Okay, confession time. I've had Max Brooks's World War Z sitting on my shelf for a long time. What really kept me from picking it up was Brooks's otheOkay, confession time. I've had Max Brooks's World War Z sitting on my shelf for a long time. What really kept me from picking it up was Brooks's other book, The Zombie Survival Guide, which didn't work for me. Then again, the part of the Survival Guide that I did enjoy—the zombie attack histories that make up a small coda to the rest of the work—is, more or less, the premise for World War Z. So maybe I should have known that this had a lot more potential. I actually only picked it up to read at long last because the movie came out and looked a bit rote, and there was a minor outrage from fans of the book that the movie shares little in common with the "source material" aside from a name. Tending, as I do, to prefer books over movie adaptations, I figured I could save myself the ticket cost and just finally get around to reading the thing.
I'm very glad I did. I'll start with the less-than-great aspects. The format of the book is cribbed from Suds Terkel's The Good War and it is a clever way to frame a zombie story. The problem is that as a history, the end is established up front (the humans win); this is also a pretty interesting subversion of the standard zombie story which are usually, at best, temporary victories by one or a handful of survivors. But usually zombie stories "end" with the zombies basically killing everyone. Brooks's choice here is fascinating and kind of necessary for the framework he wanted to use, but it does deflate the story of some of its punch and tension. The other minor issue is that it's fairly clear all of the "oral histories" are fictional accounts written by the same author. Brooks tries to give them distinct voices but his success rate is spotty. I might also point out that in my copy there are a number of weird incongruities that may be intentional based on the fact that these are supposed to be oral histories and people's memories and perceptions are not the same as facts and figures, but some of them could be editing oversights. For example, one pilot mentions an overrun section of the country being in the west when I think from context and the other accounts she means the east. It's the kind of thing that might be intentional to add realism but really just confused me for a good ten pages.
That being said, this is a wonderfully readable book. Brooks has clearly given a lot of thought to the macro-level scenario of a catastrophic global zombie-virus outbreak and yet I love that he funnels this broad-scale concept through the narrow lens of characters. It makes what could have been a messy, overlong novel into a taut expression of terror and, ultimately, hope. And while the format of back-to-front, victors write the histories somewhat defangs the overall tension of a typical zombie story, that doesn't mean there aren't some chilling moments in this book. Brooks is good at bringing the individual stories of desperation and recalled fear to life. In the same way recollections of past wars can be harrowing once the surface level of dry events is penetrated and the human element is exposed, the strength of World War Z is in making the stories come alive.
And maybe some of the characters or stories don't work as well as others. In a way this book could be said to be a collection of short stories each with a similar format and sharing a setting and backstory. As such, some will resonate more than others. Jurgen Warmbrunn's story of filing a report that should have been heeded far sooner than it was; Sharon, the feral child's, half-told, half-reinacted version of the assault that left her alone in the woods; T. Sean Collins's cynical account of a group of celebrities being overrun by the desperate living as opposed to the hungry undead; Todd Wainio's pent-up, angry depiction of the battle of Yonkers; Xolelwa Azania's recollection of the origins of The Redeker Plan to regroup and ensure the survival of the human race, even at a terrible cost; Jesika Hendricks and her tale of collapsing hope and desperate survival; Arthur Sinclair's McNamara-like defense of the US strategy for military reprisal; Christina Eliopolis's mind-bending retelling of her plane crash in a heavily infested swamp and the radio angel that guided her to rescue, each of these are among the very best Brooks offers. Some are less fascinating, but as a whole the book draws you through and brings this world alive in a way I'm not sure other zombie novels do.
The great tragedy here is that it almost seems like this book was made for film adaptation. I can imagine a documentary format being utterly harrowing especially if combined with faked found footage and news reports. I also understand they've done an audiobook version now that is unabridged and casts pretty well known actors for each character and despite my general distaste for re-reading books I'm tempted to give this a shot because it sounds like it would be great, spooky fun, which is exactly what the book itself is to begin with....more
Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide is a strange book. The bulk of it is devoted to a step by step guidebook which describes a fictional zombie backMax Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide is a strange book. The bulk of it is devoted to a step by step guidebook which describes a fictional zombie backstory and then proceeds to repetitively describe means and methods for preparing for and surviving a zombie attack. On the surface the book seems like it might have a comedic slant, but Brooks plays it entirely straight throughout which oddly makes the whole thing feel a little stuffy and, frustratingly, dull. Entire chapters are spent decrying the wisdom to facing off against zombies in urban settings and the utility of melee weapons over firearms are discussed in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail.
It's easy to like the premise of the book, especially for a fan of zombie-themed fiction, but in execution it often feels like there is a disconnect between the lighthearted expectation of a survival guide devoted to dealing with a fictional circumstance and the somber tone taken throughout. And with such a consistently clinical voice it's difficult to even find any chills or scares within the bulk of the text.
By far, the best parts of The Zombie Survival Guide are zombie origin explanation toward the beginning of the book and the historical recounts of documented zombie attacks in the final pages. In fact, the descriptions of the zombie attacks that make up less than a fourth of the book are the main reason the book gets a reasonable rating and a mild recommendation. There is a much better book somewhere in the clever concept, but unfortunately as is the execution is just disappointing....more
Sometimes it takes me a while to finish a book because I'm not that interested in it, or perhaps I'm interested but just not that concerned with gettiSometimes it takes me a while to finish a book because I'm not that interested in it, or perhaps I'm interested but just not that concerned with getting to the end. This may be the first time I can really remember being deliberate because I didn't want it to be over. It's strange that I went from not being able to finish my Sandman collection because I got hung up around book four and now not wanting to finish it because it's just that good.
Here's the secret weapon of The Kindly Ones, even versus something I gush about like The Doll's House: I finally love the art in a Sandman book. The flat-colored, heavily stylized look of most of the art in these thirteen chapters feels very much like what I wanted (but wasn't even aware was missing) from earlier books. Granted, it's not very gothic or macabre in the way that might suit darker (or more darkly human) stories that appeared early in the series' run, so maybe the shifting artistic tone throughout the whole collection is necessary. But there's something about the sharp, angular styles here that works as the book descends into some crazy imaginative depths.
Now, I'll admit something here: sometimes Neil Gaiman loses me, especially in his climactic moments. I experienced this reading the novelization of Neverwhere and again reading American Gods. My theory is that Gaiman's imagination even outpaces his own considerable writing talent such that his efforts to explain exactly what's happening in the movie theater of his mind falls short. Somewhere that mental telepathy Stephen King talks about in his On Writing breaks down between Gaiman and myself and I sort of plough through, shrugging, getting sort of the gist but feeling like I'm missing the bigger picture. Maybe Mr. Gaiman is just too smart for me, who knows. He is aided in this volume by the visual aid of the graphic medium, but I still felt at times in the closing chapters that I didn't really know what was going on. And in a way that kind of bummed me out because I felt some of the emotional resonance that was inherent there was lost as I got pulled away, distracted by asking the questions, "What?" "Who?" and "Why?"
I can't really say it ruined any of my enjoyment overall, it was just that I kind of thought after finding myself strangely affectionate toward the curious protagonist of these books, I would have been more invested in the end of his journey, especially as all the various threads Gaiman had sown through previous stories began to draw into a remarkable, bewildering weave.
With only one more volume left on my shelf (I also have Death The High Cost Of Living which I'm looking forward to and I may pick up Endless Nights, sometimes called Volume 11), I'm so glad that I finally made the effort to read these, but it is bittersweet to know that it's rapidly coming to an end....more
Following the first Sandman story arc, which as many have pointed out amounts to a fetch quest, Neil Gaiman stretches and belts out this incredible, iFollowing the first Sandman story arc, which as many have pointed out amounts to a fetch quest, Neil Gaiman stretches and belts out this incredible, interwoven story in seven parts, plus a fine prologue (Tales In The Sand). It was this volume that really made me a fan of Mr. Gaiman and it's probably also the reason why I have never finished The Sandman series, despite owning them for years. Maybe that sounds funny but I love this graphic novel so much that I suspect if none of the remaining eight volumes ever get any better, I'll still think of The Sandman as fantastic. There has been (up until now, I hope) something oddly comforting about knowing that if I never finish, perhaps I have volumes as good as this still in store for me.
Trust when I say it doesn't make much more sense to me, either.
The Doll's House is the story of Rose Walker, a dream vortex. I guess you could say that. It's really so much more. It's not really worth trying to summarize the events of this book, so instead let me tell you some of the things that I love about it. First, I love that elements from Preludes & Nocturnes, which may have just been throwaway details in other authors' hands, resurface here. Rose Walker is Unity Kinkaid's granddaughter, Unity being one of those affected by the sleeping sickness when Dream was imprisoned at the beginning of Preludes. Perhaps the whole storyline was planned for far in advance, perhaps not. The point is, it's one of those things authors do on occasion that feels thrilling (at least to me). Did they pick a tiny morsel from a previous episode/work/story and expand it magnificently later? Did they know back when that it would resurface at some later date? The answer is not significant, it is the question that delights me.
Secondly, The Doll's House shows how willing Gaiman is to reward patience. Not many writers would take the time out smack in the middle of a plot line to digress so far as to relate a tale seemingly disconnected from the central narrative the way Mr. Gaiman does in part four, "Men Of Good Fortune." Again, a small detail from this chapter is revisited later (in Dream Country) and yet it is ultimately significant in revealing aspects of the Dream's personality, nature, and how he interacts with humans. This matters late in the book when Dream finally confronts Rose.
Third, The Doll's House really begins to show how Mr. Gaiman and his artists work together to tell stories that play to the medium. From the sidelong orientation that functions as dream designator in part one to the stylistic dreamscapes of the roommates in part six, this is a story specifically told in words and pictures. I think in part The Sandman works because by its nature it traffics in the surreal, the wild, the freeform imagination. These are the kinds of things that would suffer some by prose alone, so subject to the reader's prejudices and interpretations that the signal can get lost. I actually thought this was the principal issue with another of Mr. Gaiman's works, American Gods, which I had a hard time following near the end. Perhaps if that book had been a graphic novel…
I could call out so many more details that make this a wonderful graphic novel, from the delightfully twisted concept of a serial killer convention to the mysterious introduction to twins Despair and Desire (and the sizzling final conversation between Dream and the latter), all the way to the pitch-perfect climax, but suffice to say there is very little I don't like about The Doll's House. Typically after I read this volume I'm disinclined to continue reading. After this most recent read, I think I'm finally ready to see if The Sandman has anything else this good to offer....more
Before I get too off point, I want to make clear that I liked Sharp Objects. This is a dark, grim, can't-look-away train wreck in slow motion and it gBefore I get too off point, I want to make clear that I liked Sharp Objects. This is a dark, grim, can't-look-away train wreck in slow motion and it grasped my wrist and raced me through its pages, holding me up well into the night. I read them out of order, but you can see shades of the wonderful character (or is that reader?) sadism Gillian Flynn put on display in Gone Girl here and this is the kind of book that puts an author on people's watch lists.
I'll try not to do too many Gone Girl comparisons, but I do want to get out of the way that what makes this book not quite live up to that standard is that the framework in Gone Girl was so much different from anything else I'd seen whereas this, while by no means directly derivative, feels familiar. At least at first. On the bright side, Sharp Objects has a (ahem) razor-like finale which compares quite favorably to the love-it-or-hate-it conclusion of Gone Girl.
Anyway, Sharp Objects follows Camille Preaker, cub reporter for a low circulation Chicago newspaper who gets sent back to her Missouri hometown to investigate a short series of disturbing events surrounding young girls that could be the start of something sensationally ongoing. Camille resents the assignment; home is no solace to her and she has the scars to prove it. And the scars aren't just psychological (though there are plenty of those); she's a cutter who has scarred almost every coverable inch of her body with carved words in her flesh.
The interesting part about Sharp Objects is the way Flynn constructs the narrative. This is a thriller that moves at an almost languid pace; it's never dull and the sick fascination of what drives Camille, what ails the town, what motivates her family members propels the narrative. But from an event perspective, the plotting feels prone to diversions and apparent meandering asides. It might read like a mystery except those diversions and character moments don't leave much character economy to work with, nor do Camille's motivations seem particularly aimed at solving the damn thing. In a way, Sharp Objects is more like a psychological survival horror tale, paranoid and clawing on a dwindling width of a foothold, both protagonist and reader just trying to make it through to the end somewhat intact.
What trips the novel up from being an absolute smash is a frustrating vagueness to Camille and a missed opportunity. It's apparent that our first-person narrator is a mortally damaged person, and that's no problem at all; Flynn is terrific at establishing her voice and personality. What she struggles with is giving sufficient insight behind some of the more outrageous decisions Camille makes, at crystallizing how the internal (or perhaps external) scars permit or shape the often erratic behavior as the book proceeds. There is a particular dynamic between two central characters that, if given more internal consideration or even if given more potent contextualization, wouldn't feel quite as arbitrary and, well, unrealistically creepy. I like creepy. Creepy is good, but I have to believe it and at times toward the back half of the book I found myself suppressing disbelieving laughter rather than shudders.
The missed opportunity is for a thematic unification. Maybe I've been reading Neil Gaiman too much, but I really expected the significance of the words to play a bigger role. Camille's career choice as a writer seemed so directly in keeping with her particular brokenness, the obsession with words and the chilling description of how those words felt to her had resonance to me as someone interested in and fascinated by language (as I presume most writers would have to be). And yet it never quite solidified into a grounding presence through the book, such that it felt by the end like a dangling thread, nagging to be pulled but threatening the structural integrity of the prose. It's not a foundational flaw, to be sure, but it frustrated me for being so right there and yet unexplored.
Still, between this book and Gone Girl, I'm loving Flynn's writing and this sort of ghastly sub-genre she's carving for herself, and I'm making plans to read her only other novel to date (Dark Places) sooner than I intended....more
For the first half of The Godwulf Manuscript, I had a hard time understanding why I was reading the book. I had been recommended the series as being sFor the first half of The Godwulf Manuscript, I had a hard time understanding why I was reading the book. I had been recommended the series as being solid detective stories featuring a wise-cracking protagonist and a good example of how to craft snappy dialogue. But for the first 100 pages or so I just couldn't get a handle on Spenser as a character. His "wit" seemed to be a casual sneer in the direction of everyone he encountered—most of whom he could have gotten to be much more cooperative if he'd not been such a tool right off the bat—and it wasn't even all that witty to me anyway.
But then, curiously, Spenser started to grow on me. By about halfway through the book I was appreciating his sense of humor more, and his disregard for the kinds of social convention like assigned parking and not beating puffed-up bullies senseless endeared me a little. Robert B. Parker never does a great job at describing Spenser physically so in part I think my inability to connect with him early on was that I couldn't get much of a mental picture going, but eventually this straightens out.
A more pointed critique for The Godwulf Manuscript is that, as a mystery, it's only so-so. There's an economy of characters problem throughout in that very few individuals (left alive) could possibly be the guilty party meaning the reveal is less whodunnit but whydunnit. That's okay, I suppose, except very early on the mystery stops having anything to do with the titular manuscript and becomes about (view spoiler)[drugs and a series of murders (hide spoiler)]. In fact, I was never terribly clear on what the manuscript had to do with anything at all, other than to conveniently get Spenser involved in something that otherwise would have been a routine police matter. Maybe that's all it was, but by the end it felt a bit like Fridge Logic.
The real question, I suppose, is whether this book made me want to continue reading Mr. Parker's novels, because by most accounts I've seen, the series gets better as it goes along. I guess the highest praise for The Godwulf Manuscript I can muster is that it was interesting enough to put the series on come-back-to status: I haven't entirely written off Parker as a novelist and Spenser as a character so I can see going back and trying book two at some future point. But, this certainly didn't have me racing out to see desperately what happens next. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
In my past attempts to read through The Sandman, this is the point at which I always stopped. In my review for The Doll's House I said that volume wasIn my past attempts to read through The Sandman, this is the point at which I always stopped. In my review for The Doll's House I said that volume was so good that it bizarrely made reluctant to go much further for fear of the rest either not living up to that book or perhaps for fear of it at some point being over.
What I had forgotten until this last time was that I had never finished Season Of Mists until now. Which is not to say that it is bad; on the contrary it's very good. But there is something about the pacing of this arc that is different from Preludes or The Doll's House, something that makes it easy for me to put down. I'm not entirely sure what it is, to be honest, but I have a couple of theories. One is that perhaps Chapter 4, which is where I usually set it down, while a very good interlude when taken as a stand-alone, breaks the narrative flow so completely that I somehow manage to stop caring who ends up with the key to Hell in the course of it. Another possibility is that there are so many players whose threads are tied up into the central conflict of who ends up owning Hell—Odin, Thor and Loki, Anubis and Bast, Susano-O-No-Mikoto, Azazel and the demons, Kilderkin and Order, Jemmy and Chaos, Nada, Death and the other Endless, Remiel and Duma—while each are fascinating characters and I would welcome a story where Dream interacts with any or each, stuffing them all together makes the resolution of the conflict feel laborious.
It is therefore sad that it has taken me so long (and so many tries) to get to the end of the story because the resolution is absolutely wonderful, just perfectly satisfying. We learn more about Dream, there is closure with the whole Hell thing (plus a new and fascinating twist which may or may not need revisiting later) and the way the Azazel confrontation is handled is stunning, particularly in the way Dream casually shrugs off his actions and decisions. It really drives home the point that Sandman is kind of a callous jerk, vengeful and remorseless. At one point in an earlier book he remarks how strange it is that humans fear his sister so when he, in fact, is by far the more terrible of the two. Neil Gaiman never pounds it into the reader's head that Dream is really more of an anti-hero than anything, but it comes across in a variety of subtle ways.
I hope, having now finally finished this volume, that I'll get over my odd reluctance to finish the series. It is unfortunate that it takes a bit of determination to get through the slightly dragging middle of this volume, but the payoff is well worth it and for once I'm eager for more....more
For someone who devours Preston & Child's (basically Pendergast-exclusive) novels, I've been surprisingly picky about their solo work. I picked upFor someone who devours Preston & Child's (basically Pendergast-exclusive) novels, I've been surprisingly picky about their solo work. I picked up Death Match on a whim from the library because I needed something breezy along the lines of Christopher Pike's Falling to go along with the end of summer while I trudge through Crime and Punishment on DailyLit.
Death Match is the story of Christopher Lash, an ex-FBI profiler who has moved into private practice following a life-shattering encounter with a tricky serial killer that left six people dead, some of whom he knew, and his marriage destroyed. He is called in by top-level people at the secretive high tech dating firm Eden to investigate some unusual double suicides involving their top rated couples.
The investigation ratchets up as Lash profiles the victims and finds the probability of suicide highly statistically unlikely leading him to suspect a very clever and unusual killer may be behind the deaths. He dives deeper into Eden's elusive depths hoping to find the key to the case while things begin to unravel in his personal life. As he uncovers more evidence, he begins to suspect that the killer may be powerful enough not only to kill with impunity, but to erase any threats, including Lash himself.
First, the good: Death Match is blisteringly paced and reads very quickly. The central set-up is unique and Mr. Child does an excellent job teasing tidbits that hint at the connections to come without broadcasting the overall direction. The best thing about the book is that it locked in my imagination and pulled it smoothly along toward the end that I just had to reach.
Of course it is this popcorn sensibility that makes it so easily devoured which also lends to most of its principal weaknesses. Lash is sort of a snoozer as a protagonist, lacking any real memorable personality traits, and many of the supporting characters suffer from lack of clarity as well. Meanwhile the mystery inherent in the plot isn't exactly broadcast or clumsy, but the economy of characters limits the number of genuine possibilities and the result is what I think of as half-predictable: Early on it seemed obvious the reveal could only go one of two ways and the remaining mystery was which would be chosen.
The principal complaint I had was that the ultimate motivation was very sketchily presented as if it didn't matter though I felt it was the pivotal question that begged to be answered once the truth became apparent. For it to be so glossed over left the premise feeling somewhat flimsy and I think led to it being less memorable than it might have, for to explain why things happened as they did might have left some lingering, haunting questions in the reader's mind.
Overall the book is enjoyable: A pleasant mix of WarGames, The Mentalist, Dan Brown's Digital Fortress and any number of corporate conspiracy yarns. But some of the technical details (both the realistic and the fantastic) bog it down and the characterizations are lacking enough that it can't really elevate itself past disposable beach novel status....more