Monday, July 4, 2011

Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brallier

Do you remember those silly Choose Your Own Adventure books of your youth? For me, they played an integral role in my childhood.  I distinctly remember sitting on my front porch, trading Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks as if they were baseball cards.  Man, I wish there was an adult version for genre fans so I could still enjoy these books.  Well, thanks to Max Brallier my prayers have been answered because he has unleashed an amazing Choose Your Own Adventure book aimed at the adults who grew up on them.

From Amazon :

Inside these pages lies unspeakable horror. Bloodsplattering, brain-impaling, flesh-devouring horror. You’ve probably read your fair share of zombie stories. But this time it’s different. No longer can you sit idle as a bunch of fools make all the wrong moves. All hell is about to break loose—and YOU have a say in humanity’s survival. 

You have choices to make.

Moral dilemmas.

 Strategic decisions.

 Weapons. Vehicles.

 Will you be a hero?

 Or will you cover your own ass at all costs?

 Can you withstand the coming hours, days, weeks, and months? Or will you die amidst the chaos and violence of a zombie uprising?

 Or, worst of all, will you become one of them?

 I have read a few books trying to capitalize on the nostalgia of the Choose Your Own Adventure and, frankly, they have all been awful.  They try to straddle the fine line between youth and adult and the result is a story that is haphazardly thrown together with the hope that the novelty alone will sell them some copies.  Luckily for us genre fans, Brallier breaks this mold and offers a refreshingly mature and thoughtful take on this well-worn format.

Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? is a gut-munching success because Brallier identifies his target audience and he writes to them, and them only.  This is not a book for children or the young adult crowd. This is a book written for adult genre fans who are looking for a breath of fresh (or fetid) air within a zombie genre that has been run into the ground.  The subject matter plays upon the preconceived notions of what a zombie story should include, but then adds a hefty amount of action and humor to make it feel fresh and engaging.  Sure, it contains all of the staples that fans of the undead have come to expect, but there is a sense of first-person realism that will resonate with even the most hardened zombie fan.  The decisions that the reader is faced with are realistic ones.  I never caught myself becoming frustrated with the possible courses of action because they were the same decisions that I would make if put in this situation.  This really helps elevate Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? beyond a gimmicky cash-in and puts it squarely in the potential classic category.

The best thing that Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? has going for it is Brallier’s attention to the story.  Sure, this is a Choose Your Own Adventure but the story never gets lost in the gimmick.  In fact, the entire gimmick could be dropped and you would have a collection of short stories that would rival some of the best undead collection available.  The story is just flat-out fantastic.  The reader assumes  the role of protagonist as Brallier leads us around Manhattan after a massive zombie outbreak.  There are roving motorcycle gangs, infested sports complexes (Yankee Stadium overrun with the undead is pretty impressive) and, of course, military involvement- all while the reader is given choices along the way which will determine their fate.  It is nothing short of amazing!  I felt like I was playing the starring role in some of my all-time favorite zombie films as I attempted to hack, slash and reason my way to safety.

Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? Is a very accessible genre entry.  The books of Max Brooks immediately come to mind when trying to describe this to others- it is a book firmly rooted in genre fiction that will be widely consumed and appreciated within the mainstream.  It’s like Brallier wrote the content for us genre die-hards and then included the gimmick to get everyone else to check out what  is lurking in the underground of modern fiction.  I strongly recommend that people who love the zombie genre check this out.  Heck, I recommend that people who are sick of the zombie genre check this out.  This should be required reading for those looking to see how versatile and inventive genre fiction truly is these days.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Circle by Bentley Little

From Cemetery Dance:

“The shrine. How does it operate? Do you just pray to it or do you have to bring it something or what?”

In this unsettling novella by Bentley Little, many strange occurrences unsettle the inhabitants of William Tell Circle:

For Helen, a knock on the door brings an unexpected visitor along with lavish gifts, and it seems all her wishes have been granted…but at what cost?

For young Frank and his friends, a fabled neighborhood shrine may answer their prayers for a girlfriend, just as their older brothers hope the same source will grant them money. But the older boys’ improvised ritual turns into something horrible…

For Gil Marotta, a rescue mission to the shrine leads him into a chilling confrontation with the local witch…

The Circle tells the story of a normally quiet community, plunged into the kind of surreal nightmare only Bentley Little can deliver.

Simply stated, The Circle is not Bentley Little’s best work.  I originally read the story about 10 years ago when it was part of the Four Dark Nights collection and remember being entertained by it.  After all of these years my opinion of the story has lessened quite a bit.  If you were to take the story apart and examine each of its “components” it works but unfortunately as a whole the thing just comes off as disjointed and confusing.

The story takes place on a typical cul-de-sac in a mundane suburban neighborhood where the residents are as cookie cutter as they come.  Unfortunately for the residents of the circle, there also happen to be a modern day witch living in their midst and they have just pissed her off.  What follows is a series of horrific scenarios as the witch looks to bring retribution on her unsuspecting neighbors.  The actual story was fresh, fun and surprisingly believable.  Things just fell apart in the execution.

Little usually reaches the line where most authors would stop and he crosses it with a grin on his face.  Nothing seems too violent or graphic for Little. This wasn’t the case in The Circle.  On more than one occasion I was waiting for a huge payoff but was left complete blue balled.  Even in the opening (arguably the best part of the story) the premise is absolutely disgusting but it didn’t hit on an emotional level the way Little’s other “gross out” scenes play out. I guess this is what happens when you grow up with an author and then go back and re-read some of their earlier work.  It also explains why I may have enjoyed the story a bit more when a read it a decade ago.

I’m sure most Little fans will scoop this up immediately and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from doing so. As usual Cemetery Dance has done a bang up job with the presentation here and this will look beautiful on any collector’s shelf.  Now for those who are not necessarily Little fans or those new to his work, this may not be the best read for you.
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