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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

Pavlov's Dogs - D.L. Snell, Thom Brannan I watch a lot of d-grade zombie movies. The zombie in cinema lends itself to the low budget - no need for shiny locations (quite the opposite), no need for costly transformation sequences, just a trip to the butcher, a group of friends who can shuffle convincingly, and blood packets at the ready. The plotting of the zombie apocalypse tends to Lifeboat-ish claustrophobia - a group of people bickering while the hordes bang on the windows - and as such, tends to work as nice, nasty little metaphors about societal needs versus individual needs.

Which is putting a needlessly highfalutin gloss on the visceral appeal of the zombie. I know that every other minute someone is out there declaring the zombie genre dead, and I will refrain from making requisite and expected undead jokes, but the zombie is not gonna die until the scrambling, intimate action sequence stops appealing to humans. I mean, I'm not watching Walking Dead for the articles, I can tell you that for free. All those characters - who are incredibly poor mouthpieces for whatever societal ethos - stand around talking and I think, holy cow, stop that right now OMIGOD GET UNDER THE CAR AND KEEP QUIET FOR CRIPES SAKES.

Some d-grade entrail-gobblers slip and hit insightful, the way horror does - Horde, a French film that expresses some pretty alarming unease with current French immigration politics, when it isn't fuck yeah, bloodbath. But then there's stuff like Rammbock or Penguin in a Zombie Suit - both shorter than full length films - which don't really aim towards any big cultural things, but their low budget stylishnesses and downbeat everyday quality tug at heartstrings and entrails both. Then there's stuff like Zombie Apocalypse which is barrel-scraping, shitty-set-piece-enacting, Ving Rhames-acting fun, which is marred by not one, but two - SYKE - zombie tigers whose shitty CGI nature enshitifies what was otherwise fun, ham-fisted dialogue and enthusiastic, if inexpert melees.

Okay, I've figured out my point. Forget whatever I was musing about above. I was just talking to my husband about this book, sort of bemoaning the awesomeness of the idea versus the execution. He says, so it's like the most recent sequel to Underworld, where it's werewolves versus vampires, so what you need, to up the stakes, is A GIANT FUCKING WEREWOLF. I was like, YES EXACTLY. But before they realized they needed a GIANT FUCKING WEREWOLF, the Underworld sequel-makers messed around with convoluted backstory, flashbacks, and a whole lot of who gives a shit. Who are all these people? Why do I care? And more importantly, WHERE IS THE GIANT FUCKING WEREWOLF? Underworld is awesome because it's all vinyl catsuits and carnage, Bill Nighy vamping his little heart out, and a bloodbath. I seriously don't care about whatever Oedipal crisis brought these monsters to their bloodbath, and acting like I should does a serious disservice to the awesomeness of GIVE ME MORE VAMPIRES FIGHTING WEREWOLVES.

There are way, way too many people in this story. It should be the touching cross-country escapades of Alfonso and Esteban finding their way through the zombie apocalypse - and when the story stuck on those dudes and their banter, I was a happy reader. But then there's all this convoluted backstory about the werewolves, including a mano-a-mano struggle for pack dominance which includes a dozen other pack members, the mad scientists ALSO having a struggle for dominance, and another half dozen techs, and a survivor group whose members I had a hard time keeping straight, which only got worse when the survivor group split up into two locations. This is not a long book, and it's not supposed to be a complex character-driven social portrait, right? It's supposed to be be GIANT FUCKING WEREWOLVES fighting zombies. The ornaments were fun - who doesn't love an eyeball in a cooler? - but I spent so much time thinking, who? where are we now? and when? that it undercut whatever pulp frission might be found in the action sequences. Which had an alarming tendency to cut out just before the crisis, and then restart from another vantage, deflating any tension that might be had.

The d-grade action movie might be easier to pull off than a pulp book - it's when budgets get too big that action sequences bloat to Michael Bayish confuse-o-vision - but in a book, writing action with good physicality can be harder than it looks. The main pulp draw of this book - the GIANT FUCKING WEREWOLF going to Christmas on a bunch of zombies - those sequences were way more told than shown - brief sentences of and then the werewolves tore the socks out of a whole mess of zombies, which I found disappointing. Either get to the hacking, or bother about talking some shit about the effects of leadership on insular societies, but don't try to do both. Or try to do both, but give me someone to hang onto, a main character, a spine of the story that I can follow. Which you are totally welcome to rip out and hold aloft, dripping blood, please.

I dunno. I'm not going to pretend I didn't read this fast like a fever, one section after another. The ornaments and small moments often worked well - like an early section where the Alfonso and Esteban characters are stuck in traffic because of a traffic accident OH GOD ZOMBIES DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE, or a goin' out to get supplies mission that goes past a school OH GOD TEH CHILDREN, or a bit with an eyeball in a cooler, because that's funny. In some of the interstitial moments, there was competent shit-talk and banter, but anytime the struggling-for-dominance people enacted conversations I groooaaaned. (And there's a lot of those people enacting conversations.) I guess, for me, there was a smaller, less chaotic story that I liked, but it was buried under scads of distractions from what should have been the main event - GIANT FUCKING WEREWOLVES KILLING ZOMBIES.

This is hard to rate because this book is a quantum uncertainly of situational enjoyment (everything is better read at the cabin) versus objective quality (not wonderful), and choosing between them is a bother. The authors clearly had a ton of fun writing this, which glosses everything with enthusiasm - a charming quality in pulp fiction. (Also, off-topic observation - this sort of thing so often goes in for casual rape to prove the situation is serious, or fridges a girlfriend to give some dude a motivation - and that is wholly absent here. So, points for that alone.) Probably the enthusiasm was the source of the lack of focus - what if we had a bunch of cage matches?? And a boat chase?? And a cancer patient?? &c &c. Individually, some of these things worked and some didn't, but the vignettes don't really gel. This is a fun-ish book, sloppy, fast paced. It'll do you when you're sitting on the front porch of the cabin getting mauled by mosquitoes. It did me fine anyway.