Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The First Days - It's the end of the world and I hate them all.

The book up this time is, “The First Days” by Rhiannon Frater. The woman at a local bookstore had suggested I read and review this book. Back in February. It wasn’t as painfully bad as another book that will be coming soon, but it was bad. Since this is a new blog, I’ll say it now, spoilers are ahead and if you do want to read this book despite my distaste for the writing, you’ll want to stop before the warning. The book itself is a poorly edited mess with poor characters, jumbled scenes and unlikeable characters with a swath of mental issues more likely attributable to bad writing than any real issues. There are a few moments in the book where it was actually strong, but far too often I just… didn’t want to go on.
So we’ll start with the definitive best part of the book, it’s first couple of pages. I was legitimately excited when I first picked this book up and started reading. It hit just the right mixture of chaotic horror and shock that should be mandatory for writing in this genre. Unfortunately, it quickly nosedives from there. We’re talking within ten pages. She throws a rush of scenes at the reader that would work well in a movie to show the chaos, something like the Dawn of the Dead remake, but here it just feels off. They then start arguing about whether or not to call the zombies, well, zombies. It was such an abrupt change I actually rolled back a few pages to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I then had to make sure I was reading about Jenni and Katie and not about Shaun and Ed. Whiplash back again in time to find a survivor who is promptly killed, then a quick drive from the city to rural erh… Texas supposedly. It was a bit jarring being able to go twenty minutes without running a Twisted Metal game through Suburbia, but I haven’t seen enough of Texas to know just how accurate it is. It annoys me though.
They arrive at a gas station and exit with their guns. There’s only the kid and… maybe his girlfriend? She sort of pops up and disappears as the plot calls for. The kid thinks they’re robbing him even though they’re paying. He even tells them they’re robbing him wrong and that they’re crazy for talking about the zompocalypse. Of course, he doesn’t have a TV or Radio because the owner has standards or some other utterly bullshit reason. Would’ve at least made more sense to say “Hey man, our radio’s out the signal’s weird” or something. Then a family shows up, then disappears. They added nothing and did nothing, but they were mentioned. Matter of fact in writing this, I probably have doubled the section they were present for. No I don’t know why or who they were either. Then the owner shows up eating the girl, or shows up and eats the girl or the girl runs into him. They watch the owner then chase the kid around the store while glibly remarking,
“I warned him.”
before driving off. I’ll be honest I don’t remember or care which of the two said it, it was bad. These are supposed to be two strong, realistic female protagonists. They read like the sociopaths from a Glen Cook book. Admittedly watching Soulcatcher and Moonbiter blow up zombies would probably make a pretty good book. They drive on, find a small town with a gun store that used to be a prison that also doubles as a house stationed by an old hunter and his Israeli sniper wife. The store was called Toombs. Yes that thudding is in fact, my head hitting my desk. They stay there a few days, become master marksmen able to reliably make zombies heads’ explode like they’re in a Resident Evil game using the shotgun.She did have a few colorful euphemisms for exploding heads though.
They then leave Toombs and head for the summer camp Jenni’s kid (I hope..), leaving behind their spare gas after stepping on an 11 month old zombie child’s head. Oh and there’s references to tender baby flesh later. I hate this book.
They drive through a city on the way there. The only purpose of this scene was to show a school turned into a charnel house of dead adults and children. Oh and for a plot point later that puts Max Brooks misunderstanding of the human body and how things affect it to shame. (Ed - I like the Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z for what it’s worth)They arrive at the camp, run over a little girl zombie and arrive to a scene of two boys, a girl and two adults holed up in a room with zombies on the other side of a door. The father and daughter are bitten and one of our twoclichesheroes kills the father and the woman accidentally kill her daughter in a scream of rage. They run back to their truck since she’s drawing aggro on the mobs and she’s trying to train the zeds to them. They shoot the boy, escape with the other two boys and I think a girl, but only one of the boys is actually mentioned ever again so I’m not entirely sure. They start driving back, find out they’re bingo on fuel and reroute to a city where they find survivors holed up in a construction yard with jury-rigged fences and walls in a semblance of intelligence and improvisation. Then we meetlesbian Mary SueKatie’s love interest outside of Jenni. So the lesbian that converted a straight woman to semi-lesbian earlier on is suddenly bisexual and aiming for the guy that seemed perfect or some other drek.
They hang out for a bit, eat food claiming starvation while having ignored the BOX of MREs in the truck. They dick around for a bit, vaguely get to know the auxiliary carboard cutouts characters. They drive back to Toombs, Katie gets super sick for some drama/potential zombification. It was the flu. It made her suddenly super sick and pass out in the span of a few hours. Yes it was as stupid in the book as it sounds here. They round up guns and supplies, drive back, then dick around killing zombies some more. I did like the idea of using a crane with shipping crates to squish them though, they should’ve done that more.
A pair of meth addicts show up on a bike being chased by zombies from the clinic because they’d tried to raid it. One guy is executed in the defense because his fingers were bitten off. Because they grabbed his boot through the chain link. Yes it’s as dumb as I’m making it sound. That may have happened earlier though, I’m a bit… hazy on the ending as my eyes glazed over towards the end in a desperate bid to finish the book. The meth head is tossed over to be fed to the zombies while bound and gagged in the night, two characters most liable have alibis and the book promptly ends after we find out the Israeli sniper’s husband was shot by bandits who had raped a zombified woman or… pre-zombified or something.
The characters were paper thin and bordered heavily on unlikeable for a good portion of the book. The threats were credible enough in the running zombies, especially since they were also the swarming rotting variant. They apparently no longer had to worry about muscles tearing themselves apart from use anymore though as they could run after and catch up to moving trucks, back and forth. I think they’re the same magic zombies that made 28 Weeks Later even dumber than the “Hide from napalm in a tunnel and use your shirts to stop nerve gas” issue. Throughout the book they repeatedly reference Romero despite the differences in zombies all while ignoring Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later and the Dawn remake. They’re snarky and would’ve been enjoyable if they didn’t rotate between callous and sociopathic to geeks at a horror con. The dog kept smiling. The son, who the first book was dedicated to finding has one word lines for most of the rest of the book barring exceedingly short chapters where he’s a plot macguffin. He had only a few traits. “No, fuck YOU dad!”, “Don’t try to replace dad”, “I’m hungry” and long hair. Seriously. I really don’t remember much about the love interests other than them being construction worker and one of them being Mexican and calling Jenni loco.
Every once in a while throughout the book there were glimpses of well thought out scenes, but these were few and far between and interceded with pants on head stupid scenes otherwise. The pace meandered along well enough I guess, though it’s a little hard to judge since I couldn’t really stay focused on the plot well enough to really care. And that’s where the book really suffers. It’s characters are bad. They’re supposed to be strong female characters reminiscent of Thelma and Louise, but they’re such unlikeable Mary Sues that it suffers. All of the male characters be cardboard cutout in terms of writing certainly didn’t help matters either. It gets worse knowing that strong female characters CAN be done well. Murphy from the Dresden Files, The Lady, Soulcatcher, Darling, Sleepy all from The Black Company. Tinnie Tate, Maya and the Stormwarden from Garrett PI. Briar Blue from Boneshaker in the same ballpark genre. They all have strengths, weaknesses, flaws and you know, actual characterization.
The book also didn’t know when to leave things up to the reader’s imagination and when to give the full details. There was a dropped plot point involving semi-intelligent zeds that literally went nowhere and various other problems. Supposedly the book was self-published, but my copy is a Tor book and has apparently won awards from people with no taste or no exposure to other books in ANY genre.
I’ll rate it 3/10 only because there were a few points that were actually very good. If someone’s read the second book in the series and can confirm better writing I might give it a chance in the off chance that she’ll have learned from the mistakes of the first book.
With that said, the next book queued up WAS self published and features a self-insert Gary Stu fighting FEMA, the Military and zombies while acting as the touch of death to women he screws. Tune in next time for Down the Road by Bowie Ibarra.

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