGo does here is impressive. They create a true "found footage" feel with this production. The audiobook is not pristine, there is often background noise, low res hissing, and clunking sounds, like you would expect to hear when listening to something taped by a crappy little recorded. Narrator Steven R. Thorne does a good job giving the production a real feel as well, stumbling over his words, sighing and sometimes cutting off his own recording. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it is authentic enough to be worth the distractions. It really is one of the first effective translations of this style to the audiobook format. Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection is a production that is definitely worth a listen. It’s a quick and dirty slice of the Zombie apocalypse that fans of the genre should have a whole lot of fun with.

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

This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” Theme. Click on the image below for more information.

Audiobook Review: Dead Tropics by Sue Edge

20 07 2012

Dead Tropics by Sue Edge

Read by Cynthia Barrett

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 9 Hrs

Genre: Zombie Outbreak

Quick Thoughts: While Dead Tropic has a pretty standard Zombie Outbreak plot, its unique setting and kick ass heroine gives it just enough edge to stand out in a crowded field.  Edge creates some incredibly cruel situations for her survivors, forcing her heroine to make decisions that will frustrate, thrill and shake the emotions of the readers. Sadly, the narrators inability to engage with the text blunted the visceral nature of some of the more graphic scenes of the novel.

Grade: B-

It’s been a while here since we talked about Zombies and my various rules that I make up seemingly haphazardly as I listen to or read zombie books. Recently I listened to Sue Edge’s Dead Tropics and it really tickled that little part of the brain where I think about the Zombie Apocalypse and the many things that will kill you when the dead start to walk. I think this was at first brought about by the fact that my first rule of surviving a Zombie Apocalypse is to stay as far away from hospitals as possible. Yet, in Dead Tropic our main character, Lori Nelson, is a nurse and the initial uprising begins in the hospital she works at. So, simply put, she’s kinda in a shitty situation to begin with. Yet, listening to Dead Tropic led me to realize that one of the biggest causes of death in a zombie outbreak will be the entirely implausible nature of the danger. The main character of Dead Tropic found herself in many situations where her telling others that there was a zombie uprising actually made it harder to get people to react. Honestly, if some crazy women came running into your place of business screaming that zombies are coming, would you believe her? Despite the fact that I am an aficionado of Zombie literature, I don’t believe a zombie uprising will ever actually occur, and this disbelief in the potentiality of the situation could kill me. There were times when Lori had to basically fudge the truth, for instance, instead of saying zombies, she would say infected, violent or bad people. Yet, I know I would react differently if I thought there were some bad violent people heading my way, instead of zombies. So, here’s my latest zombie rule, inspired by Dead Tropic. Families and loved ones should come up with what I call an "Oh, Shit" code word, a word that says, "Take what I am about to tell you absolutely seriously, even though it sounds crazy." So, if the zombies are coming, or aliens are invading, or sentient robots are stealing all our canned food, the use of the word can cut through all of the "Yeah, you’re just kidding, right" hesitation, getting your loved ones moving to your apocalyptic bunker, with their cans safely locked away from grabbing robotic hands.

Dead Tropics for the most part is a pretty, by-the-numbers zombie outbreak novel, yet with a few twists. First off, Edge sets her zombie outbreak in the tropical climates of Cairns, Australia. Now, I am no expert in Australia, but the mixture of Tropical swamps and other natural settings with the urban landscape of a medium sized city gave the book an interesting feel. In Edge’s Zombie apocalypse, traffic and retail shopping centers are just as much of an encumbrance to our heroes’ survival as are bogs and crocs. For someone who lives in the infinite squall of an American big city suburb, I found the tropical setting a fascinating wrinkle in this survival tale. Yet, the true aspect of Dead Tropic that pushes it past just another Zombie Outbreak novel is its protagonist. As I was listening to the novel, I was a bit surprised to realize that I couldn’t think of another zombie novel where the main character was a mother. It’s really strange. I can think of plenty of father’s in that role, yet, when I think of female leads in zombie novels, many are kick ass, capable, strong women, yet, none of them were mothers. Now, I found Lori Nelson at times to be frustratingly controlling and prone to take stupid risks, qualities that annoy me in characters of any sex, yet, she was also one of the more compelling, motivated and resourceful characters I have read in zombie fiction. In all honestly, some of the situations that Edge puts her character in is simply cruel. Some of the decisions required of her were so brutal I physically flinched from them, yet Lori always responded to the situation. Now, she didn’t always act in what I would consider the smartest of ways, but, what person would in this situation. Edge does a decent job creating an interesting group of survivors, particularly the women and younger characters. Some of the peripheral male characters where a bit underdeveloped and I found myself struggling to remember just exactly who they were at times. Edge’s actions scenes are pretty crisply drawn and well choreographed, yet they also caused a few pacing issues, where the transformation in tone was so abrupt that I found myself having to rewind a bit, fearing I missed something. My only other complaint about the novel was the romance. I personally found it a bit forced, relying too much on Lori’s inner dialogue, yet, let’s face it, I tend to find most romantic subplots, particularly in zombie novels to be forced. I guess I’m just not much of a romantic, particularly when I am being chased by the cannibalistic walking dead. So, while Dead Tropic has a pretty standard Zombie Outbreak plot, its unique setting and kick ass heroine gives it just enough edge to stand out in a crowded field.  Edge creates some incredibly cruel situations for her survivors, forcing her heroine to make decisions that will frustrate, thrill and shake the emotions of the readers.

I had high hopes for Cynthia Barrett. I know, these are words that critics often use when before bashing someone’s work, but here, it’s actually true. As I started the book, I loved the tone of her voice. I’m a bit tired of the young, perky Soprano voices dominating among female narrators. Barrett has a husky, exotic tone that is both beautiful and unique. Yet, tone, no matter how rich, isn’t enough. I never felt Barrett engaging with the text, and it lead to me not engaging with it at times as well. Barrett’s reading isn’t exactly monotone, but it lacks emotional affect on any significant level. Dead Tropic can, at times, be brutally graphic, but her straight reading took a lot of the edge off the visceral nature of the situation. Barrett read scenes where Lori was forced to shove a knife through the eye socket of a zombie child, like she was explaining how to properly thread a crocheting needle. Now, you could argue that anyone would have an almost shocked coldness to them during a zombie outbreak, but her reading just didn’t ring true to the character for me. To me, this was more of a straight reading than a performance, and I felt that that choice did an overall disservice to the narrative.  While the audiobook was listenable, if you have a choice, I would recommend the print version over the audio.

This review is part of my weekly, Welcome to the Apocalypse series.