“Autumn” by David Moody

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"Autumn" cover

Cover art by Lisa Marie Pompilio from a photo by Jake Garn

“Autumn” by David Moody, 2010

Finished September 24, 2012

There is some really excellent fiction that gets its start online. It seems to be a great way for authors to build an audience, find their voice, and get the support they need to get published (and paid!). I think this is wonderful. One of my favourite books, “John Dies at the End” by David Wong, has such a history. It is an approach that works well in genre fiction. Well, maybe it works well in mysteries and romances and stuff like that too, but I really don’t have any interest in those sorts of stories. Unless there are monsters and blood and the like. Scratch that, I’ve tried reading urban fantasies that combine these genres. I have developed a quiet hatred for this approach. Not my cup of tea. Anyways, the blurb on the back of this book says that David Moody “used to give his books away for free.” Happily, it seems he is now getting paid for them, and has at least two successful horror series out there in the world and in bookstores.

“Autumn” is book 1 of his zombie apocalypse series. His other series seems to be about an apocalypse of hate, so already I like him. Sadly, I found this book to be a bit boring and, at times, frustrating. The setting is the U.K., which is a nice change from the overwhelming monopoly the Americans have on the zombie-induced end of the world. The apocalypse hits hard and fast, and David takes you straight in to it, no messing around.

A virus is spreading so rapidly and kills so quickly that pretty much everyone is dead, at least in this little corner of the world, within a couple of hours. There are no ill survivors that recover. You are either totally immune or you are dead in seconds. And those that survive are shell-shocked, to say the least. My main complaint here is that it is over too quick. One of my favourite things about apocalyptic books (and I love them way more than is probably healthy) is the breakdown of society and the characters’ struggle to find their place, to adapt. In this, there is no breakdown. Everything is just done and over, and we are left with a few survivors standing in corpse-filled streets, so stunned that they can’t cope. They congregate in a dilapidated community centre, barely able to function. Someone makes soup. No one really talks. And then, a small percentage of the dead get up and start to move around.

At first the reanimated dead are totally mindless. If they walk into a wall, they just stop. Later they seem to learn how to manoeuvre. And after that, they start to attack. Before they become anything more than a creepy nuisance, however, three of the survivors decide that staying in a crummy old community centre isn’t how they want to spend their time. The others seem to find this infuriating, and send them on their way with threats that they will never be allowed back. With a whole world full of empty homes, buildings, grocery stores, etc., and no known threat (at that point), I am not sure why one would choose to stay in a place like that. Thousands of putrefying corpses lying and walking around would send me out into the countryside post haste. And that is where our crew go.

They find a farmhouse, with a generator, which they stock with supplies. They even find a shotgun. Unfortunately, this is also the time that they learn that the dead are now drawn to noise, and they aren’t passive, harmless creatures anymore. And if enough zombies show up, they can make enough noise in the silenced world to continue drawing more and more dead. A note on the dead: They don’t try to eat you, but they will hit and tear at you. If you imitate them you can pass through them fairly effectively. They continue to rot but this does not affect their locomotion, eyesight, or hearing (standard stuff in the genre).

I got a bit frustrated by a few things in regards to the zombies. Firstly, no one even speculates as to what killed everyone and then reanimated some of them. No one asks why they lived, or why only a few of the dead rose. No one wonders why the zombies seemed to get more intelligent even as they continued to rot. No one decides that they should arm themselves, or tries the old “destroy the brain” technique. In this world where no one seems familiar with the concept of zombies they seem to lack any curiousity. There is very little discussion about anything, really. Our trusty band of one girl and two guys just prefer to hunker down, maybe watch a few dvd’s. No one even has sex, or discusses sex. Maybe it’s a British thing. They do cry quite a bit.

So, we are left with watching them have a couple of excursions that don’t go so well. Once the zombies get mean they build a barrier. And of course, this doesn’t keep them out for long. The premise is good, and the writing is ok, but man the characters are uninteresting and largely interchangeable. I had to keep checking the front of the book to keep track of who was who. And there were only three of them! I’ll probably track down the sequels, but I have no burning need to read them. All in all a rather blah apocalypse, sadly.

 

“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

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“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, 2008

Started and finished on April 6, 2012

I wasn’t expecting a lot from this book, After all, “Twilight” is a huge bestseller in the same market, and it’s HORRIBLE. This one however, even though it seems aimed at the same teenage girl market, is so much more interesting, intelligent, and engaging. The fact that I read it in one day proves how hard it is to put down. And that it is pretty short (374 pages).

The premise: the world has crumbled, and from the ashes rose the North American capitol of Panem, and 13 outlying Districts that supply the city with essentials and luxury goods. The Districts are hardscrabble, difficult places to live, so they rise up in revolt. But Panem is so much more technologically advanced that they easily beat them back down into the dirt, using conventional weapons and genetically engineered animals. District 13 is obliterated, and the Hunger Games are devised to remind the remaining Districts that they are under the heel of Panem.

Every year a boy and a girl from each District is chosen to fight to the death in an arena. It is televised, and required viewing everywhere. The survivor gets a life of luxury and their District gets a few extra comforts for the year. Our protaganist is Katniss Everdeen, a self-sufficient 16-year-old who hunts and gathers to feed her mom and little sister, Prim. When Prim, brand new to the draw in her 12th year, is chosen, Katniss steps in as “tribute,” volunteering to take her place. The chosen boy from her District is Peeta, the local baker’s boy. Unbeknownst to Katniss, he’s been in love with her forever. They are taken off to Panem and given a polish for the cameras. During the televised lead up Peeta reveals his love for Katniss, which she assumes is all part of the plan to win much-needed gifts from the citizens of the capital.

After a few days of training and schilling for sponsers they are dropped off into the arena and the bloodbath begins. The seemingly fabricated love story proves so popular that it is announced that if a couple from the same District are the last ones standing, they will both be allowed to live. After much suffering and death and fear only Peeta and Katniss survive. The Gamesmasters then announce that they checked the rules and nope, they can only have one winner. Gambling that a Games with NO winner would deeply unpopular, Katniss and Peeta attempt suicide to force their hand. It pays off and they are both fished out of the arena, treated for their injuries, and feted. The Powers That Be are enraged, however, and Katniss has to walk a very fine line in order to make it home alive.

The closer she gets to District 12 the more conflicted she gets about Peeta. After all, she has her best friend and hunting partner Gale waiting at home. And given the risk every child must face in a world where the Games exist, Katniss has no intentions of settling down and having a family. She is also disturbed by the realization that she is now expected to train the next pair chosen from her District.

Collins has created a rich and complex world and an interesting protagonist. No question the Hunger Games are evil, and Panem’s rulers are brutal and unsympathetic. But Katniss actually likes the people she meets in the capitol, and at no point does she pull back from what she needs to do to survive. She does not revel in it, but when she does kill another child she realizes it’s not so different from killing an animal for food, provided you don’t dwell on it too much. This is the terrible world she lives in: an unending struggle for mere existence, with starvation and the Games a constant threat. Now I have to pick up book 2.