Category Archives: Zombies

Cell

Cell
By Stephen King

Synopsis: One October afternoon a pulse is sent out through everyone’s cellphones which makes them turn violent and mindless. Clay, a graphic artist, leads a small group of survivors trying to make their way from Boston to Maine. On their way they run into a flock of the “phone-crazies” sleeping in a field and decide to blow them up. This proves to be a bad idea and they soon realize the full power of the not-so-crazy “phone-crazies.” The small group of survivors is prodded along both physically and mentally to a town where they believe they will be murdered by the “phone-crazies.” The mental power the flock holds over the band of survivors makes it impossible to fight their prodding. Clay hopes that he will find his son when they arrive and that they can find a way to escape.

My Opinion: I heard that Stephen King had written a zombie novel so I figured it would be worth a shot. I’m not a huge fan of his, but I live in Maine so I feel somewhat obligated to read his stuff, especially when he is tapping into a genre that I really enjoy, like zombies. It took me awhile to get into the book. I actually picked it up three separate times before it finally stuck, but once it did, it was interesting enough for me to stick with it.

At first I thought Cell was going to be a pretty straightforward zombie story but after about 150 pages things really started to get weird and by the time I was about 2/3 into it, I knew I was reading a Stephen King novel. There was levitation and dreams and telepathy and intuition and all that stuff that his books are normally full of. One of those things, which annoys me whenever I see it in his books, is the intuition of the main characters explaining how things “work.” What I mean by this is that a character gets a hunch about something, like in this book the hunch is about how the “phone-crazies” are rebooting at night like computers, and then building the whole explanation of what happened off of that surprisingly accurate guess. It seems unrealistic and kind of lazy, like he can’t think of a better way for them to figure things out, so they just end up making perfectly accurate guesses.

Aside from that annoyance, which is pretty common among the stuff I have read by Stephen King, I would say that this book had some pretty cool stuff in it. I am always interested to see how someone can take a very popular subject and put their own spin on it. King certainly did that. The idea of the cellphone pulse was pretty cool, especially now when everyone has a cellphone. I also liked the idea of the flock mentality. I read something similar in the Monster series by David Wellington, but that had more to do with magic and mummies and stuff. In Cell the pulse and the group mind all seemed to be the result of some kind of terrorism. I thought that was also an interesting angle. I liked that he tied the outbreak to two things that are in the spotlight right now: cellphones and terrorism.

While I appreciate the angle that King took with Cell I would say that he went so far as to make you ask if you were reading a “zombie” novel at all. The “phone-crazies” shared many traits with the typical undead: lack of motor skills, lack of independent thought, lack of pain sensation, a propensity toward violence … but they were still alive, they ate, they could think as a group, they could levitate, and they seemed to have higher objectives than simple violence. So Cell borders on being a zombie novel, but for a real undead purist this is NOT a traditional zombie novel, and these “zombies” will break most of your “rules.”

FYI: One of the characters, Ray, was based on a charity auction winner who’s sister paid $25K to have him appear in the book.

Cell at amazon.com


World War Z

World War Z
By Max Brooks

Synopsis: The book is composed of short interview pieces, compiled by a journalist, describing the history of World War Z, or the war against the zombies. While the interviews are from various individuals in several different locations around the world, they are put together in such a way that the story progresses through them. The book is divided into major sections covering the outbreak, the initial reactions of the living, the regrouping and war that the humans wage against the zombies, and the aftermath (those are not the names of the sections, just the general subject of each).

My Opinion: I know I should have read this book a long time ago. It’s hard to be a proper zombie fan without having read this book. The first zombie book I ever read was The Zombie Survival Guide, also by Brooks, but I just never got around to this one, until now. There were things I liked a lot about it and things I thought could have been a lot better.

I liked that he covered the zombie apocalypse from many different angles. If you are only following one character, especially if you don’t have an omniscient narrator, you only have to know what is pertinent to that one character’s story. Brooks has to explain this thing from many different perspectives. This means he would have had to learn enough about biology, weapons, warfare, world history, theology and so on to at least sound convincing when writing each of the “interviews” I’m not an expert in any of these areas, but as a regular guy I thought he sounded pretty convincing.

The big thing I didn’t like was that all the characters seemed to have the same voice and the same vocabulary. I had a hard time believing these were different people. Some swore more than others, one even thought she was still a little girl, but even that didn’t come off convincingly. So he succeeded in being able to speak intelligently about several different expert subjects, but he failed at the more important task of making me feel like I was hearing from different people.

There are lots of cool discussions about history and warfare and peace and violence and different cultures and consumerism and all those fun subjects that zombie novels get to deal with under the surface. All together I could see why it has ranked among the top of the pile for zombie novels. It may not be the “best” zombie novel for the enthusiast, but I would say that it is very digestible (pun fully¬† intended!) so it will appeal to lots of readers who may not otherwise be interested in zombie novels at all.

FYI: Max Brooks is the son of the hilarious movie maker and actor Mel Brooks.

World War Z at amazon.com


Feed

Feed
By Mira Grant

Synopsis: This book takes place twenty something years after the beginning of a zombie “Rising.” The zombies are still around but some semblance of normality has returned. People can come and go, assuming they have proper hazard clearance for the area they are attempting to enter, and are willing to be subjected to several blood tests to confirm they were not infected while out and about. In this new world bloggers are trusted over traditional media to bring the legitimate news. To get on-board with this trend presidential candidate, Senator Ryman, hires a three part team of young bloggers led by the smart and sarcastic Georgia Mason, who, above all else, wants to find and expose the truth. Their job is to follow and report on his campaign. Everything goes well until people start dying in what first appear to be accidents, but are discovered by the bloggers to be intentional acts of terrorism. Georgia and her team end up in danger as they uncover the truth about what is going on and who is responsible.

My Opinion: I like zombie novels that aren’t really about zombies. What I mean by that is that I like stories about other things (l0ve, friendship, espionage, power-struggles …) that use zombies as a backdrop, or environmental element, to their story. Feed is that kind of story. Because the story is set a while after the initial “Rising,” zombies have become just another hazard of life. They are obviously a very dangerous and civilization changing hazard, but life has gone on since the dead started to rise. Feed is more a story about politics and media and friendship and truth than it is about zombies. Zombies (and the infectious virus) just make a really nice backdrop for the story. The main characters are believable and you end up really liking them and rooting for them. Toward the end of the book the story was so intense that I couldn’t read fast enough. I think that is a good sign that I was into the book at that point! I liked the characters, the plot, the dialogue, and the underlying messages about truth and control and oppression and fear. It was a really good, easy, read. Not too gory or disturbing (not that I consider those to be bad things), definitely a good book to help step into the zombie genre.

FYI: The second installment in this trilogy is titled Deadline, but as far as I know there is no third book yet.

Feed at amazon.com


The Book Shelf: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
By Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Synopsis: Essentially this is a retelling of the Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice, set in an alternate reality where zombies roam around England. Smith intertwines his words with much of the original story still intact. Much of the basic plot and character traits remain the same, but as the subtitle explains it now contains “ultra-violent zombie mayhem.”Elizabeth and her sisters have been trained to defend themselves from the undead, and as her love grows for Mr. Darcy she must overcome his aunt’s assassin ninja’s, her dear friend’s decent into zombification, and her desire to kill the man who has shown disrespect to her family.

My Opinion: Well, my wife is a huge Jane Austen fan, and I am a huge zombie fan, so it seemed to me that this book would be the bridge between our two worlds. Sadly, she would not give it a go, finding the cover itself too distasteful to even attempt to read the book. I can understand that. I did read it though and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The flow between Smith’s words and Austen’s words are nearly flawless (at least to an untrained guy like myself) and the story is both humorous and interesting. What better suits the strong and independent Elizabeth Bennett than possessing the skills to destroy the undead? The gimmick could easily wear thin but the story is good enough that it rises above the gimmick and becomes quite entertaining on it’s own merit. It has some great woodcut style art in it which are also pretty great.

FYI: According to wikipedia, Natalie Portmann is producing an upcoming film adaptation of the book.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at amazon.com

Other books I’ve reviewed by Seth Grahame-Smith:
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


Pariah

Pariah
By Bob Fingerman

Synopsis: A zombie novel set in NYC. Basically this group of survivors is holed-up in this apartment building. They are just kind of bored and waiting to starve to death until they see this girl walking down the street and the zombies all back away from her.

My Opinion: I enjoyed Pariah. There is no real zombie fighting or real threat (other than starvation) until the last part of the book. In spite of this it really wasn’t boring. I picked it up because it had received accolades from David Wellington (author of Monster Island), Max Brooks (author of World War Z) and Robert Kirkman (author of The Walking Dead). Definitely has blood and guts and the typical parallelism between zombies and modern society so, at least for me, it was what I would have expected in a zombie novel.

FYI: According to Dictionary.com Pariah is an outcast, someone who is avoided or despised, or more specifically a member of a low caste in India

Pariah at amazon.com