Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Permuted Press Authors

31 05 2013

Zombob2ZAM_thumb

2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Most people would agree that the majority of zombie novels are less about the masses of flesh eating reanimated corpses, and more about the people left behind having to deal with flesh eating reanimated corpses. Today I’ve asked Three authors from Permuted Press, one of the top publishers of Zombie and Apocalyptic Fiction, about those lone Survivors in the new dead world.

Today’s Participants are:

Derek J. Goodman, author of The Reanimation of Edward Schuett.

William Todd Rose, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People.

Jessica Meigs, author of The Becoming Series.

What characteristics do you believe makes someone potentially more likely to survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

Derek J. Goodman -  I think it’s tempting to assume that the number one characteristic someone would need in a ZA situation is survival training or skills, and I don’t really think that’s wrong, but most importantly I would say the key characteristic is adaptability. Someone would have to think on the fly, especially if the characteristics of zombies turned out to be different than everyone expected them to be. People would need to be able to expect the unexpected and then adjust accordingly on a moments notice. People who couldn’t accept what was happening or think they could stay their same static selves no matter the situation wouldn’t last long.

William Todd Rose: I think the most important characteristic is the indomitable will to survive. In this type of scenario, the majority of the people you’ve ever loved or cared about are dead; society has fallen and every day is a grim struggle for survival. The things you once took for granted — food, shelter, water, and such — are now as precious as rare gems once were. Continued existence would be bleak and grueling, so there would have to be something there, a little spark, which made you want to keep on going despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

Jessica Meigs: Despite the fact that I’ve loaded my books in the Becoming series down with main characters who have military or law enforcement experience, I’ve never really believed that those are fully necessary to survival in a zombie apocalypse scenario. To me, the best characteristics that anyone can have in the zombie apocalypse are adaptability; levelheadedness; a willingness to learn, listen to, and work with other people; and a drive and a reason to live. Regardless of what training you may have, I think if you’re missing any of those key elements, you drastically increase your chances of dying in the apocalypse.

As a consumer of Zombie entertainment do you prefer stories about characters that are well prepared for an apocalyptic event, like zombies, or characters that are ill prepared, yet manage to find some way to survive?

Derek J. Goodman:  I don’t find much interesting in a story about a person who knows everything that’s coming, unless maybe you’re trying to play it up for laughs. Good drama comes, I think, when a character is put in a situation they weren’t ready for and you learn whether or not they have it in them to become more than they thought they were.

William Todd Rose: I personally like the ill-prepared characters. In one of my novels, The Dead & Dying, I actually contrasted these two types of characters in one of my protagonists, Carl. He was a character who’d always secretly wished for an undead apocalypse like he saw in the movies; he thought he had his contingency plan and knew exactly what to do. When it went down for real, however, he found that life doesn’t always imitate art; this man who thought he was prepared for the final days turned out to be just as unprepared as everyone else.

Jessica Meigs: I think of the two, I definitely prefer the latter. Most zombie stories I’ve read that involve the survivalist types who always predicted that zombies would come and are supposedly well prepared for such an event are the types of stories that read like Max Brooks’s Zombie Survival Guide: like a field guide rather than an interesting story about people. I’ve read so many stories, including a very popular series, that were highly reviewed and ranked, yet read like an instruction manual: "I did x, then I did y, then I did z, and I did it all in the following way…"  And it seems to always work out perfectly for the main character because he followed steps x, y, and z and never doubted himself or encountered anything he couldn’t handle. To me, that is incredibly boring. There’s no cause and effect, no drama, no real crisis for the character, just rote step-by-step.

Considering the world we currently live in, where people are entertained by the notion of zombies but the general population has the idea that something like that would never actually happen, I think it’s much more realistic to have novels where the characters are ill prepared–because the majority of the general population wouldn’t be prepared for something like that. I think the shock and awe effect, the scramble as characters try to figure out what’s going on and what to do to in order to survive, make far more fascinating stories than the borderline step-by-steppers.

As a writer, how do you balance a character having the necessary skills to overcome the odds of  zombie outbreak with creating true human responses to such an unbelievable event?

Derek J. Goodman: I’ve seen some writers that have a tendency to write characters that, when they are prepared and skilled and know what they need to do, that means the character is stoic and doesn’t get affected by the bad things going on around them. That’s fine at times, but personally I think it gets boring when you see it too often. Even if a character knows what they’re doing, I like to find something humanizing about them, maybe something that throws them off their game. The hardass likes puppies, the smile-less killing machine once lost a little sister and this situation reminds them of the car wreck that killed her, etc. There’s always a way to fit something like that in there and do it without making it feel forced.

William Todd Rose: A lot of my characters are flawed and damaged people. They’ve been changed by the things they’ve seen an experienced and, as such, have moments of weakness. Sometimes, they reach the end of their ropes: they don’t want to go on, they feel as if they reached as far into their reserves as they can. So it really goes back to my answer to the first question: they have to push through the shock, grief, and post-traumatic stress and continually get their shit together to keep on living.

Jessica Meigs: I think this is the point where I start referencing my books.

As I’ve said before, the ill-prepared storyline is something I favor more than any other. In my series, starting with the novel THE BECOMING, I use the character Cade Alton to show that, while you might have a skill set that would theoretically prepare you for such an event, that doesn’t negate any human responses you might have. In the first novel, I introduce Cade Alton, who is one of the series’ four major characters; Cade has a background that would, you’d think, prepare her to survive just about anything: she spent seven years in the IDF, training and performing as a sniper. However, just because she had a background that was thoroughly steeped in the military (and not only military, but in a country’s military service that allows women on the frontlines), that doesn’t prevent her from making what, in hindsight, are incredibly stupid, incredibly HUMAN mistakes. Indeed, when the Michaluk Virus reaches Memphis, Tennessee, and her infected boyfriend attacks her, Cade doesn’t jump into action and immediately fight back. She doesn’t utilize the skills she spent seven years learning immediately. Instead, she freezes. She panics. She goes into total reactionary, break-down mode until she’s FORCED to take control when her best friend cracks. She isn’t able to just whip out a pistol and shoot her boyfriend in the head, because it’s her BOYFRIEND. It’s someone she loves. The thought of killing him does not immediately cross her mind. This is, indeed, only human. At that point, Cade had never faced anything like a zombie in her life. No one had. So when she freezes up, it’s because she can’t process what she’s seeing: no one could. It’s only through the rest of the series that you see Cade come into her own and become a force to be reckoned with (especially in The Becoming: Under Siege, which is currently being written, and the untitled fifth and sixth books).

Ultimately, it’s a very careful balancing act to take a highly skilled character and keep them human. Some writers, I think, are seduced by the skill set of the character, and as a result, they tend to focus on those skills at the expense of human reaction and human emotion. I try my absolute best not to do this (though I have no doubt that, at some point, I’ve probably slipped up somewhere), because I find the human experience and human psychology to be by far the most fascinating part of apocalyptic stories.

While the humans tend to take center stage, in many novels zombies are more than just the catalyst for a human story, but characters themselves. We’ve seem  novels from the Zombie point of view, Voodoo Zombies, Demon Zombies, Zombie Private Investigators and Zombie gangs. Are there any aspects of Zombies as characters that you wish were more explored? Conversely, are there any aspects about Zombies that you feel have been played out?

Derek J. Goodman –  I would like to see more of an idea of zombie culture. Whether you keep them as fairly brainless or upgrade them and give them emotions, there has to be something in there that drives them, even if its just holdovers from when they were alive. I haven’t seen a whole lot of that out there yet and think some amazing things could be done with it. As for things I’m tired of, could we please get past the idea that the question of fast or slow zombies is important? Why are we still fixating on this? We can do so much with the concept of zombies yet we’re stuck on this endless debate about their speed. It’s played out. Let’s examine something else about them.

William Todd Rose: Personally, I love to read authors who do new and interesting things with their undead characters. There can be a lot of back and forth about what does or doesn’t constitute a zombie and, to me at least, those arguments get old very fast. As authors, we should be stretching our imaginations and trying to find new ways to look at the genre. Why would I want to limit my own creation by imposing someone else’s preconceived definitions upon them?

Jessica Meigs: I love, to some extent, the idea of a story from a zombie’s point of view. It’s why I have an entire chapter in The Becoming: Revelations from a character’s point of view as they go through the transformation from human to one of the infected.

However, I think that, barring some exceptions, the zombie point-of-view idea is something that should be used sparingly at the risk of overdoing it (especially after the popularity of Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion). There’s only so much a reader would be able to stand of graphic descriptions of a zombie eating flesh from the zombie’s point of view.

As for aspects about Zombies that have been played out…I think in zombie lit, the biggest thing that has been played out would probably be the J.L. Bourne-style novel or the Z.A. Recht-style novel: heavy on the military tactics, light on characterization. Bourne and Recht did it well, but they were also some of the first. Since then, I think, a lot of (not all of, just a lot) stories that take that same storytelling bent have done it to the point where it’s so overdone, it’s like reading the same novels over and over. It hardly ever changes. I think if you’re going to do something from that perspective, it’s time to bring something new to the table, because the whole of the Military Zombie Book style has been overdone.

All of your books feature unique characters that you not see in other examples of the Genre. If it was not for the zombies, or the events that put them where they are in your story, what kind of life do you thing your characters would have had?

Derek J. Goodman -  With most of the characters in The Reanimation of Edward Schuett, since it takes place a whole generation after the Zombie Uprising, they probably wouldn’t exist. Rae especially, since she’s the daughter of two known zombie killers and they probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. Edward is the only one who could have gone on to a different life. I picture him having the so-called "average" life, watching his daughter grow up, probably losing his job when the factory where he works downsizes, starting up a moderately successful small business of his own, then going on to retire to a life of fishing and dying of a heart attack at some old age. That’s probably a life he would have much preferred than what he got.

William Todd Rose: Bosley Coughlin, my time travelling protagonist in The Seven Habits, would have continued on just as he always had, I think. The most important person in his existence would have continued to be himself and he would have eased his way through the rest of his life without ever knowing a true connection to another living soul. Would he have eventually given up his regime of drugs and the occult? Probably not. He would have continued to search for something he couldn’t quite define and yet simultaneously run away from it as well.

Jessica Meigs: This is such a hard question, because I have trouble thinking of my characters in that way. I’ve toyed with ideas like this in the past, but considering the circumstances I’ve stuck them in in the Becoming series, it’s hard to envision them outside of those circumstances. I’ll do my best, though, and focus on just the main four: Cade Alton, Ethan Bennett, Brandt Evans, and Remy Angellette.

I think Ethan and Cade would have both definitely stayed in the domestic, suburban-style lives that they were living (and enjoying) in Memphis at the beginning of THE BECOMING: living next door to each other, socializing, just generally enjoying their lives and having fun.

Brandt and Remy, though, are a little harder to figure out. Both of them were on downward spirals in their lives prior to Michaluk: indeed, when the virus broke out in Atlanta, Brandt was…well, I won’t say where he was physically, but emotionally he was in a difficult place. His child had died, his wife had left him, and he’d joined the military at twenty-six to get away from his life. But then several months before the Michaluk Virus broke out in Atlanta, his parents had died, and he was struggling to help his younger sister Olivia complete medical school at Emory. There was very little left in his life for HIM, and I can imagine that he’d probably have descended into alcoholism at the first available opportunity. He was, in summary, very much emotionally damaged. The apocalypse, I think, gave him purpose, especially after he’d met Cade.

As for Remy, well, I can definitely say that, if not for the zombies, she’d have ended up in jail. In fact, as we’ll come to see, on the day the virus hit her home city of New Orleans, she had just been arrested and was in a holding cell–and not for the first time. Her life was in a drastic downward spin; she almost compulsively did things that would get her in trouble and screw up her life. Even after the zombie outbreak, this didn’t stop. If anything, I think Remy displays some sociopathic tendencies (such as her single-minded pursuit of the infected to the point of recklessness) that are really going to come into play the further along the series goes. But I like to think that this makes her a much more interesting character because of it. 🙂

Thanks to our participants. Check out Permuted Press for more Apocalyptic, Horror and Zombie novels. You can click on the images above to find my reviews of these audiobooks.





Audiobook Review: The Becoming: Revelations by Jessica Meigs

31 05 2013

Zombob2ZAM_thumb

2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Becoming: Revelations by Jessica Meigs (The Becoming, Book 3)

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 12 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Becoming: Revelations is a strong finale to the trilogy, giving us a completed story yet setting us up for future explorations of the Michaluk plagued world. Meigs creates compelling characters and thrust them into a devastating world, allowing them to show their cracks. With each new edition, the world of The Becoming becomes more and more intriguing.

Grade: B+

One of the things I try to do each Zombie Awareness Month is to provide tips and tricks for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse based on my in-depth experience of listening and reading other people’s stories.  Yet, I feel like I have neglected one key crucial demographic, the Zombie Apocalypse Bad Guy. Not everyone will be a plucky survivor looking to stay alive while struggling with the moral quandaries of the new situation. A few of you may turn out to be one of the many varieties of human scum that will plague the Wastelands, and you too will need tips on Survival. Yet, how do you know if you are a bad guy? Well, if your Zombie survival strategy is to outrun other Survivors, you are a normal human. If it’s to kneecap other survivors so the hordes get to them first, you are probably a bad guy. Do you have a pit of Zombies pets that you use to threaten your fellow survivors with? I’m leaning towards Bad Guy. If your idea of an Engagement Ring is a dog crate and handcuffs… Total Douchebag Bad Guy. Bad Guys can also include Mad Scientist performing experiments on the living, crazy dudes with armored Zombies, Scumbags who rob women and children and leave them on the side of the road, and anyone who’s Post Apocalyptic Soundtrack is a mixed tape with Kenny G and Nickleback on it. So, as a bad guy, you may get a crazy smart idea, like, “Hey, let’s kidnap the good guy’s girlfriend and make him come to us.” This is a classic Bad Guy ploy. Suggestion though, not all women are easily kidnapped and held. Try to avoid kidnapping say, bad ass former IDF snipers, because if you do, it will probably be you who needs to be rescued.

The Becoming: Revelations is the third book in Jessica Meigs Becoming Series, and the one that closes out the first main arc of the series. After the events at the close of Ground Zero, the survivors of The Michaluk Virus are holed up in a safehouse licking their emotional and physical wounds. When a mysterious enemy kidnaps one of the group, it sets off a series of events that reveals deep secrets that goes back to the very origin of the virus. With Revelations, Jessica Meigs has moved her series more into Mira Grant territory, full of science and twists on the typical zombie tropes. While still full of adventure and plenty of zombie action, Revelations is less about surviving the rise of undead and more about adapting to the changed world. So much Zombie fiction deals with the here and now, and Revelations has enough of that in it to make any thriller fan happy, but there is a real look to the future that offers very interesting avenues for exploration in future editions that you may not get in the typical zombie survival tale. One of the main thing I have liked about Meigs writing is her ability to show true tension filled human interaction in a highly stressed situation. At times her characters act like real assholes to each other, yet there is an unmistakable bond there even within the more contentious characters. Even the romantic subplots are murky enough, full of confliction and a concern for the future, to feel more than just some kissey kissey in a sea of death. Meigs doesn’t take it easy on her characters, showing us at any point in the story one of our favorites can be taken off the board with little or no warning. At points, I questioned her main antagonist. Her decisions seemed so scattershot, so illogical that I felt she was too unbelievable and questioned why anyone was following her. Yet, I shouldn’t have doubted Meigs. She created a reasonable explanation for her badies actions that was much more than a Bond villain monologue. She even managed to make us feel a little sympathy for the cold hearted bitch. At times it felt like Meigs was playing the worse game of chess in the world, scattering all her pieces across the board, then attempting to find some way to bring them all together. Luckily, she managed to pull it all off, bringing things together for a strong climax. The Becoming: Revelations is a strong finale to the trilogy, giving us a completed story yet setting us up for future explorations of the Michaluk plagued world. Meigs creates compelling characters and thrust them into a devastating world, allowing them to show their cracks. With each new edition, the world of The Becoming becomes more and more intriguing.

I think it says a lot for the narrating skills of Christian Rummel that I just listened to two of his audiobooks in relative proximity to each other and didn’t suffer any sort of cognitive dissonance wondering why a Battlecruiser Captain was fighting Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Atlanta. Rummel again brings his strong characterizations and spot on pacing to Meigs Apocalyptic world. He has a strong grasp of these characters, although I did feel Ethan had a bit more of a country twang than I remember in the first two novels. This, of course, probably better suited the character, and further helped delineate him from Brandt, which was something I remember struggling a bit with in Book 1. Where Rummel really shines is in all the mayhem and craziness of the climatic scenes. Meigs packs a lot of emotional punches into the mix of action and zombie mayhem, and Rummel finds just the right balance to deliver these moments. I have grown to really enjoy these characters, even when they totally frustrate and annoy me, and much of the credit goes to the excellent narration skills of Christian Rummel. Now, we must wait and see where they all go next.





Audiobook Review: Zombie: A Love Story by Patricia Lee Macomber

30 05 2013

     Zombob2ZAM_thumb

2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zombie: A Love Story by Patricia Lee Macomber

Read by Chet Williamson

Crossroad Press

Length: 3 Hrs 54 Min

Genre: Zombie Romantic Comedy

Quick Thoughts: Zombie: a Love Story gives new meaning to the term Zombie Road Trip. It is what a good romantic comedy should be, a tale of epic love with a few surprises and plenty of laughs.

Grade: B

The great urban poet, Meatloaf once declared, "I will do anything for love, but I won’t do that." Now, I am not exactly sure what THAT is or why a man would willingly choose to be called Meatloaf, but this concept always leads to an interesting moment of self evaluation…. What exactly would I do for love, and what is MY that. Honest answer, I have no friggin’ clue. Despite the fact that I am quite clever, write excellent Facebook statuses, and am slightly lumpy and awkward looking but not a total train wreck, I am still single. In fact, I scoff at romance novels and movies mostly due to a total inability to buy into them due to an egregious lack of similar life experiences. Sure, I have people who I love, and women who I thought maybe someday I could quite possibly feel an increased level of affection for, but shockingly, I am not much of a romantic.  Now, I am willing to do many things for people I care about. I put up with family members eccentricities and neurosis and act supportive. I spend my weekends when I could be out boozing and whoring with people who I feel deserves my time. I slip my dog an extra meat stick when he looks cute and scratches my leg as I am attempting to write reviews. Yet, a love that defies death, I am not so sure about that. In all likelihood, if I become a Zombie, no matter how much I believe I care about you, I will probably care more about sampling your tasty innards, than professing my undying love in a final grand gesture. Maybe I’m a pragmatist, or maybe I have just yet to meet the right undead girl.

After an accidental exposure to a toxic substance at his job in the New York City subway, Paul Trembley died, only to wake up hours later in the morgue. Now, with his flesh rotting, and unable to properly communicate, Paul must attempt a cross country drive as his mental faculties begin to deteriorate, in order to express his love for his girlfriend and women of his dreams, Linda. This is if he can avoid car jackers, cops and his desire for raw meat. Zombie: a Love Story gives new meaning to the term Zombie Road Trip. It’s a funny undead trip across the country, all in the name of love. Patricia Lee Macomber has created an epic love story that may border on the edge of saccharin sweet, yet the aftertaste is more than covered up by the human flesh. Paul and Linda are the kind of couple that you groan to be around, full of inside jokes, special songs and shared memories, yet, on some level, deep in that secret spot in your soul where you admit to maybe tearing up a bit during the Forrest and Jenny scenes during Forrest Gump, you envy. While the story pushed the edges of slapstick, the humor comes in retrained waves instead of flung into you face. I think my favorite moments came with the outsider perspectives, with Paul’s best friend Matt attempting to explain to the cops about his dead best friend, or the police attempting to justify the image of good guy Paul with that of a cannibalistic killer. It all should be over the top, but it’s not. it’s just a good dose of fun, with some lovey dovey moments. I especially like that Macomber didn’t go for the straight out of Hollywood, romcom ending, but had some moments of emotionally brutality that you just didn’t expect. While everything is wrapped up in a cutesy manner, it still worked, and matched the tone of the book. Zombie: A Love Story is what a good romantic comedy should be, a tale of epic love with a few surprises and plenty of laughs.

Chet Williamson handles the narration for Zombie: A Love Story and gives it just the right feel. His deep voice takes on a whimsical feel that managed to make Paul’s earnestness and Linda’s positivity shine through. He does a good job showing Paul’s mental decline, allowing us to follow his increasingly scattershot thought process. Williamson allows the humor to shine through without trying to sell it, but just letting it come naturally. Matt’s slow surfer dude draw at times seemed a bit like a stereotypical Cali dimwit, but, being that Matt was a bit of a stoner, it fit well enough. There was one moment, where a character was referred to by the wrong name, yet, it’s hard to say whether this was a narrator mistake, or an editing slip in the script. Outside of that, the production was excellent, and made for an enjoyable listening experience.  

Note: This title was provided for me for review by Audiobook Jukebox’s Sold Gold Reviewers Program.





Audiobook Review: The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

29 05 2013

Zombob2ZAM_thumb

2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

Read by Nick Podehl

Candlewick on Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 47 Min

Genre: Young Adult Zombie Outbreak

Quick Thoughts: Infects is an often bizarre, Pop-punk rock infused outbreak tale told at a kinetic, almost MTV Pop Up Video style that leans to the absurd. Author Sean Beaudoin offers a refreshing change of pace Zombie tale that somehow injected life into a subgenre looking to keep itself alive. Love it or hate it, The Infects is one heck of a rockem’ sockem’ audiobook experience.

Grade: B+

I have never really put much thought into what I eat beyond does it taste good, and how much of it can I jam into my facehole. Not surprising, I have spent my life firmly on the larger side. I would say that I have been battling my weight most of my life, but really, I haven’t put any significant effort into the battle until recently. Yet, I still eat mostly prepared and processed food stuffs, in between my fresh fruits and vegetables. As a single guy, I much prefer soup in a can or food in a box, than the elaborate preparations of home cook meals. I’ve never thought much about what these foods could do to me. Sure, I understood blood pressure and weight and the like, but what about the preservatives and taste enhancers they include. Could this food actually be changing me on a genetic level, pickling my insides, or injecting brain consuming prions into my gray matter?  Probably. Yet, now, maybe I have to worry about it changing me into a ravenous zombie. Damn. I know a well balanced meal included Cheerios, toast, milk, juice and bacon, but do I also need to ask for a side order of melee weapons? This is why I have begun to avoid fast food. Not because of the artery clogging goodness, or water retaining salty deep fried potato sticks, I mean, honestly, if we are going out, might as well do it with the leftover remnants of a Baconator hanging off my beard. My issues is, when the delicious fast food does send a chemical into out brain stems, turning us into cannibalistic monsters, I really don’t want to start off by snacking on the lean veal of a small child gripping onto their Rug Rats Crappy Meal toy, nor do I want awkward pre-tweens, getting their retainers lodged into my hindquarters as the bite into my quarter pounder with cheese.

Ever since being abandoned by his mother at the mall with his sister, Nick has decided its better just not to care about anything. He spends his days at school or raising his sister and often impaired father, and his nights working at the local chicken processing plant, pining for the attention of Petal his punk perfect wannabe girlfriend. Yet, when a destructive incident in the mysterious blue room at the chicken plant has him sentenced to a juvenile camp, Nick believes he has lost it. Now, on a nature hike with a bunch of delinquents, and hearing the voice of The Rock in his head, Nick finds himself in the midst of a strange outbreak of chicken borne illness that when infected, leads to some quite zombie like behavior. The Infects is an often bizarre, Pop punk-rock infused outbreak tale told at a kinetic, almost MTV Pop Up Video style that leans to the absurd. Full of commentary by The Rock, delinquent profiles, Zompocalypse rules and other almost bonus material segments, The Infects is a Quentin Tarantino meets Simon Clark hybrid that readers will either love, or totally despise. Luckily, I fell in on the love side of things. The Infects was nothing like I imagined it would be. In fact, the opening segments dealing with the bizarre Blue Room and the chicken plant was maybe just a bit beyond me, feeling at times as if it was written by Chuck Palahnuik with a head injury. I thought Nick was a great character, and my favorite part of the story was his relationship with his possibly autistic sister. The story itself was a bit scattershot at times. I think there were things Beaudion did that came more from his love of the genre tropes, his desire to be different, and due to his twisted sense of the absurd that were funny, fresh and added much to the experience, but maybe didn’t always serve the narrative. Personally, I didn’t mind that, but I think others may nitpick plot holes, get frustrated with side tangents, and get so caught up with some internal inconsistencies in the story, that they miss the broader appeal of the novel. In fact, at times listening to The Infects was closer to watching an episode of Robot Chicken than The Walking Dead. Yet, there were so many times I laughed, or reveled in a twisted Zombie Trope, strangely dated reference made hip and bizarre alternate history spin on pop culture, that any weakness in the plot was more than willingly overlooked. The Infects was a refreshing change of pace Zombie tale that somehow injected life into a subgenre looking to keep itself alive. Love it or hate it, The Infects was never boring.

The Infects offered a lot of challenges for its translation to audiobook form and luckily they had a narrator with the skills to pull it off. Nick Podehl really impressed me here. At the start, I thought maybe this production would be a bit too absurd for even Nick Podehl to save. I initially hated his voice for Amanda, feeling she felts a little too much like a man trying to do a young girl’s voice. Yet, by the end, that was my favorite part of his performance. Podehl nailed the rhythms of Amanda’s broken awkward speech. I have to say, I was a bit fearful that Amanda would turn into the magical autistic kid who saved the day through some quirky skill, but I thought both Beaudoin and Podehl perfectly captured the malleability of an autistic diagnosis. Then there was The Rock. At first, I didn’t think Podehl sounded like The Rock at all, but when I accepted it as The Rock as he appears in Nicks’ head, I loved it. In fact, The Rock consistently made me laugh more than anything else in this book. Podehl handled all the side trips, strange additions and added materials perfectly, turning what could have been a total disaster of a production into something truly fun to listen to. The Infects, despite it’s challenges, was a heck of a rockem’ sockem’ audiobook experience.

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





Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Young Adult Zombies

28 05 2013

Zombob2ZAM_thumb

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

Zombob2ZAM_thumb

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: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

25 05 2013

Zombob2ZAM_thumb

2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Read by Mur Lafferty

Hachette Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Grade: C

One of the most interesting, often repeated ideas in urban fantasy is the idea that past horror and fantasy greats weren’t actually fiction writers but recorders of a secret history unbeknownst to the public. That authors like Lovecraft and the Brother’s Grimm were chroniclers of events that the so called true histories neglect. I often wonder if years in the future, some apocalyptic surviving remnant of humanity will discover our fiction and believe that we actually lived in a time where Vampires were into sparkly S&M and wizards roamed Chicago yelling incantations and blowing up electronics. I wonder which of out authors will be looked upon as the secret histories of out time. Yet, most importantly, there is a small part of my brain that wonders which of my favorite authors are actually chronicling the mysterious magical undergrounds that some sort of mental block on us normal modern citizen prevent us from seeing. Have our earthquakes and other natural disasters been covers for horrible magical battles among the Fae and humanity, told the likes of Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire? Are there Vampires and Werewolves running around small southern towns that only Charlain Harris can see? Is there a mysterious town called Derry where Clowns and spiders haunt the lives of little children? Is the strange and twisted mind of Chuck Wendig truly just a reflection on the world we live it? God I hope not. Now, I know the likelihood that any of these authors are doing anything more that telling us stories that were planted into their genetic memories by some ancient Saurian aliens species who seeded human life among the stars, but part of me can’t help but wonder what if. What if their stories are real? What if our ancient Lizard benefactors didn’t actually mess with Stephen King’s brain? Yeah, I know, the idea is ridiculous.

After leaving her last job due to a disastrous personal relationship with her boss, Travel writer Zoe moves to New York City. In search for a new writing job, Zoe meets a strange group of individuals who seem reluctant to hire her despite her obvious qualifications based solely on their belief that she wouldn’t fit in. Yet, when she finally pressures the owner, she discover’s the staff is entirely made up of monsters of legend and they are writing a travel guide for monsters. The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. I just never really connected with the characters and the world author Mur Lafferty set up. There were some really fun and funny moments, yet it was all filtered through a very unlikable character in Zoe. Zoe came off to me as entitled and pretentious. She seemed to get up in arms when people seemed to talk down to her, but often did the same thing to those around her. It was hard to feel any sort of righteous anger for this character. While some of the other characters, particularly the Zombie coworkers and some of the minor denizens along the way where fun, the majority of the major characters fell into a range between bland, and down right annoying. John the incubus was a pushy sexual predator enabled by his coworkers because it was just part of his nature and when he would get caught with his hand in Zoe’s cookie jar, he got a few tisks tisks then was actually still forced onto her by her coworkers regularly. Zoe’s main love interest happened to also work for Public Works which protected humanity from monsters, yet was incredibly inept and ignorant, and tended to act impulsively, creating more havoc with occasional breaks to condescend to Zoe.  And, of course, Zoe was the oh so special outsider who shows up just in time to save the minority monsters from their own selves and some outside bad guys. All of these criticisms seem harsh and I don’t feel are in any way what the author intended, but it was how it sat with me. I don’t think this was a bad book, it just lacked depths in the things I tend to enjoy in urban fantasy. Zoe’s training was sort of just glossed over, and yet she managed to become the most competent warrior of the group. It just all ended up feeling like a skeevy form of twee, I know there are people out there who will love this book and I would have no problem recommending it. I thought the ending itself was relatively interesting, even if at times I felt like the narrative got away from me. On the positive side, i really liked the actual entries from the Shambling Guide, and probably would enjoy reading that more than this book. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Mur Lafferty also narrates this novel. I often find it harder to judge the narration on books I didn’t really like. I though Lafferty did a serviceable job. She had moments of flair that really brought out some of the better aspects of the novel. I thought as the voice for Zoe, she was perfect, but many of the other characters lost distinctiveness along the way. Her pacing was just a bit awkward. It wasn’t horrible, but just unsettling enough to make me wonder how much more I would appreciate it is it was narrated by Khristine Hvam or Hilary Huber. Now, I did listen to the entire production so she did enough to keep me interested. She has a quirky voice that could be endearing but my lack of connection with the story made the rawness of her reading only stand out more. I actually think I could grow to enjoy her narration and I know she has done a lot of podcasting work in the past, so I definitely plan on keeping an ear out for her in the future.