Audiobook Review: Fiend by Peter Stenson

16 07 2013

Fiend by Peter Stenson

Read by Todd Haberkorn

Random House Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 3 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: While Fiend wasn’t what I would call a pleasant read, it is a fascinating character study set within an intrigue apocalyptic vision. These are characters you loathe to cheer for, and along the way, there is very little to cheer for anyway. Despite my discomfort with the characters, it is a novel I am glad I listened to.

Grade: B

I try not to be a judgmental person towards people who engage in self destructive behavior. I have had my own self destructive behaviors in my life, and everyone deals with vice on some level. Yet, I have never understood how people get involved in hardcore drug use. Now, I understand using alcohol and some recreational drugs to escape, or simply to have some mind-bending fun. Popular culture is full of examples where being just a bit under the influence is fun. Yet, I have trouble seeing the appeal of things like heroin and meth. I struggle to think of one example of person, real or fictional, whose life was improved by the use of heroin or meth. Understandable, I am quite unfamiliar with the culture. I have never partaken in any drug in more than a casual manner, particularly any illegal and potentially addictive drug. I have read too many books, sat through too many "evils of drugs" lessons to see the appeal. For me, warnings about the dangers of hardcore drugs is like the Miranda Warning, our popular culture is so inundated with these warnings that I have very little sympathy for people who overlook them. I should be compassionate. I should accept those commercials telling me that opiate addiction is a disease. I just can’t not think about that first moment, when they are offered heroin or meth and the future addict thinks, “Hey, what could go wrong? One little snort… I’ll be fine." This seems like me buying the family pack of Nacho Cheese Doritos, believing I will only eat one chip. Ain’t gonna happen. An hour later my fingers will be stained orange and the side of my mouth will burn with nacho related abrasions. So, I can really see no reason why anyone would ever consider even starting the life of the meth enthusiast. That was until I learned it could keep you from becoming a zombie.

Chase Daniels is living a life of regret. He spends his days high on meth, ostracizing his family, and missing the girl he loves who is now with another man. When he sees a girl tearing into the stomach of a dog, he believes it’s just a drug induced hallucination. When the girl attacks and his friend kills her, he’s ready for a life on the run or figuring a way flip on his friend to the cops. Yet, it’s not a hallucination. The very thing that has ruined his life has now seemed to save it. Now, Chase has a chance to be a hero, save the women he loves and start a new life in the ruins of this world… right after his next dose. Fiend is a disquieting spin on the Zombie apocalypse, where only the dregs of society, those addicted to meth have survived. Peter  Stenson has populated his book with characters so despicable and self centered you can’t even call them anti-heroes. This is no glorification of drugs or drug culture, but a no holds barred apocalyptic vision where the cure may be worse than the cure. I can’t say I particularly liked listening to Fiend. It was fascinating and unique, but also uncomfortable and disturbing. When I first discovered the concepts behind this book, I expected it to be stereotypical white trash characters, from crappy homes whose only escape was through the use of hardcore drugs that now have a chance to rise above. That would have been the easy path to take. Yet, Stenson doesn’t go for the easy road instead he throws every obstacle in his way. Chase seemed to have every opportunity to become a well adjusted person. Supportive parents and a girlfriend who shared his problems but was seeking to better herself. Yet, Chase seemed to lack any sense of self awareness. He constantly deluded himself, blaming others for decisions he made, becoming indignant when people made the correct assumptions about his behavior. Any trip filtered through the mind of a person like Chase cannot be easy, yet add in a Zombie apocalypse, and the road gets much more bumpy. For hardcore Zombie fans, the flesh eating, zombie mayhem is relatively minimalistic. The undead serve more as a catalyst to force the characters into certain situations. Yet, Stenson does create a claustrophobic dire Zombie scenario that should appeal to fans of psychological horror with a tint of monster. While Fiend wasn’t what I would call a pleasant read, it is a fascinating character study set within an intrigue apocalyptic vision. These are characters you loathe to cheer for, and along the way, there is very little to cheer for anyway. Despite my discomfort with the characters, it is a novel I am glad I listened to.

I was a little hesitant about Todd Haberkorn as narrator of fiend. Haberkorn has a smooth, professional youthful sounding voice. He is a prime example of a smooth highly skilled voice over artist. Yet, I wasn’t sure if that is what Fiend needed. When I picture meth addicts, I picture gruff, gravely people who take little pride in themselves and their abilities, and not smooth talking voice over talent.  I worried that Haberkorn may be too good for this novel, too professional. Yet, in the end I think Haberkorn was a good choice. Chase was young, and I think if Random House went with a gruffer, more gravely narrator like Kevin Stillwell you would have lost some of the youthful naiveté that was essential to the character. Haberkorn totally captured the petulant, delusional whininess of Chase, and handled the peripheral characters well. He even got the chance to break out a soft British accent along the way. His pacing of the action was top notch, keeping us immersed amidst the seemingly inescapable zombie hordes. Overall, Fiend was a compelling listen, and if you are looking for a unique take on the zombie apocalypse full of psychological suspense, Fiend definitely fits the bill.

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





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.