Audiobook Review: Survivors by Z. A. Recht with Thom Brannan

6 07 2012

Survivors by Z. A Recht with Thom Brannan (The Morningstar Strain Trilogy, Bk. 3)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 12 Hrs 5 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Survivors is a worthy conclusion to the Morningstar Saga. It brings the ZA Recht’s stunning world to a strong conclusion. It is not a perfect novel, and definitely the weakest of the trilogy, but the crisp exciting ending, and the closing moments when we get to say goodbye to some beloved character easily make up for any issues early in the novel.

Grade: B+

I had only really started getting into Zombie fiction when my life transitioned, and I began consuming most of my fiction by audiobooks. I had always enjoyed Post Apocalyptic novels and loved Zombie movies since the first time I watched Night of the Living Dead as a teenager, but it wasn’t until I read Brian Keene’s The Rising that I discovered the fun that is the Zombie Apocalypse. One of the very first audiobooks I listened to was World War Z, and I enjoyed it, but I had enjoyed the book much more. At this time, there really wasn’t the wealth of Zombie fiction available in audiobook form as there is today. I had been aware of Permuted Press, but never read any of their titles because back then I rarely purchased books online. Then, one day, ZA Recht’s Morningstar Strain series came to audible, with the added bonus of being narrated by one of my favorite narrators, Oliver Wyman. I quickly purchased and listened to both the titles in this series, Plague of the Dead, and Thunder and Ashes. Over 20 hours of Zombie fiction for me to consume, no need to say that I was reveling in it. I enjoyed the mixture of zombie and military fiction, the many colorful characters, and a really big cliff hanger as book 2 came to an end. After listening, I quickly joined the forum run by ZA Recht, read the short stories and fan fiction, and interacted with fans, and the author. Sadly, only a few months after experiencing these works, ZA Recht passed away suddenly at the way too young age of 26. I was devastated by the news, believing that this kind man that interacted so passionately with his fans was taken from us way too young. Luckily, for his fans, Recht left behind enough in the form of notes and early chapter summaries that his world was turned over to a ghost writer, eventually revealed to be Permuted Press author and Editor Thom Brannan. It can easily be said he had big shoes to fill.

Survivors starts off just after the events of Thunder and Ashes, as out survivors are spread out across the decimated country. As one group is attempting to protect a scientist working on a cure from agents of a splinter government, another group, unknown to the first, is attempting to transport a key component for a potential cure through a zombie infested landscape. I’ll admit freely that it took me a while to get back into this tale. It had been nearly three years since I listened to the first two novels of the series, and since then I have listened to probably close to 100 zombie and post apocalyptic audiobooks. As the survivors were spread about, it took me some time to get my head back around the plot and characters of this world. In fact, I probably spent the first hour or two just reacquainting myself the characters and their situation. Eventually, it clicked in, and I found myself once again immersed in this world that Recht has created. Brannan does a good job pulling together all the pieces that Recht had placed on the board, and getting them moving in the right direction so they will eventually all meet up. There were definitely some early pacing issues, and a few scenes that didn’t feel like they were as fully explored as possible, but for the most part, I enjoyed where Brannan took the characters. Brannan took a lot of risks with this tale, showing the brutality of the world, by viciously killing off loved characters, and pushing many of our favorites to the edge. Survivors isn’t a pretty tale, where everyone we loved lives happily ever after, and it shouldn’t be. Yet, Survivors also managed to capture Recht’s dark humor, the outrageous characters that we have come to love, and even included a touch of romance. The final scenes were well orchestrated, and any pacing issues the novel had early fell away by the climatic scenes of the novel. There was a sort of bittersweet feeling to this ending. It’s hard to say if this was the book ZA Recht would have written, but, I think Brannon captured enough of the feel of the first two novels that ZA Recht would have been happy with how it turned out. Survivors is a worthy conclusion to the Morningstar Saga. It brings the ZA Recht’s stunning world to a strong conclusion. It is not a perfect novel, and definitely the weakest of the trilogy, but the crisp exciting ending, and the closing moments when we get to say goodbye to some beloved character easily make up for any issues early in the novel.

So, it’s no secret that I love listening to Oliver Wyman, particularly in books that are heavy with wonderful and diverse characters like Survivors. Yet, first off, I have to say I have noticed a continuing trend in his narrations that has me laughing every time I listen to him. I think he must have a bet with himself that for each time he has to say a term like “prologue” or “epilogue” he makes it just a little bit longer than the time before. So, the book opens with a “Proooloogueee” and closes with an “EpilooooooGA.” Now, in some ways I had a similar problem with Wyman’s narration that I did with the book. It had been so long since I listened to the first books that it took me some time to get back into the characters he was voicing. Every narrator has some stock voices, and when you listen to a narrator many times, sometimes previous character bleed into the ones you are listening to now, and it takes a bit of time to sort out. This is more of a listener problem that a narrator problem, and when things fell into place, I was definitely in the hands of a skilled storyteller. Wyman guides me through this tale with ease. Where his skills really shine though is the crazy, action filled, multiple perspective ending, where if the narrator doesn’t have control of his characters, the story could become all muddled. Yet, Wyman’s precise delineation, memorable characterizations and crisp but not rushed pacing allowed the action to come through, and made it easy for us listeners to see what was happening. Survivors closes out this trilogy, and places a fine end cap to a promising young writer’s career who left us far too early. ZA Recht is missed.

 

This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” Series.





Audiobook Review: Pavlov’s Dogs by Thom Brannan and D. L. Snell

8 05 2012

Pavlov’s Dogs by Thom Brannan and D. L. Snell

Read by Jonathan Davis

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 3 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse with Werewolves

Quick Thoughts: Pavlov’s Dogs has a lot of good things going for it. It’s a unique story with a fascinating scientific tint that does a good job assigning a pack mentality to genetically altered Soldier-wolves. Yet, uneven character development and plotting had me struggling to become fully engaged in the tale. Yet, if you are looking for a different take on the Zombie Apocalypse, with tons of action and werewolves, well, let loose the Dogs of War.

Grade: B-

I’m a huge fan of the versus. Throw one little word between two awesome things, and somehow it makes it even better. Peter Clines did it with his Ex series, placing the versus between Zombies and Superheroes. Marvel has done it especially well, particularly when placing that word between Wolverine and The Hulk. This is the reason I was instantly interested in Thomas Brannan and D.L. Snell’s Pavlov’s Dogs. It’s no secret that I love zombie literature. Heck, I am dedicating an entire month to in honor of Zombie Awareness Month. Yet, my fandom of Werewolves is much more tenuous and unknown. I have enjoyed stories involving werewolves. I enjoyed Al Sarrantonio’s Moonbane, where apocalyptic wolf creatures fall from the moon, and Glenn Duncan’s gritty, often disturbing The Last Werewolf was brilliant. Heck, George is my favorite character in the original Being Human, and I love the werewolf aspects of that series. Yet, beyond that, I haven’t explored the Lycanthrope mythos in fiction much beyond the occasional appearance in some urban fantasy series, like The Dresden Files. So, a novel where we have Zombies, werewolves, and that word versus thrown in between these two killer monstrous staples, well, I believe I may have been legally required to check this one out.

On his Island Compound, possibly unstable Dr. Crispin has developed genetically altered werewolves with cyber controls that may just change the way we wage war. Then the apocalypse comes in the form of the ravaging undead. While safe in their island bunker, Dr. Crispin butts heads with Donavan, the new head Neurotechnician over whether to use the "Dogs of War" to save any survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse. While they fight, two friends, Ken and Jorge must try to lead a band of Survivors to safety while fighting off the infected. Brannan and Snell do a lot of thing well in Pavlov’s Dogs. The science behind the Werewolves, as well as the social structure of the pack is fascinating, and the author’s ability to shift and change the narrative often had me surprised and impressed with the story. Their ability to set up often overused literary stereotypes, manipulating the reader into engaging their preconceived notions, then smashing them created some interesting twists and turns throughout the tale. Yet, sadly, I had trouble fully engaging in the tale. There are a few reasons for this. I feel that a few of the characters were developed well, yet, many are underdeveloped, and then suddenly are thrust onto you as a major player in the tale. This was often problematic because there is no true main character in this tale, and I never felt I fully got to grasp onto any of the key players. Sure, I liked them, and often cheered for or jeered against them, but I never truly understood their motivations, or could truly justify their actions with the type of people I believed them to be. Also, while the focus on the Werewolves, and the internal power struggles of the island was well done, the other aspects of the stories, from Ken and Jorge’s travels, and the actual Zombie Apocalypse, felt a bit glossed over. There were things hinted at and implied about these aspects of the story, that I was hoping would get further explored, yet never were. Pavlov’s Dogs has a lot of good things going for it. It’s a unique story with a fascinating scientific tint that does a good job assigning a pack mentality to genetically altered Soldier-wolves. Yet, uneven character development, and plotting had me struggling to become fully engaged in the tale. Yet, if you are looking for a different take on the Zombie Apocalypse, with tons of action and werewolves, well, let loose the Dogs of War.

Jonathan Davis is a veteran narrator who I have listened to plenty of times in the past. I have found his narration to be hit and miss and Pavlov’s Dogs is definitely a hit. I think one of the tougher things for a narrator to do is to take on a novel with a diverse ensemble cast, and Davis pulls it off here with ease. I loved his interpretations of many of the characters, particularly to more defined one like Dr. Crispin or Jorge. In fact, I found his performance of Jorge to be a highlight of the reading, balancing the characters emotional journey with his biting wit in a way that caused me to wish the authors gave this character a bit more screen time. As with any tale full of action, pacing is key, and Davis found just the right rhythm to deliver the action scenes in a crisp visual manner. If you decide to check out Pavlov’s Dogs, I highly recommend you do it in audio. While I had some issues with the book, the audio production was top rate and highly listenable.