Review: The Remaining by D.J. Molles

The Remaining (The Remaining, #1)

The Remaining isn’t just another zombie apocalypse novel. Actually, it is, but author D.J. Molles has tweaked his re-telling of a fate worse than death enough to make it fresh. I just read that sentence over. Really, there’s nothing fresh about a zombie apocalypse. Zombies are disgusting. Two distinct facts separate this story from the rest, however.

First of all, the time-frame is very compressed. After meeting Captain Lee Harden and covering a quiet month in his bunker, where we learn the how and the why of the apocalypse and his mission, Molles pushes the fast forward button. The greater part of the book, the ACTION, spans about three terrifying and tense days.

Debating with his conscience, Lee leaves the bunker a few days earlier than his detailed instructions dictate. From the minute he steps outside his front door, what can go wrong does go wrong. That’s the second difference. There are no cosy campfire scenes in this novel. Little reminiscence regarding what was. There is no spark of attraction between two world-weary survivors. Lee does begin to collect a merry band, but he’s missing several integral ‘types’. There’s no ex-con, no slut and no gun crazy guy or girl who constantly threatens everyone else’s safety.

There are marauding bands of hooligans with guns, however, and gobs and gobs of zombies. (Is there a collective pronoun for zombies?) The world outside Lee’s bunker is also suitably apocalyptic. In other words, the setting is just right.

Given more than three days to cope with the end of the world, Lee might have managed a passable cast of characters. I, for one, am glad he did not. With furious zombies battering at every door, the story had enough tension. Palpable tension! I ripped through the pages at a furious pace and finished the book in a single day.

Folks who read my reviews regularly know I love a good apocalypse. So, I enjoyed this book. I loved the pace and quite liked Captain Lee Harden. He’s a well-constructed character. He’s a soldier, through and through, and far from being an emotionless git. I felt his balance of rational thought and emotional involvement was just right. He spared a thought for the fate of the world and for those he cared about, but continued to put his mission first, even when it meant sacrificing himself. Very noble of him, I’d say. Without the recrimination and doubt, he’d have been a bit unreal. Instead, he’s just a guy, one specially chosen by the United States government for a very special task, one brought to life by Molles. My only complaint concerns the ending, which, like all the things that go wrong, I am not going to give away, suffice to say, it’s not an ending at all. It’s a cliff-hanger of the most bald variety. Nothing to cling to AT ALL!

‘The Remaining’ caught me up and carried me along well enough that I would have picked up the next book anyway. I want to continue adventuring with Lee. Still, I don’t like being told what to do and tend to take a dim view of books that don’t give me a whole story. Feels like an upsell. If I’d wanted fries with my order, I’d have ordered the damned fries to begin with. Actually, I kinda needed fries with this order. But while I think ‘The Remaining’ could have had a more satisfying conclusion, hinting at or even serving up the next adventure, I will read on. This wasn’t just another zombie apocalypse novel. It’s a well written, taut adventure novel with characters that definitely make a mark.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: To Sail a Darkling Sea

In ‘ To Sail a Darkling Sea’, the sequel to ‘Under a Graveyard Sky’, the Smith family continues doing what they do best: killing the infected and reclaiming the world, piece by bloody, zombie-ridden piece. As they recover ships and rescue survivors of the plague, Wolf Squadron becomes something more than a rag tag fleet of vessels. It becomes a machine (not well-oiled) representing the blood, sweat and tears required to raise a civilisation from the ground up. Or, in this case, from the ocean.

Stripped back, this book is about logistics and in that respect, it’s a fantastic read. The aftermath of any apocalypse is likely to be messy. Zombie apocalypses in particular. Dead or undead, zombies have atrocious manners and little respect for personal hygiene. Any space left in their care is soon going to stink. They don’t mind, but the survivors do…and not just because of the smell. Unsightly messes aside, rotting bodies will breed new and wonderful diseases. It would be a shame to survive one apocalypse only to succumb to the next super bug.

Steven John “Wolf” Smith already ran a tight ship (nautical cliches are a must for this one). He and his family – wife Stacey and daughters Faith and Sophia – began clearing ships and rescuing people just two weeks after disaster struck. But as the contingent grows, so does the need for order, and this is where ‘To Sail a Darkling Sea’ excels. The details. John Ringo covers everything from likely conditions for survival, for both the infected and the uninfected, patterns of behaviour, transition to the world after, and finding a job and a purpose within in the fleet. He examines politics and government, which are two entirely different things, economy and order, how to mesh civilian and military discipline, and how to raise children in a world that is not their own.

There is also the matter of the disease that caused the problems in the first place. There are plans for a cure, but plans take plans and those plans take plans. The world isn’t going to save itself and organising more than four people can be like herding cats. Hence the introduction of military discipline.

I reveled in these details, particularly the careful instruction of guns and ammo with a meticulous breakdown of damage per weight – how many zombies they can kill with the ammo they are carrying. In a video game, the value of a weapon (and ammo) is generally determined by a DPS (damage per second) ratio as compared to what you are killing. It’s the same principle, and the discussion of ammunition types is also fascinating. I’m a writer (and some time housewife). I don’t own a gun. But I’ve been killing stuff for thirty odd years on my computer. I know the differences between 5.56mm and 12 gauge and in the face of a zombie apocalypse, I’d be kissing a box of 12 gauge.

The structure of Wolf Squadron is fascinating. A place must be found for everyone they rescue. A fighting force needs support staff; cooks, cleaners, administrators and caregivers. The list is endless. Someone has to print up ration chits. Someone has to design them. They need mechanics and engineers. Mariners and pilots. I found it amusing that they had a surplus of solicitors.

The scale of the disaster is represented well, as are the problems of the reemergent civilisation. The military action is superlative. The zombie killing and clearing scenes are gripping. So, what’s the problem with this book? The women. In particular, Faith and Sophia, ‘Shewolf’ and ‘Seawolf’. The daughters of Steven Smith. They’re thirteen and fifteen, respectively, and they are BADASS.

I had a lot of difficulty suspending disbelief here. I tried. I tried really hard. I more of a problem with Faith. As a caricature, she’s kind of funny, but the author’s love for her comes across as sycophantic at times. It made me uneasy. Faith is an idea, not a person. She does make for an entertaining read; I had images of ‘Lollipop Chainsaw‘ in my head; young girls swearing and swinging weapons around, barely bothered by the gore splashing back at them. There is a playlist for every action and Faith could fire and reload in time to the music, whilst dancing. Neither Faith nor Sophia get seriously injured, however. Even after being ‘dogpiled’ by zombies. They handle the death of comrades and the aftermath of the apocalypse with grit and determination. They gain the respect of every man, even those more than four times their age. They are inducted as marines, without training and given rank, command and medals.

That their father let them carry on the way they did bothered me. He did respond to some of their antics with a combined father/commander talk, but then he turned around to smack down anyone who crossed his daughters’ paths. That their mother apparently had no say bothered me more. Stacey Smith is conspicuously absent from this book. I understand she will get a chapter of her own in the print version. I doubt she will be upbraiding her daughters for their unruly behaviour, from flirting with men twice their age, swanning around in bikinis, drinking at thirteen and swearing like the proverbial sailors.

It’s the end of the world and the old rules don’t apply, obviously. But with Steve Smith paying so much attention to the other aspects of rebuilding a civilisation, I would think he’d be more protective of his children. Of their reputation and well-being, at least. If not their psyche.

In general, women are not flattered by this novel. I’m not a rampant feminist and I did appreciate the author’s attempt, at times, to blur the line between the sexes, to insist women could be as BADASS as men. But did they have to wear bikinis while doing so? Did they have to enjoy having sex with four different men whilst being trapped in compartments for six months awaiting rescue? I think a lot of men would find these passages unflattering as well, as they indicate a guy can’t keep it in his pants (or in hand) for more than a couple of weeks.

Then there is the container of Paris-original dresses that Faith nearly sacrifices her unit for, because she needs something to wear to the Marine Corps ball. She’ll never get to prom, poor thing, because, you know, zombie apocalypse.

Stepping back, I can say ‘this is a story’ and leave it at that. It’s the author’s interpretation of events. His world, his rules. As a writer, I can appreciate that. But as a reader, I find it hard to enjoy a book that is constantly poking my more delicate sensibilities. Not sure, yet, if I am likely to read forward. There is a plan in place to reclaim the world and kick start our civilisation. I would like to see what happens next and I can hope John Ringo has a plan to mature the girls. But will I like it? Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

(Featured image taken from the original painting by KMI Studio, LLC)

Review: The Last of Us: American Dreams

18101264 The Last of Us: American Dreams by Neil Druckmann and Faith Erin Hicks

‘The Last Of Us’ is a comicbook based on the recently released video game of the same name. The setting is post-apocalyptic and the main character is Ellie, the young girl featured on the cover of the game. The comic serves as a prequel. This review covers the first four issues as collected in the first trade edition, ‘The Last Of Us: American Dreams’.

Ellie arrives at what appears to be a school for orphaned children. It’s not immediately obvious why there are so many of them, but there are enough hints that the reader gains the idea the world outside is not safe. There is mention of the infected and security is tight and there are a lot of heavies with guns dotted throughout the pages.

After going through a typical initiation, lets beat up the new kid, Ellie befriends Riley, an older girl who is just shy of sixteen. Riley shares the bitter news that on her sixteenth birthday, she’ll be shoved out into the world and given a gun, forced to join the fighting ranks. Riley wants another option, one that is going to involve Ellie, whether she likes it or not.

Riley has an unhealthy interest in the Fireflies, who seem to be a military outfit at odds with the regular forces. It’s unclear if they are at the opposite end of the fight or simply do things differently. When the pair catch up with the Fireflies, things don’t go quite as planned. (Wouldn’t be as exciting, otherwise!)

Chapter four, the last issue collected in this book, reveals the answers to a lot of questions. What type of school Ellie was in and why she was there. The reader also learns about the Fireflies. It’s a very tense chapter and definitely inspires interest in the rest of the story. Previously unexplored sides of Riley and Ellie are exposed, deepening their characters.

I like more painterly art between the chapters that preface the action to come. The soft colours are a nice contrast to the bolder lines and colours of the comic book pages. I also like the pages that tell the story visually rather than rely on dialogue or comments. There are a good proportion of them and they very clearly convey both action and mood. They’re well-conceived. The last few pages feature a series of concept sketches. I always appreciate those additions to the collected editions of comic books.

I enjoyed this comic and I’d definitely keep up with the series. I would like to know more about the world, but I wasn’t overly frustrated by the slow reveal. The infected are zombies and there have been enough books and movies about zombies that I can draw some rudimentary conclusions. What sets this story apart, at present, is the characters. Yes, we’ve seen zombies before. We’re almost numbed to the horror of them. But this is the first time I’ve seen a young female protagonist. It makes a refreshing change.

Review written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.

This review was cross posted from Goodreads, which doesn’t always correctly attribute the writers and artists of comic books, so here’s a complete list of credits: Writer: Faith Erin Hicks, Neil Druckmann. Artist: Faith Erin Hicks. Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg. Cover Artist: Julian Totino Tedesco

Review: The Exodus Towers

The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

The Darwin Elevator by James M. Hough ended with the discovery of a second space elevator and a new, movable aura to protect Earth’s survivors from a deadly plague. The Exodus Towers, book two of the Dire Earth Cycle, begins shortly afterward. There is no rest for the weary! It’s another race against time, the deadline shortened to a pair of years, but the questions are bigger and the puzzles more complex. Is the new space elevator a second chance for humanity, or is it a new kind of cage?

A second colony is established in Brazil, at the base of the new space elevator and, for a while, its business as usual. Every decision is processed by the slow moving machine of the provisional leadership, headed by Dr. Tania Sharma. On the ground, Skyler Luiken resumes his trade: scavenging. In Darwin, Russell Blackfield gnashes his teeth with evil intent and Samantha proves size does matter. Subhumans are still subhuman and the Builders are still inscrutable.

Hough doesn’t tell the same story twice, however. Using established elements, he immediately deepens the mystery, adding a band of Immunes and more deviously altered subhumans. He also plays with fanaticism. It’s not a proper post apocalypse without a couple of religious nutcases, after all. The leader of the new immunes dreams of a new world populated by a superior race (sound familiar?) and, back in Darwin, the leader of the Jacobites is spreading fear and fervor. The second elevator is a problem for Jacobite Grillo; there should be only one Jacob’s Ladder. The colony at the base of the second elevator is a problem for Gabriel and his gang of immunes; the humans clustered within its aura are untested.

One of these men will be dealt with, the other needs to be dealt with. Separately, they keep Skyler and Samantha busy until the Builders arrive, as scheduled.

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Interview: Jay Posey, author of Three

17162150After reading Three (Legends of the Dustwalker, #1), I was given the opportunity to interview the author, Jay Posey. I was fascinated by the world he created, which differs greatly from the usual zombie apocalypse. (The fact we have a usual is frightening, right?) So, I put together some questions. I knew some of Jay’s answers would be necessarily vague. Three is the beginning of a journey, the introduction to a new world. Still, he was able to offer some fascinating insights to how the story and the world came about.

Kelly Jensen: What can you tell us about the world of Three? It’s so obviously different to our own. Is it a future you envisage, or an alternate reality?

Jay Posey: The world of Three is really more a result of a long series of “What if … and then what if … and then what if …?” type questions.  I don’t really think of it as any kind of prediction, but I also think that everything in it is at least possible somewhere down the road.  If you look at where technology is today, and some of the crazy and amazing (and terrifying) things people are doing with it, and you add it to the weight of human history, I think you can end up with some very interesting and maybe potentially disturbing scenarios.

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