I’ve been reading (actually, listening to) a lot of zombie fiction lately and find most of it hugely entertaining. So I was looking forward to Zombie Fallout, but after just one-half hour of listening I had to hit “escape” and go on to my next audiobook.
The very first thing that happens in the novel is that the protagonist is about to take a shower when he is interrupted by zombies at the front door. So he has to abort the shower and run around naked saving his family. Many subsequent sentences are devoted to this guy’s interior ruminations on how he hates the feel of dry soap on his skin. SRSLY? Then he steps in a pile of dog poop. I guess this is supposed to humanize him, or be funny, possibly both, but the author’s habit of making every other sentence an aside about something completely inane from within the protagonist’s mind grated on me from the start.
So I took an instant dislike to the main character. He’s an ex-military man (not unusual for the genre) but on top of that, he is a survivalist. This seems like such a cop-out; the author has set up his protagonist in the best possible position to survive the zombie apocalypse. He has stockpiles of everything, especially weapons. He has taught his sons (three of them, I think, so obviously this book is going to be chock-full of testosterone) to be expert shooters. When the author started listing, with loving fascination, the exact names and calibers of eight or ten semi-automatic weapons in one sentence, I groaned inside. But I went on.
The family gets in the car to search for one son who is not home at the time of the zombie attack. I eagerly awaited my first real glimpse of the zombies in the book. Up until this point, I had been trying to ignore the man-child protagonist and weapon envy hoping that a plot would appear and get the book going. Then came a sentence that just could not be ignored. It went something like this: “These zombies were not the zombies that the visionary George Romero had envisioned” (paraphrased by necessity since I was listening, not reading}. I had overlooked a few other poorly written sentences and awful word choices earlier, but this proved to be the last straw. I knew I could not spend another minute on this drivel.
And I have now spent more time writing this review than I did reading this book. Don’t waste any more of your time. Check out my reviews of other excellent zombie books that really are either funny (My Life as a White Trash Zombie) or action-packed (Plague of the Dead), or both (The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten).
For a long time, I have thought of myself as someone who is interested in international human rights, but I have really never given much thought to the situation in North Korea. This book really changed my ideas on the topic. Now that I have finished this slim volume, I find it difficult to understand how the world has allowed the suffering of the North Korean people to continue for so long. From the story of this one escapee, it has become clear to me that the entire country is basically one huge concentration camp. I guess the threat of nuclear weapons explains why the western democracies have allowed this situation to fester for so long, but even so it seems something ought to be done.
This audio book was read by the author. The performance was fairly well done and I would recommend this version of the book.
This fast-paced entry into the detective noir genre had all the elements: Big City, Dark Nights, a Femme Fatale, warring Big Bad Crime Bosses, and the hard-nosed but soft-on-the-inside Truth Seeker. Who happens to be a Vampire. Oh, and there was also a Mad Scientist and some Zombies (not enough zombies, IMHO). The main character, Joe Pitt, is not really a detective but he fills that spot on the playbill. He is nicely drawn, with conflicting loyalties, rich emotions, a—shall we say “interesting” sex life, a very laconic affect and Dark Sense of Humor. Very Dark. I laughed frequently at Joe’s inner dialog, for instance, when he makes himself resist the urge to let a zombie he is escorting kill a nearby jogger. His lack of an external speech filter produces most of the other laugh lines in the book, as when he tells a bartender his badly burned face (the result of being exposed to the sun—he’s a vampire, remember?) is from a tanning bed: “Those things are dangerous.”
Danger is this novel’s raison d’etre. There’s a lot of kidnapping, slugging, shooting, knifing, biting, and general gore that almost made me rate the book with just three stars. Joe’s nemeses are the various vampire clans who battle for Manhattan turf. One is a Big Business sort of outfit, one is a biker gang, another is a bunch of hippy vampires left over from the sixties who are trying to form a vamp collective, and the fourth is . . . well, that’s where things got interesting.
I wouldn’t have given this book four stars were it not for the Enclave. Huston’s creation of this group of vampires who live like ascetic yogis was sheer genius. The group is purposely kept very shadowy and vaguely defined, but the reader is given to understand that their adherents are basically starving themselves to death, but ever . . . so . . . slowly . . . by drinking the absolute minimum amount of blood needed to stay barely “alive.”
Understandably, it’s an experiment not many are willing to be a part of, but apparently there is some payoff or why would anyone do it? Therein lies the most interesting part of the book. Huston lets us in on some of the Enclave’s secrets using some really terrific writing that kept me on the edge of my seat.
I listened to this as an audiobook and I’ve got to give mad props to reader Scott Brick who gave Joe just the right New York accent without going overboard, not to mention great personifications of all the other characters both major and minor.
Belying its name, this collection of short stories is an incredibly valuable find for any scifi fan. I listened to this as an audiobook, apparently the only way it was published. What an inspired decision! Each story is introduced by the author, in his/her own voice, and each is read by a different performer. With a stellar lineup of both authors and performers, this was a treat from start to finish. The unifying concept is that the authors were asked to use the first line of a famous book as the first line in their stories. My one quibble is that nowhere could I find a list of all the stories along with the performers’ names, quite a shame since they were all superb. I have attempted to remedy that oversight here, and apologize in advance to any of the performers whose names I misspell.
1) Fireborn by Robert Charles Wilson, read by Christine Van. Wilson begins his story with the first line from a Carl Sandburg Rootabaga Tale: “Sometimes in January, the sky comes down close if we walk on a country road.” I particularly like the way this story incorporated music, dance and art, which are not common subjects in scifi.
2) The Evening Line by Mike Resnick, read by L.J. Ganser. Unbeknownst to me, Resnick has written a number of short stories featuring “Harry the Book” in homage to Damon Runyon. This, his twelfth story about the character, begins with the opening line from Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Although overlong, I appreciated many of the gags in the story, which was a mashup of scifi, Austen, and Guys & Dolls. I particularly enjoyed the names of the characters, which were lifted directly from Guys & Dolls and twisted (Nathan Detroit becomes Joey Chicago, Benny Southstreet becomes Benny Fifthstreet, Nicely Nicely Johnson becomes Gently Gently Dawkins). Also, at one point a character drinks an “Old Peculiar” – a reference to the Neil Gaiman short story?
3) No Decent Patrimony by Elizabeth Bear and read by the always fantastic Scott Brick begins with a line from Christopher Marlow’s Edward II “My father is deceased.” The story concerns the social strife between generations and classes engendered by life extension. Bear adds some twists to what is a familiar scifi storyline.
4) The Big Whale by Allen M. Steele, read by Christian Rummel. Yes, it’s a reference to Melville, but set in a Raymond Chandler universe. Who knew so many scifi authors were obsessed with detective noir? I loved this story, possibly because I just read Moby Dick a few months ago. What’s not to like about a story that combines “Call me Ishmael” with “I carry a harpoon” ??
5) Begone by Daryl Gregory, read by Jonathan Davis. Were it not for Gregory’s introduction to this story, I’m not sure I would have gotten what was going on right away, but for anyone of a certain age, this story will bring back many memories. Like Gregory, I was disturbed when Dick Sargent replaced Dick York in the role of Darrin Stephens, hapless muggle husband to Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha Stephens, a witch in the television series “Bewitched.” I was actually too young to understand the difference between actors and characters and so the switch mystified me and retains a bit of creepiness for me even today. But I may be over it now, thanks to Daryl Gregory therapy. Beginning with the first line from Dickens’ David Copperfield, “Whether I am to be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anyone else, these pages must show,” was a stroke of genius, and the rest of the story is just as brilliant, not to mention meta. It was funny, inventive but also thoughtful, as in lines like this: “Every man tries to forget that we are made from women, by women, for women.” I loved Gregory’s “Raising Stony Mayhall” and this short fiction has made me interested in checking out some of his other work.
6) The Red Menace by Lavie Tidhar, read by Stefan Rudnicki. If the name of the story doesn’t give it away, the fact that the first line “A specter is haunting Europe” is taken from Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto should make it clear the story is not about Mars, but rather is an alternate history of WWII. This was quite different from most scifi I have read, but that didn’t surprise me too much. I have read a couple of other Lavie Tidhar stories (in his excellent anthologies of world scifi, which I highly recommend) and enjoy his non-western take on things. I cannot neglect to mention here also, the excellent narration by Rudnicki, who is channeling Michael Ansara’s incredibly deep, resonant and slightly foreign-sounding accent.
7) Muse of Fire by John Scalzi and read—as are all of Scalzi’s audiobooks—by Wil Wheaton. Scalzi pulled his opening line from Shakespeare’s Henry V, “O for a muse of fire that would ascend.” Scalzi’s prodigious imagination produces a so-so story but plenty of great images related to flames and fire, but also just plain old great writing like this: “They were like two puzzle pieces that were not meant to be jammed together.”
8) Writer’s Block by Nancy Kress and read by David Morantz. Starting a story with the famously bad first line “It was a dark and stormy night” (from the book Paul by Edward Bulwer-Lytton) is pretty bold, but it pays off. I particularly liked the twist at the end.
9) Highland Reel by Jack Campbell, read by Nicola Barber. Not to be outdone in hubris, Campbell begins his story with the first line of MacBeth: “When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain?” The story was a mashup of Brigadoon with alternate history that would have benefitted from a less conventional ending.
10) Karin Coxswain or “Death as she is Truly Lived” by Paul Di Filippo and read by Dena Perlman. I have never read anything by Di Filippo and now I probably never will. I should have backed away as soon as he started in about how Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was the first American Novel and announced his opening line would be taken from that book: “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” I just read that book within the past year and hated it, but I forced myself to get through the whole thing because of its place in the canon. But I only got a few minutes into this coarse, tasteless bit of trash before deciding I could move along down the river to the next story.
11) The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal, read by Alison Johnson. This story took its opening line from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz: “Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.” This beautiful, gentle story of growing old, love, loss and yearning was my favorite serious story in the entire collection.
12) Every Fuzzy Beast of the Earth by Tad Williams and read by Mark Vitor began with “First God made heaven and earth” from . . . well, you know what that’s from. This story had me laughing so hard my husband came to find out what was going on. Picture the little girl from Ransom of Red Chief getting into the Garden of Eden and arguing with the angels who are creating it and you have some idea of the chaos. The performance by Mark Vitor, whose sonorous, Shakespearean tones become increasingly harried and incredulous as the story goes along, is the icing on the cake that made this my favorite comedic story in the collection.
13) Declaration by James Patrick Kelly, read by Ilyana Kadushik, opens with “When in the course of human events.” This was a mildly interesting near-future tale in which young students take a class assignment a bit too far. The author says he intended the story as a bit of an admonition to the Matrix films, but I think he misses the point and the story misses the mark.
At first, I thought this was going to be a book about the aftermath of civil war. I was quite interested in the story of the young woman doctor who was taking vaccines to an orphanage in a part of a country that until recently had been on the opposite side of the war. But pretty soon the story started accumulating characters, each with a backstory that was so long I started to wonder who was really the main character. The farther in I went, the less the story made sense, until I figured out that it is essentially a really depressing book about death.
The grandfather, the Deathless Man, Derisa, the men digging in the vineyard, and obviously the protagonist, Natalia, are all dealing with death in their own particular ways. The book also considers how difficult it is to predict who will live and who will die (doctors, apothecary, Blind Olo, the Deathless Man). The gruesome story of the deaths of the animals in the capital city’s zoo also seems, on the surface, to be about death, but I think that is meant to be a metaphor for how a civil war is like a country eating itself, or its own children. Yeah, depressing.
But being depressing doesn’t make a book a poor read. What I could not reconcile in my mind was the conceit that the entire book was being written by Natalia (it’s all a first-person narrative). Apparently, in the time she had available when she was not doctoring, she went around the country finding these obscure people from her grandfather’s past (I think they’re from his past? The connections between the people were very hard to follow), listened to them tell the entire story of their depressing lives, and then wrote it all down. And the details in the stories were simply too perfect to have been retrieved in this manner, via second- and third-hand accounts. For instance, at one point she is describing when Luka was a musician, and she specifically says that one of his friends had a space between his front teeth and another friend had been burned while lighting a fire. No one would go to that level of detail in telling a story about their far distant past, and if they did, a sensible storyteller would know to edit out such extraneous information. And what is it with the dancing bears? I recently read another book with a dancing bear that comes out of nowhere . . . if there is some special meaning there I missed it.
I listened to this as an audio book read by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs. I have to say that I loved the way Robin Sachs read the sections narrated by the grandfather. I wish the book had been from the point of view of the grandfather all the way through, it might have made more sense.
I notice that most of the other people who rated this as a one-star read are women. Seems that I am not alone in not being able to see the "humor" in the Mary Magdalene rape scene, masturbation, animal fornication, or the endless descriptions of a 13-year-old boy's innermost thoughts upon seeing [insert here a part of the female anatomy normally covered by clothing]. Don't misunderstand me: I wasn't offended because these despicable/schoolboy acts and thoughts are attributed to Christ. The few and far between parts where Christ actually makes an appearance in the book are really quite benign and non-controversial. No, all of this nonsense is perpetrated by the main character, his best friend Biff. I tried to keep going, hoping it would get better, but by page 150 or so (not sure . . . I was listening to it as an audio book) where Biff is being tended to by eight Chinese concubines for pages upon pages, I just had to quit.
I was immediately captivated upon hearing the first few pages of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” tacked on as a promo at the end of “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar.” The tale of a man, back in his childhood hometown on the occasion of a funeral, re-discovering something fantastic and magical at the end of the lane made me feel wistful, like I wanted some of my mother’s chocolate chip cookies. So I immediately ordered “The Ocean” and waited for those cookie-scented childhood memories to waft my way.
The book is for the most part a flashback, as the man of the first chapter recalls an adventure he had—or may not have had—as a young boy. As much as I liked the first chapter, much of the middle section of the book was just too icky for my taste. Intellectually, I understand the purpose of the scary parts but they were a bit graphic for my taste and jarred with other parts that were beautifully whimsical.
The end of the book did a nice job of bringing everything back full circle, and made several allusions to the author’s own life as an expatriate and (at one time) struggling artist. I got the idea that this book was more autobiographical than others I have read by Gaiman. The long view of life that the novel’s structure allows resonated with me as I believe it will for many other readers of a “certain age.”
I listened to this as an audio book read by Gaiman. He does a marvelous job here as with other readings I have heard from him.
Got about halfway through and the book just wasn't grabbing my interest. The preponderance of male protagonists bored me and the backhanded treatment of the female characters irritated me so much I just couldn't finish it.
Two notes: The cover art is wrong . . . it really is Winesburg, Ohio. And the audio is not as well edited as I would like. What I take to be the titles of the individual stories are spoken so quickly after the end of the previous story as to be easily mistaken as the continuation of the same story. It seems like a little thing, but it was really quite annoying to listen to.
Things I liked about this book: The system of magic was very realistic, by which I mean the author clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the mechanism for the magic, which is built mainly on the idea of “sympathy” between objects. For instance, it makes sense that in order to use magic to start something on fire (for instance, a barn) the magic user must hold an item that is easy to burn (for instance, a piece of straw). This concept is explained in bits and pieces throughout the book, as the protagonist learns more and more about how to control “sympathy.” This is much more satisfying in my mind than--to pull an example out of thin air--a book about a boy who learns magic that seems to be based almost exclusively on memorizing almost-Latin sounding phrases and then yelling them at another magic-user. One particularly good scene stands out in my mind, in which the protagonist and another student have a sort of magic duel. Rather than giving us yet another wand-waving explosion of pyrotechnics, Rothfuss imagines a nearly silent contest of wills in which the two contestants must concentrate all their attention on preventing their opponent from lighting a candle.
The other thing I really liked about the book were the descriptions of the music. Not very many books have a bard as a protagonist, and the descriptions of the protagonist’s experiences as a musician had the ring of truth to them. A musician’s love for his instrument, the agony of breaking strings, and the exhilaration that comes when performing, are all described beautifully and realistically and were some of my favorite parts of the book.
Unfortunately, too many other parts of the book were just plain boring or weirdly nonsensical. Without getting into too much detail, I will simply say that I thought some of the characters’ reactions to the things that happened were unbelievable. And while I know this is the first book of a trilogy, leaving the central mystery of the book, which is introduced in the first chapter (the spider things) completely unexplained, is just bad storytelling. Sorry, I wasn’t interested enough to want to read the next installment.
I think I missed the meeting when my book club chose this book, so I had absolutely no idea what it was about when I downloaded it into my phone and began to listen. Within a few sentences, I found myself laughing out loud. I don’t know if a person reading the book would get as much of the snarky humor inherent in this book (particularly the beginning) but it definitely comes across in the audio version as expertly brought alive by Clive Mantle. Just the way Mantle pronounces “Serrrrrrge” with a heavy, sardonic emphasis on the “r” made me laugh every time. And don’t get me started on the scene in the men’s room—hysterical!
The beginning chapters are a bitingly droll commentary on upper middle class life in the early 21st century. I absolutely howled with laughter at the descriptions of the pretentious restaurant, the self-important maître d’ (and his pinky!) and the ostentatiously named food. Side trips into the protagonist’s memories were also—at first—amusing, particularly the passage about the garden party.
Which brings me to another thing I loved about this book: the way the author described things. Like the woman at the garden party with a “voice like the sweetener in Diet Coke.” I also really liked it when the author described something and then wrote something along the lines of “well, no . . . it wasn’t exactly like that . . . it was more like . . .” and then went on to give a fantastic simile that left no doubt what he had in mind. In chapter 15 he gives three different descriptions of Serge’s face, each one more telling than the last: “like a new car that got its first scratch,” “like a cartoon whose chair has been kicked out from under him,” and finally “if he wore that face asking people to vote for him, no one would give him a second look.”
There is much, much more to this book, and once the action starts to heat up the comedy is replaced by a chilling look behind the scenes of these “normal” lives. Societal issues including racism, homelessness, parenting, violence and morality are presented as I have seldom encountered them before in a novel. The end . . . well, I don’t want to give anything away, but it was sort of like in the Road Runner when the coyote realizes the cliff has dropped out from under him. A great listen!
I enjoyed the parts of this novel more than the whole of it. Taken altogether, this seemed like a story that could have been told in half the pages while still getting across the main points the author was making. The book principally documents the lives of several individuals, each of whom when young believes he or she is destined to do Great Things. Over the course of several hundred pages, the author shows how her protagonists, either through their own poor judgment or because of their place in the social web (dictated by the mores of Victorian society) end up living pretty unremarkable lives.
It is a testament to Eliot’s excellence as a writer that she manages to make these everyday lives interesting. She does this via a delightful cast of supporting characters and witty asides that skewer human nature generally. I found myself smiling frequently and underlining many wonderful passages throughout the book.
But what makes this book worth reading over a century after it was written is the way it shows the first glimmers of rebellion against the way women were brought up, particularly women of middle and upper-middle class status. None of the women in the book are allowed to fully utilize their abilities, particularly their minds, and are for the most part submissive to their fathers, brothers, and husbands. But this submission does not come easily, and each manages to slip out from under the oppression of her situation in her own way.
[I listened to this as an audio book performed by Maureen O'Brien. She did a very good job of giving the characters different voices, but I agree she made several of the women sound extremely childish, which was a bit annoying. Still, she was able to get a good deal of humor into the reading which I appreciated.]
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