Tag Archives: zombies

Review: Blackout by Mira Grant

I’d kind of like to take a photo of my stunned, tear-streaked face and just post that but I’m terribly unphotogenic, so I will have to use my magical writer skills and explain my feelings about Blackout in words.

SPOILER-FREE (For Basically the Entire Trilogy, Because I Am Awesome Like That)

Because if anyone had spoiled me, I’d have locked them into that bee cage from Red Seas Under Red Skies and laughed while they died in agony.

Blackout picks up where Deadline left off. Where that is is a massive spoiler but it was the kind of kick in your teeth spoiler that makes you drop the book and sit slack-jawed in a semi-comatose state while you absorb it. So that was fun. I was on a plane at the time and I spent the rest of my flight poking at ice cubes in my empty cocktail and trying to make my brain stop hurting. Since in this section, I can’t tell you much about the plot, let’s just say this:

Blackout is the perfect ending to a stunningly original and rich series about a group of bloggers living in a zombie world where the virus is meticulously explained and justified. There are multiple first person narrators and it works because each character has a distinct voice. The narration is supplemented with snippets of blog posts and unpublished musings from various characters, which helps to give the reader insight into minor characters we don’t hear from directly. If you haven’t read the Newsflesh trilogy and you like virology or zombies or blogging or dystopias or conspiracies, then basically you’re missing out.

I can also tell you this. Blackout came out right before my birthday Hawaiian vacation. I read a good chunk on the plane until my stress levels got so high from worrying about these characters that I had to stop and do something else, like a crossword puzzle. That’s right. I was so worried about fictional people that it gave me a stomach ache. And to me, that’s about the best compliment I can give Mira Grant. The characters are so well-developed and so independently themselves that they felt like real people I knew and I was worried for their happiness and safety. I feel like that’s true of all good books, but somehow I just got pulled into these characters more than usual, and I credit Grant’s writing skills for that.

Around three-forths of the way in, there’s this point where Grant lets the reader relax and take a breath. Things aren’t perfect or settled, but there’s a point where things are temporarily okay for ten minutes, and I totally stopped at the point for a while for fear of what might befall our After the End Times crew next. (Then I just got busy and distracted.) But I am glad I finished it and soon I intend to go back and reread the entire series in quick succession. Fabulous end, not a disappointment at all. Ten out of ten stars, or whatever. You get the point.

And now! SPOILERS. BIG ONES. MASSIVE CRAZY SPOILERS SO DO NOT CLICK HERE IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED.

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Common Mistakes YA Dystopian Novels Make

In MY first YA Dytopian novel, animatronic dinosaurs take over and people have to fight the robot dinos to survive. In Space.

I was talking to a friend the other day about all of the recent dystopian novels that have come out and tried to tout themselves as “The Next Hunger Games!” It’s a silly, but understandable marketing tactic, because people are always looking for the next big THING.

The Next Harry Potter or the Next Twilight or whatever THING is going to be the year’s newest break out money-machine. It’s impossible to predict, of course, and the fact that so many dystopian YA novels came out recently is less due to The Hunger Games than weird market trends and coincidence. Besides, the next THING is never the same as the earlier THING (Twilight was not like Harry Potter, really at all).

But it got me thinking about all of the Dystopian Books I’ve read in the last year or so, and why some work better than others. Obviously, this is a list of what didn’t work for me as a reader, and is no way meant to be universal. These are just the same gripes I tend to have with a lot of Dystopian Books (and, sometimes, in the whole YA market). I would love to hear what elements worked or didn’t work for you, especially if any of them are deal breakers.

Book One Lacks An Ending

This is the new biggest sin awful trend in the YA world if you ask me. Not only are lots of books coming out that are super short because they’re the start of a series that could probably be one novel, but they’re coming out with cliff hanger endings that don’t bother to conclude the first part of the story. There’s nothing wrong with leaving some loose ends and unanswered questions, especially in an intended series. I’m talking about books that literally lack an ending. They might as well print the last page with the words “DUN DUN DUN….” It happens a lot in dystopian novels, especially, and this is a problem there for one main reason (besides, you know, the fact that a book has no end):

Leaving dystopian novels with a million questions hanging in the balance creates the feeling of shoddy world building. It doesn’t matter if the author has maps and entire histories for this Awful Future charted out on their wall. When none of the reader’s questions about how, when, why are answered in the first book, it makes the book feel hollow and lacking.

Characters Raised in the Dystopian Society Still Oddly Shocked & Awed By It

This is a personal pet peeve of mine, but it comes up in so many dystopians that it breaks my brain. A character who’s lived their entire life under the Evil Overlord who makes everyone where Pink Sweaters on Tuesdays is not going to be outraged by the fact that mom set out a pink sweater for Tuesday morning. They just won’t.

And yes, anyone might be alarmed when something that happens all of the time to strangers–say, being arrested quietly in the middle of the night–happens to their own friends or family. But when someone is used to drills or spot checks or whatever has a Fit of Righteous Indignation during one of these, I get irked. As a writer, I think what these authors are trying to do is  show what a moral center the character is by detailing their outrage at the Bad Guys. But it often doesn’t jive with how the protagonist should react, at least until they have some larger revelation about the world they live in. Say what you will about Matched, but at least Cassia’s mindset made perfect sense given the world she was raised in.

Alternatively, you have characters who, by all rights, should be extremely genre savvy, like kids who have grown up surrounded by zombies/rebels/robots/random bad future thing and should know how to survive in such situations. Like, it’s probably taught in their schools (if they have schools). But then you end up with characters like Mary, from The Forest of Hands and Teeth, who literally cuddles a zombie baby and then taunts the zombies beyond the fence. TAUNTS THEM. I mean…. I just… That is Too Stupid to Live territory from a girl who knows better because she knows what zombies are and how they happen.

A Love Triangle Romance That’s Wedged in Is Really Not Necessary

I know, I know. Romantic tension is awesome and the love triangle thing has worked so well. But really, if it doesn’t happen naturally as you start drafting your characters, and even if it does, you have to ask yourself if it’s really crucial to the book. Because if no one cares whether Lucy ends up with James or Thomas, but are forced to read pages and pages of Lucy trying to decide whether she likes James’ aloof and quiet demeanor more than Thomas’ quick wit and sexy lips, they will toss the book out the window.

I started this section with love triangles, but really it applies to all romances that feel forced or weird, especially when they come at the expensive of actual plot/interesting things happening around them. I’d really rather read about the Robot Army laying seige to the Dragon Lord’s castle than why Sir Allen has the best hair and tastes like strawberries due to his love of fruit gum.

And I say this as a pathetic, full-on shipping fangirl who will sink with the Good Ship Tamani in the world of Wings before I ever accept David might have been the right dude. I like romance! I even like good love triangles! But not when it feels forced in for the sake of having one.

The World Building Does Not Exist or Makes No Sense

Look, a book set in a future where Alien Unicorns have taken over the world and burned all of our technology except digital watches and make us grow rainbow colored hay to ward off the evil SeaHorses who are allergic to the color red might be the Best New THING to hit book shelves. But if the reader can’t believe how the Alien Unicorns took over without opposable thumbs (let alone built space ships), it won’t work. And yes, that’s a ridiculous example, and this goes back to the first point, but seriously. Leaving the entire world situation vague and unexplained does not make it suspenseful, it makes it frustrating.

Eve does this: a generic “plague” decimates the populous and a strange government with a King of America is set up in under 30 years. Despite the pointless years Eve spends in school (until she’s 18) she never even gives the reader the government’s official version of events, and we’re left wondering what happened. (Maybe Once, its sequel, answers more questions, I haven’t read it yet.)

It also has to make sense. Pledge is set hundreds of years in the future and we’re never given so much as a hint about why the only acceptable government leader is a Queen, or how America became divided by class languages. Even just a few lines about the ancient past of our present day would make the experience so much richer, rather than plunking down the system and saying “Eh! It’s in the future. Who knows how it happened?”

The best books, regardless of genre, have detailed and thoughtful worlds built into them to give the story depth, but it’s so important in a dystopia to show how the world of present day got to The Evil Awful Future.

 

So now you have some of my thoughts. And I am out of thoughts. Time to watch The Glee Project and see if I can avoid crying when whoever is sent home has to do the Sad Walk Away.

Zombie Love!

I hated zombies as a kid because they genuinely scared me, and later because it felt like every zombie thing was exactly the same. The dead start walking around trying to eat the living, people do dumb things and die, and no one understands the simplicity of shooting the infected the minute the infection happens because they have, like, human emotions and compassion or whatever.

That has changed in recent years. I’ve grown to appreciate a lot of zombie things but more importantly, zombie things are getting better, smarter, and more genre-savvy. Since tonight is the Mid-Season Premiere* of The Walking Dead (which you bet your butt I’m jazzed for), I thought I’d post about some of the more awesome zombie things out in the world, in case you’ve been living in Dracula’s castle; everyone knows he only has dial-up and still thinks the rotary phone is new and progressive.

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

It’s superheroes and zombies. Superheroes fighting zombies with superpowers and trying to rebuild the world after the Zombie Apocalypse. Do you really need to know more?

Clines gives each hero a flashback chapter that shows the progression of the zombie outbreak and in the present, the heroes aren’t just fighting the undead (called Exes, as in ex-human, ex-living, etc.) but a Los Angeles gang that’s trying to claim the city.

Clines also does some serious virulogy to explain the zombie epidemic, which I appreciate. I like my zombies with a side of science. It’s a fast-paced read that’s part comic book and part classic good versus evil.

The Newsflesh Series by Mira Grant

I could rave and flail about these books til the end of time, and have done so until most of my friends have relented and read them, and in turn flailed and raved, making them sort of infectious. It’s just everything I love about zombies – virology that puts every other zombie series to shame, a well-worked history of the outbreak, and a world that has adapted to life with the undead. Plus sarcasm, puns, and bloggers.

The first book, Feed, takes place 25 or so years after the the Kellis-Amberlee virus began spreading (it’s a mutation of two viruses, one of which was released in experimental stages by terrorists who wanted the “cold cure” free for everyone). As the infection spread, the media downplayed it and ignored it, while bloggers said, “YO. The Dead are walking. Shoot them in the face before they eat you,” and thus bloggers are the new media. Everywhere requires blood tests to enter, buildings are built or adapted to keep people safe, and once you test positive for the virus, you’re considered legally dead (meaning you can and will be shot on site).

In this world, adopted siblings Georgia and Shaun Mason run their news site, After the End Times, and are picked to cover a Presidential campaign. They end up uncovering a huge conspiracy. So it’s smart and clever, and zombieland is merely the world they live in (albeit scary as hell). And the characters are awesomely genre-savvy, so there’s no frustrating arguments about the morality of killing the undead, and there aren’t many irritatingly stupid mistakes either.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

It’s zombies with steampunk. Again, what else do you really need to know? (Also Wil Wheaton reads half of the audiobook.)

Set in an alternative-history Seattle where the Civil War is still going, spurring inventions of war machines, the zombies here are caused by a mysterious gas that began seeping out of the ground. It’s dense, so people walled up Seattle, and live on its borders, but sometimes people go back inside. It’s an intense, fascinating novel, and the zombies are just a small part of it, but they’re scary and well done. Also they’re called “Rotters” which might be the best term for zombie I’ve seen.

Those are my three favorite zombie books ever. I highly recommend all of them.

*Is it just me or this “mid-season return” crap sort of new. Shows never used to pause for months at a time, did they?

Review: “Countdown” by Mira Grant

Countdown is a supplemental novella by Mira Grant that goes along with her “Newsflesh” zombie series (so far, Feed and Deadline.) The books take place post-outbreak, and follow a group of bloggers covering the news in a zombie-infested world.

The series is remarkable for going into detail about the epidemiology of the viruses that combined and mutated to create a virus that raising the living dead. It has biological reasons for the dead to walk and bite and spit and scratch. All of the questions you’d ever wanted a zombie film to answer, Grant takes on.

How did the virus come to be? How did it get out? (Those are commonly answered, although the former often in less detail.) What’s the biological make up of the virus? Why does it do what it does? Grant did tons of research and her novels provide answers.

Beyond that, she just has a kick ass cast of characters, including George and Shaun, an adopted sister and brother, and their team of bloggers for the After the End Times. (Grant is great with puns… I love puns! It’s a weakness of mine.) In Feed, they set out to follow a Presidential election, some twenty years after the rising, when humans have done what they always do: adapted and learned to cope. Buildings are reinforced. Blood tests are required to go nearly everywhere. When someone dies, you shoot for the head before they can rise up and try to eat you.

I cannot recommend these books enough, and I can’t even wait for the third. So in a way, Countdown is like the DVD extra of the book series. It outlines and goes through the entire outbreak itself, from the virus’ conception to The Rising in July of 2014. That stuff is discussed in the main novels enough to give readers a good idea, but this novella fills in the details and—forgive the pun—fleshes out the history.

It’s also cool because someone could pick it up and read it first and then get into the series (there are no real spoilers, as it takes place so long before the novels begin), or it can be read by fans and appreciated for filling in the gaps.

Bonus props: In Grant’s world, in 2014, gay marriage is apparently legal, as Dr. Alexander Kellis is married to the love of his life, John Kellis. Woot. (Let’s hope that’s a reality by then. Just not the zombie thing.)