The End of the Apocalypse

How do you end the apocalypse?

*SPOILER ALERT* This article discusses the endings of several zombie apocalypse books, movies, TV series, and games.

Stories and Sequels

It struck me today, on my daily walk when I was listening to the second in the Lockey vs. The Apocalypse series, We Will Rise (An Adrian’s Undead Diary Novel) by Carl Meadows, that in many post-apocalyptic series the first book in the series is often the best. Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that the other books in the sequel are any less well constructed or well-written, just that there is something about the early days of an apocalypse that is particularly interesting and engaging.

How, where and when the apocalypse begins; why it happens in the first place; where people are and what they are doing when it starts; how they react; where they go and what they do; what happens to their family and friends; whether they are reunited with them or not;  how the world and society breaks down and changes and the impact of all that; and just the sheer shock and horror of it all, is morbidly fascinating to many people, including me!

As such, the first books in an apocalyptic series, when all that initial stuff usually happens, often resonate with ordinary people more than subsequent books which take place further down the apocalyptic road. People find themselves wondering what they would do when the apocalypse comes to their town; what their world would look like after the fall; whether they would have what it took to survive or not. This can mean that readers are more captivated and engaged by the first books in an apocalyptic series than they are with subsequent books about life when the extraordinary has become the ordinary and a devastated and dangerous world has become the new normal.

This has proved to be true for my own books. My first zompoc book, Wait for Me, far exceeded my expectations in terms of sales, reviews and ratings, and feedback from friends, family and complete strangers. The sequel, Trident Edge, (which I only wrote because I had so many requests to do so) has, by comparison, been a bit of a flop. Yet, I think the second book is far better in terms of plot and writing quality than the first. I did have some reservations and regrets about the cover of Trident Edge, which for me doesn’t have the same impact as the cover of Wait for Me, but I think it’s about more than that.

I asked my best friend, and loyal fan, about what she thought of Trident Edge compared to Wait for Me, and she said that she loved them both but that she enjoyed Wait for Me more. When I dug a bit deeper to try and understand the reasons for this, she said that she enjoyed reading about the early days of the apocalypse and the zombie outbreak and how two ordinary women, Lisa and Anita, managed to survive day by day in a new and terrifying world, more than she did about their lives six months later when they had become hardened and experienced survivors and zombie killers. My case in point.

I loved the Adrian’s Undead Diaries series and I’m loving Lockey vs. The Apocalypse too. They’re great stories. But today I found myself musing, as I wandered down the leafy lanes of Solihull with Lockey, Nate and Particles fighting their way out of yet another zombie encounter and loading wood burners into trucks to prepare for the coming winter, exactly where it was all going and how it was all going to end how. In fact – I asked myself – how and when exactly does an apocalypse end?

A Satisfying Ending?

When I did my Creative Writing Course with the Writers Bureau back in 2018, I submitted a synopsis for Wait for Me for one of my assignments. One of the criticisms I received from my tutor was about the ending.

She said, “This doesn’t provide a satisfying ending to the story. What happens next? How to do the non-zombies eventually get rid of the zombie threat?”

Good question! At the time, I thought that as Lisa’s main objective was to get home and find out whether her husband Neil was ‘waiting for her’ (or not, as the case may be – no spoilers here!), that the outcome of this objective would constitute a satisfactory end to the story. Apparently, I was wrong as so many people requested a sequel.  

Defining an Apocalypse

So how do you end an apocalypse? Can you? Different definitions of an apocalypse exist that vary in their classification depending on how devastating the event has been.

The online Cambridge Dictionary talks about “total destruction and the end of the world” and uses the synonym “annihilation” but also, less pessimistically, about “great destruction and change”. Merriam Webster defines it as “the end or destruction of the world”. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary differentiates between an apocalypse which would cause “very serious damage and destruction”, and the apocalypse which causes the “destruction of the world”.

Most zompoc books and movies talk about the zombie apocalypse and rarely a zombie apocalypse, so – please bear with me here, I’m just having a little fun with the idea – my point is how do you end the end? Of course, you can have new beginnings and people adapting and changing, and maybe even incapacitating or escaping the zombie threat, or destroying the virus that caused it and so on and so on. But which of these would these qualify as the satisfying ending that my course tutor required?

Discuss!

*SPOILER ALERT*

This all got me to thinking – when I should actually have been listening to We Will Rise and had to rewind for about 15 minutes’ worth – about the endings of many of the books I have read, as well as movies and TV series I have watched and games I have played, and whether or not they had satisfying endings to their apocalypses.

Movies

Let’s start with the grandfather of the zombie apocalypse, George A Romero. His first movie, The Night of the Living Dead ends when the main character, Ben, an African American, is mistaken for a zombie and shot and killed. While many people have interpreted this as reflection of socio-political issues at the time, it doesn’t represent the end of the apocalypse. Indeed, Romero went on two make his other two classic movies, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. The original cut of Dawn of the Dead ends badly for all the survivors who are seen to perish in some harrowing found-footage material. Subsequent cuts see Fran and Peter survive but we never find out what happens to them after their escape. Similarly, in Day of the Dead, three characters escape by helicopter to a desert island, but we never find out what happens to them in the long term either.

Another couple of my favourite movies are 28 Days Later and the sequel, 28 Weeks Later. In 28 Days Later, Jim, Selena and Hannah are spotted by a fighter jet but we never know whether anyone comes back to rescue them. The zombie threat clearly continues as in 28 Weeks Later things are as bad as ever. This movie ends with the revelation that the virus has spread to mainland Europe but again, who knows what happens next? I’m still waiting for the making of 28 Months Later to find out.

Finally, World War Z the movie. Now this does have a slightly more satisfying ending that might meet with my tutor’s approval. At the end of this blockbuster, not only has Brad Pitt’s character discovered a vaccine to shield people from rampaging zombies but he and his family are all reunited in a safe zone well out of harm’s way. Aww! Nevertheless, the war against the hordes of undead that have taken over the world continues, but we are led to believe that things are looking good for the living survivors.

TV Shows

Moving on to some of the more popular zompoc TV series, The Walking Dead is apparently close to reaching its conclusion with the second half of Season 11 due on our screens any day now. I’m waiting with bated breath to see what that looks like but it’s already evident from all the spin-offs from that show (Fear the Walking Dead, Tales of the Walking Dead and World Beyond are all out already with yet more to follow), that this apocalypse is far from over.

As for Z Nation and the prequel Black Summer. (I have to admit I never finished Z Nation – it started to get on my nerves.) I believe the end involved Murphy eating Sun Mei’s brain to get the cure to the virus but honestly, I don’t really care. I did enjoy Black Summer on the other hand, but we never really reached a satisfying conclusion to this series as everything went to hell in a handbasket at the end of the Season 2 and so far, it doesn’t look as if there will be a Season 3.

Games

I’ve played a lot of zompoc games, but my favourites are Resident Evil, Dying Light, Days Gone and – my all-time favourite by a country mile – The Last of Us. (Can’t wait for that TV show to come out next year!) Most games end in a kind of satisfying way usually involving defeating the baddie, or “boss” to use gaming terminology. I might be wrong, but I don’t think many “end” as such as the manufacturers always like to leave things open for another day (and another dollar of course).

In The Last of Us Joel chooses to save Ellie over saving the world and the stage is set for The Last of Us 2. The end of The Last of Us 2 is all about the people and their relationships and less about the apocalypse itself. Can Ellie forgive Joel and move on? Can she even forgive Abby? Will she and Dina be reunited? I’m assuming we will get some answers to all of these questions and more in The Last of Us 3. I hope so anyway!

Books

And so, to books. My absolute favourite media! While it is acceptable and almost expected that TV Series and Games, by their very nature, will be unlikely to have a final completely satisfying ending, books, like movies, always should.

World War Z, one of the first zompoc books I ever read, has an ending that I think my tutor would approve of. Ten years after the fall, humanity is winning the war, but the costs have been high. The world has taken a big step back in terms of living standards, life expectancy and quality of life and the planet itself has been forever changed, but there is hope for the future.

The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey is another favourite of mine. At the end of this book, we are left with the thought that the second generation “hungries” are the future and that it is only a matter of time until all humans are infected, and they are able to take over and rebuild. I kind of like that ending. Especially as Justineau appears to be going to help them prepare for this day.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion is essentially a love story. Now this story does a have a proper ending! Basically, love is the cure for the zombie virus and it is highly likely that everyone will live happily ever after! It might be a “proper” ending but honestly, for me, it’s all just a bit naff!

I enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Mary has left the safety of her village to find the ocean and so she does at the end of the book. However, it is not quite what she was expecting and there is no attempt to bring about any sort of conclusion or resolution to the zombie problem. In fact, there are two books which follow The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places. Neither of them live up to the promise of The Forest of Hands and Teeth in my view, and The Dead Tossed Waves ends in a place that compels the reader to go and buy The Dark and Hollow Places to find out what happens next, as it leaves us after Gabry and Catcher escape from the Recruiters and set off on their journey to the Dark City. I suppose the trilogy has a semi-decent ending in terms of it being more about the characters and their relationships than trying to overcome the zombie threat and it all works out for everyone in the end (well more or less).

And so, to Adrian’s Undead Diaries by Chris Philbrook. What a great series! In terms of zompoc series it has to be up there as one of the best. And it does have an ending where the zombies are destroyed! Yay! My tutor would be delighted. After an epic battle between good and evil the “good” living human beings survive. There is still a lot of work to be done to eke out a survival in a devastated world, and there are still conflicts with other groups of survivors to be resolved, but Adrian and his friends are free to get on with that without the threat of being chomped by a zombie as they do so. Great ending!

I could go on but I’m going to stop here. I’m getting a bit bored with the potentially endless list of examples that could be discussed and so I’m sure you are too.

If you have managed to read to the end of this essay, well done and thank you for indulging my ramblings! I’m currently writing my 3rd zompoc novel, Amenti Rising, and this time I think I have come up with a solid and satisfying ending. Well, I hope I have! Only time will tell …

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best way to end an apocalyptic tale in your opinion and about the some of the best endings to zombie apocalypse stories that you have come across.

Drop me a line or, better still, sign up for my newsletter and keep the conversation going?

THE END …

OR IS IT …?

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Book Review – The Living Dead by George A Romero and Daniel Krauss

Dreadfully Disappointing

George A Romero is the father of the zombie movie. The godfather of the dead. An icon of modern American media, a pioneer of the horror film genre, an outstanding filmmaker, writer and editor and the creator of the image of the zombie in modern culture.

The zombie horror genre is my genre. It has been a personal fascination, bordering on obsession, since I first watched Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead back in the 70’s, followed by Day of the Dead in the 80’s. Since then, I have watched pretty much every zombie movie or TV show that has been made, read every book, and played every game.  I’ve played a zombie in a scare event and was a participant in the reality TV show, I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse. I now write zompoc novels myself. (Wait for Me. Trident Edge).

I don’t fully understand my unusual interest in zombies and the concept of the zombie apocalypse (neither do my friends and family) but I think it’s something to do with humans being the real threat to humans, not just in terms of being flesh-eating monsters, but also in the way that the survivors react and behave towards each other when the world as they know it ends. All illusions of civilisation and humanity rapidly melt away leaving people who are barely distinguishable from animals. It’s shocking how quickly society disintegrates and falls apart.

I’m also intrigued by how strange and unfamiliar familiar places become in an apocalypse of any kind. Busy streets, deserted and quiet. Bustling shopping malls and city centres, empty and silent. Survivors free to explore and scavenge wherever and whatever they want – barring zombie threats of course. Nature reclaiming the land. The end of all the services we rely on and and take for granted like water, power, mobile phones and the internet. An upside down, inside out world that is still the same place as before, but at the same time different and changed for ever.

I don’t have the same affinity for other sci-fi and fantasy monsters like vampires, werewolves and aliens. They just don’t do it for me in the same way as zombies do. Maybe it’s because the living dead seem more realistic to me than these other fantastical beasts and creatures. I know that sounds crazy!

I’ve established that I am a massive fan of Romero and all his work. So, imagine my excitement when I heard that he’d written a book, albeit posthumously completed by Daniel Krauss. Not just a book but a humungous 700-page epic that promised to chart the zombie plague “from the first rising to the fall of humanity … and beyond.” It was showered with amazing reviews from the start: “a horror landmark”; a work of gory genius”; the last word of the living dead”; everything you could have hoped for” …

Imagine my disappointment when it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

The first part of the book told a lot of individual stories from the very start of the apocalypse. It was interesting and I did enjoy the start of the book. But even here, there were some stories I enjoyed and some I didn’t. I liked some characters and absolutely hated others. Some stories particularly grabbed and held my attention, and I was irritated when the narrative jumped to another story. I had to stop myself flicking through the pages to get back to the story that had engaged me.

At some point, some of the stories started to get weird. Very weird in a way that just wasn’t believable. I know, for many people, the zombie apocalypse itself isn’t believable but the behaviours and reactions of the characters usually are. At this stage of the book, I started to lose interest and wonder where the whole thing was going, but I soldiered on. In some ways, it reminded me of Stephen King’s The Stand, and I was expecting the various characters all to come together at some point in a satisfying way. And (SPOILER ALERT), they did, but much, much further down the line in, for me, a very dissatisfying way.

It felt as if we missed out on decades of the lives and experiences of the different characters until we meet them in the final section, battle scarred and changed forever. We are told the stories of these missing years in the form of interviews, but this inevitably resulted in a lot of “tell” rather than “show” and as a result they lacked depth and were completely unengaging. It was almost as of the fast forward button had been pressed and we had skimmed rapidly through a huge chunk of a movie. Sadly, with a few exceptions, by the end of the book I just didn’t care what happened to most of the characters and I just wanted to get the book finished and move on to something more enjoyable. (Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel was calling me from my to-be-read pile.) Some of these fast-forwarded stories of the missing years were frankly absurd. Stories of warring zombies with prosthetic limbs. Fantastical tales of unlikely survival. It just didn’t ring true for me.

The main problem with the book was that it was just far too long. It wasn’t a terrible book; it just wasn’t as good as I hoped and expected it would be. The trouble was that when it did drag on it dragged on for so, so long. God, it felt like a slog at times, and I have never been so happy to finish a book.

All that said, I would recommend it. It was a good read in parts, and it took the zombie apocalypse to a place far away down the line where some sort of ending had finally materialised and there was hope for those survivors that had made it that far. It touched on some interesting and currently very relevant socio-political concepts as “causes” of the apocalypse. It just wasn’t brilliant! Just be warned it’s a long hard read and you’ll need some stamina to make it to the end!

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Book Review – Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Gloriously satisfying.

I bloody loved this book. I picked it up a few months ago as soon as I knew it had been released and added it to my, very long, post-Christmas to-be-read pile. I’d read Station 11 in 2020 and adored it, so have been waiting excitedly for Sea of Tranquility to arrive. After battling through a very disappointing The Living Dead by George A Romero and Danial Krauss, I was in serious need of a reading treat so surreptitiously moved it to the top of the pile. I’m so glad I did. What an amazing book. Satisfying and delighting in every possible way. I devoured it in two days while on holiday in Devon and found myself lovingly stroking the cover long after I had finished reading.

A beautifully written tale of time travel, mind-boggling meta-physics, wonderful characters, elegant connections and coincidences, love, kindness and humanity, Sea of Tranquillity takes us to the moon and back (literally) and spans a period of 500 years. Emily St. John Mandel is a gifted writer. Her plots are clever. Her writing is pure. Settings and characters sing on the page and yet she is skilfully economical with her words and descriptions. I felt every emotion her characters experienced. I worried for them. I exalted with them. I smiled. I laughed out loud. I cried a little. I had some enormous “Ah!” moments as connections and plot twists gradually revealed themselves.

There were some themes that echoed those of Station 11, namely pandemics and people connected by past encounters and relationships, and material objects. Like Station 11, these connections gradually revealed themselves in heart-warmingly startling ways.

I love the way the subject matter is technically pure sci-fi and yet in reality is totally “ungeeky” and utterly believable and every day. She makes living in a dome on the moon and flying about in supersonic hovercraft and airships seem entirely normal.

One character, a writer called Olive Llewellyn, receives some feedback from a reader to the effect that her book was a confusing collection of narrative strands that never came together. This is not true of Emily St. John Mandel. What begin as an apparently disparate collection of narrative strands, flow comfortably through the book and weave naturally together at the end of the story. There is no confusion. There are no unanswered questions. Just glorious resolution and clarity.

Maybe that’s not entirely true? There is one enormous question that runs under the surface of the book and lingers on at the end, not for the characters who know the answer, but for the reader themselves. But, I’ll leave you to discover and ponder that one for yourself.

Needless to say, I’ve just bought and started reading The Glass Hotel.

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Book Review – Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

Breathless and Shocking.

This book has been on my ‘to be read’ pile since Christmas. I wish I’d got to it sooner. I devoured it in two sittings.

The story follows two women over a period of just a few hours during an outbreak of a lethal, rapidly spreading rabies-type virus. Natalie, who is eight months pregnant, has been bitten and Ramola, her best friend who is a doctor, is trying to save the lives of Natalie and her unborn child.

Survivor Song is a high-speed roller coaster of trials and disasters, fear and tension, shocking violence, societal breakdown, love and loyalty, pain and loss, desperation and heart wrenching decisions. It’s not a ZA novel but in many ways, it feels and reads as one. It’s not deep or pretentious, just a damned good story.

What I liked.

The pace. The race to save Natalie and her baby never slowed or stopped and neither did I.

The characters. I laughed out loud at Natalie’s scathing sarcasm and dark humour in spite of the terrifying situation she found herself in. I adored Ramola for her unfailing loyalty to her friend that pushed her past terrible limits she could never have imagined.

I really liked the “Bill and Ted” duo they met on their journey with their creatively quirky hydrophobia test.

The book was a well-written easy read.

In certain scenes the style and structure of the book ‘broke with convention’ but this served to create a vivid picture of the extreme shock, fear and confusion the character was experience.

Something I might steal in my own writing!

The echoes of or own recent experience during the pandemic including PPE shortages, overwhelmed healthcare services and unprotected workers were very relatable.

What I didn’t like

… nothing …

I absolutely loved this book and would definitely recommend it if you are into dystopian survival horror – and even if you’re not! I have just bought Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts and can’t wait to get started.

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Book Review – The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones 

Broodingly terrifying.

I bought this book on the basis of reviews that described it as a “masterpiece”. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it was certainly a dark, disturbing read that I really enjoyed.  

The title is a tragically ironic reference to Theodore Roosevelt’s vile quote “the only good Indians are dead Indians”, and the book is heavy with the prejudice, discrimination, and disadvantage that people of American Indian heritage struggle with on a daily basis in the present-day United States.

The Only Good Indians tells the story of four young American Indian men who massacre a herd of elk. 10 years later they are being stalked by the spirit of one of the animals they killed. The book effectively combines classic horror and suspense with an astute social commentary.

What I liked.

The plot was gripping. It was laden with tension interspersed with abrupt and shocking episodes of bloody violence that you always knew was coming but could never quite predict where and when and to whom.

It was skilfully written – prolonged descriptions of the characters normal lives and backstories were so heavy with suspense that I couldn’t read quick enough for fear of what was going to happen next.

While the supernatural elements were unusual, some might say farfetched, I bought into them one hundred percent. For me, the spirit that hunted the men was merciless and bone chillingly terrifying. I know I will be haunted for some time by the disturbing visual image of the unnatural stalker that the author so vividly creates.

But, as frightened as I was by that spirit, because I understood its motives and its quest, I could not help but feel a strong sense of sorrow and compassion towards it. It was that that evoked a strong emotional response to the book overall. In a sense the “victims” were also the perpetrators, creating a lot of conflict for the reader.

What I didn’t like.

The Only Good Indians was not an easy read. The writing style and the language was hard to understand and required a high level of concentration. I often had to re-read paragraphs or sentences to work out what was going on. Many of the American colloquial references will be lost on an international audience.

I found the lengthy basketball scenes especially challenging and have to admit skimming through some of them.

Overall, a great read that I’d definitely recommend.

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Book Review – Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

Quietly Disturbing

I enjoyed this book, but it didn’t blow me away the way I was hoping and expecting it to. Isn’t it often the way that whenever you have high expectations of a book or a movie, you build it up in a way it can never possibly deliver, leading to an inevitable degree of disappointment?

The premise, of cloning humans for organ donation, is deep, disturbing, and depressing. The book is light, sad, and also extremely depressing.

What I liked.

It is a thoughtful, easy read.

It feels simple and superficial, but it isn’t at all. The plot, the characters, their conversations, and their actions all sit at the top of a bubbling mass of nightmarish complexity and confusion. I’m not at all sure that even the characters themselves understand what they are feeling and why most of the time. Possibly not any of the time.

The book is heavy with sorrowful metaphors and symbolism, not least in Hailsham itself, which is, both literally and physically, the only family that Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth will ever have, and it too is revealed to be less solid than it first appears.

I liked Kathy and Tommy for their loyalty, naivety, and honesty but not nearly as much as I disliked Ruth for her controlling and manipulative exploitation of them.

I liked the way that because the characters lived such small, unnatural, and sheltered lives they were highly sensitive to little things. Tiny interactions were hugely important and meaningful to them. Small conversations and statements were huge and provoked much angst and analysis and yet they never seemed to address the enormous issues that were staring them in the face every minute of every day.

What I didn’t like.

I really didn’t like Ruth.

I was frustrated by the passive resignation of the characters to their fate. I found myself wondering why Kathy and Tommy didn’t just run away. But I think I also understood that they had been raised and conditioned not to expect anything else from life.

The interaction at the end of the book with Madame and Emily was weird. It was confusing and almost contrived in the way it tried to answer many of the questions that ran through the book. It felt awkward and clunky to me and left me with a lot of unanswered questions still remaining.

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Book Review – Lightning by Dean Koontz

Mind Boggling

I always find stories about time travel extremely confusing, and Lightning was no exception to this. Half the time I had no idea who was traveling to where and when, or why they were doing so. Nevertheless, my confusion did not spoil my enjoyment of what was essentially a good story. What helped a lot, was Laura’s nine-year-old son Chris’s, exposition about the “paradoxes” of time travel. Whenever I came to a part that was particularly perplexing for my poor old brain to grapple with, I’d just (like the characters) put it down to a time travel paradox and leave it at that.

What I liked.

Lightning is a light, fast-paced, easy read.

It contained some pleasing characters – I particularly liked Laura’s best friend from childhood, Thelma.

I loved the epic-ness of the story that follows Laura’s life from her birth well into adulthood and links in to some real historical events. It also contains some truly audacious plot twists and turns with Stefan meeting some very interesting historical characters and getting involved in some very well-known historical events, in the course of his time travels.

Mr Koontz skilfully created lots of questions and intrigue throughout the first half of the book that compelled me to read on to find out what it was all about.

When the truth was eventually revealed I was not disappointed. So often “big” sci-fi stories like this start well but lead to dissatisfying conclusions.

I liked the way the story shifted between interdependent events occurring in different time zones making some sections very tense and exciting.

What I didn’t like.

As a writer myself, with nowhere near the level of success as Mr Koontz, I was surprised by how “overwritten” the book was. I only mention this because I am constantly trying to avoid falling into this trap myself. I spend many hours poring over my work removing superfluous words and phrases and avoiding telling the reader things that they already know, or that would be perfectly obvious to anyone with a modicum of intelligence. Mr Koontz, on the other hand, frequently over-describes scenes and settings, uses extra words that add nothing to the text, and repeatedly explains things that I already knew. The difference between Mr Koontz and I, I suppose, is that as a writer of some repute, he can get away with it and I can’t.

Sometimes the plot was a tad cheesy and unbelievable. It was very handy and let’s face it, naff and highly unlikely, that two girls who grew up in the care system should both become famous and successful multi-millionaires. It was very convenient that Laura, as part of her research as an author, had learned how to gain access to military standard weaponry and knew how to obtain high quality fake identification documents.

I don’t want to create any spoilers here, and life didn’t work out so well for all the characters, but let’s just say, generally, there was a bit of a “happy-ever-after” feel to the book that left me a little dissatisfied.

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Book Review – Billy Summers by Stephen King

Brilliant and Heartbreaking

Billy Summers is a different type of Stephen King book. Not horror. Not supernatural. Not Sci Fi. Not even suspense (although it was certainly tense in parts). Nevertheless, I absolutely loved it and it will undoubtedly occupy my thoughts for weeks and months to come.

As the title suggests, the book is essentially a character study of Billy Summers, an assassin, and tells the story of his life, his motivations, and his last job. It is slow and patient at first (like Billy himself) but gathers momentum as the story progresses. It contains a number of satisfying twists and turns that take the story (and Billy) in new and unexpected directions. It is full of pathos with a thread of deep sorrow running through it. I never wanted it to end.

What I liked.

I loved the characters. Billy is a complex and troubled man but is fundamentally decent and extremely likeable. He had a difficult childhood and is haunted by the traumatic memories of his experiences as a war veteran in Iraq. Alice, who we meet halfway through the book, is adorable and the relationship that develops between them feels exactly right. I also loved Bucky, Billy’s wise old friend and assistant.

I liked the first third of the book when Billy lives undercover in a small American town as he prepares for the “hit” but can’t help getting close to his workmates, and his neighbours and their children. This toe-dip into the normal world is tinged with regret as he knows they will be hurt and disappointed when they inevitably find out who he really is.

I loved the introduction of Alice and the relationship that developed between them in the second third of the story. I wasn’t expecting it and was worried about what it would mean for Billy and his plans, but enjoyed the way things worked out between them.

I liked the final, action packed third of the book, which felt both authentic and believable. If we hadn’t already learned what a calm and capable professional Billy was, his achievements in terms of facing up to different groups of rapists, armed killers, and all-round baddies, might have seemed implausible.

I liked the way Billy started writing as his cover story for the job but how it came to mean much more to him than that, and was ultimately the main way that the reader learned the tragic story of his childhood and the horrors of his time in Iraq.

I liked “dumb” Billy, the persona he adopted to, conversely, maintain the intellectual upper hand with the criminals he worked for.

I loved the veiled reference to The Overlook Hotel, the site of which could be seen from Bucky’s cabin, and the spooky picture in the shack where he writes some of his book.

The book was littered with truisms and subtle current political and ideological references. I loved the little references to the, as yet unknown, pandemic that was about to hit the world.

The quote “Substance abuse goes with talent, you know” really resonated with me.

What I didn’t like.

I didn’t like the way Mr. King almost broke my heart by presenting us with two different endings to the story. One written by Alice on Billy’s behalf, and then the real one that she tells Bucky after Billy’s book is finished.

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Book Review – Adrian’s Undead Diary Omnibus: Volumes 1 and 2 by Chris Philbrook.

Epic!

I have finally got my life back and made a start on tackling some of the other books on my “to be read” list, after finishing the first eight books in the epic zombie apocalypse series Adrian’s Undead Diary.

I came across the author, Chris Philbrook, through the various zombie apocalypse social media groups I am a member of, and decided to give the books a go after being impressed by him when he was the guest speaker on a live Facebook writer’s event I took part in.

The books are largely written in a journalistic style and, as you might expect, tell the story of how a man called Adrian survives and thrives after a global zombie apocalypse. At first glance, Adrian appears to be an outwardly calm and capable, but otherwise remarkably ordinary, ex-military bloke who works nights as a sort of caretaker in a private residential school and lives with his long-term girlfriend, Cassie.

It turns out that our hero is not as “ordinary” as he seems. Not only is he extraordinarily resourceful and resilient, with a remarkable knowledge of guns and ammunition and a, bordering on unhealthy, obsession with recording every minute detail of his daily life during the apocalypse, but he turns out to be a central figure in the battle between good and evil and the survival of what is left of the entire (living) human race itself.

What I liked:

The addictive nature of the story. I literally could not put this down, reading for hours in the early mornings on my kindle in the dark before my husband was awake, and again at night while he was asleep. It disrupted my sleep patterns, my work patterns, my reading patterns, and my life in general. Thank goodness I started reading it in late November on a short holiday to celebrate my birthday, and that the couple of months it took me to get through all eight books included a couple of weeks over the Christmas holidays and a 10-day period of isolation due to Covid.

The journalistic style. The journalistic style was a big part of what made the book so compelling. When Adrian and his people were building up to a big event it was more than I could bear to read the start of each diary entry to find out how it went. Equally, the opening few words of each entry were the first indication of whether anything awful had occurred or not, and I always felt the need to read “just one more” to see how the group were progressing.

Adrian. I really liked (or should I say “like” as his story continues) Adrian. He was (is) a complex but likeable character. He does what has to be done to ensure his own survival, but also tries to help others when he can. He is strong and brave but not without fear. He constantly doubts himself and his decisions and beats himself up over his perceived mistakes. He is funny and irreverent and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is not ashamed or embarrassed to talk about his sexual needs and desires and even about his bowel habits, however disgusting.

The other characters. For a very long time Adrian was the only person in his world. However, other characters are gradually introduced, and we slowly get to know and love them as we see them through Adrian’s eyes. I loved the way they develop and change as they get to grips with their new reality. I particularly liked Abby and Gilbert. I love the patient way that the number of survivors in Bastion and the extended community slowly builds at first from one, to two, and then a small handful, Then, in the last few books, how it increases exponentially to around one hundred people by the end.

The surprises. I liked some of the unexpected plot twists and turns. I actually don’t want to mention them specifically here because, if you do go on to read the books after reading this review, they would be spoilers of monumental proportions. Suffice to say, there were some things that happened and some things that were revealed that I would never have expected in a million years.

The non-journal chapters. The books are peppered with chapters that are not part of Adrian’s diary. While the first one took me by surprise, I came to enjoy them immensely as they provided insight into some of the other characters and their back stories and the plot in general, sometimes giving the reader forewarning of things to come. This contributed to the addictive nature of the read. Once you have read a chapter where something occurs that Adrian does not yet know about, you find yourself rushing through the next few journal entries until the unsuspecting hero catches up. The fact that throughout the books there are things that the reader knows that Adrian does not, is a very effective page-turning and tension building technique.

The level of detail. I was undecided at first whether I liked the excessive amount of tedious and monotonous detail in the books or not. I have come down on the side of “liked” as this is a key component of Adrian’s character and his role in the “Trinity” and the books would not be the same without it. It plays a key part in the complex world building process which enhances reader engagement and immersion and makes the books come alive. Nevertheless, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I didn’t skim over some of the endless accounts of everything they scavenged from all the buildings they raided, and the pages and pages of stocktaking of food and fuel, and don’t even get me started on the guns. Pages and pages and pages devoted to descriptions and pros and cons of different guns and their ammunition, all of which meant absolutely nothing to me.

The big spiritual good versus evil plot element. Somewhere along the road the book gets very spiritual, verging close to religious. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked this, as it is an usual and controversial explanation for the zombie apocalypse. However, it was managed well in my opinion. It didn’t go too far beyond the realms of plausibility – after all, how plausible is a zombie apocalypse in the first place? It was different, interesting, and original and gave the book a very Stephen Kingesque feel at times, almost reminiscent of The Stand.

What I didn’t like.

Repetition. There is not very much that I didn’t like about these books but sometimes the amount of repetition irritated me a little. When something happened in a non-journal chapter, it was often repeated by Adrian in his corresponding journal entry. When I was desperate to find out what happened next in the story, I found myself skimming these sections in frustration. This was linked to the fact that the books are very long. Well, the individual books are probably not very long, but reading all of them in two omnibuses took a long time and there were a lot of pages which involved the detailed accounts of stocktaking and scavenging mentioned above, as well as a fair bit of repetition.

Typos. There were few typos and missing or incorrect words which was a minor irritation and distraction.

The end! I loved the end but was a little dismayed when I realised that Adrian’s story is still not over and that Chris Philbrook is still writing books about what happens to him next. Much as I’d like to, I am reluctant to read any more of them at the moment as there are other things I need to do and other books I want to read!

Adrian’s Undead Diary is at the top of the pile in the independently published zombie apocalypse category, and I would definitely recommend.

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Book Review – World Departed by Sarah Lyons Fleming

Can’t wait for the sequel!

I’m always on the look out for a good zombie apocalypse book as, all too often, they are badly written, cliched and overflowing with gratuitous blood, gore, violence and testosterone-fuelled machismo. As an ‘older’ woman, who also happens to be a zombie fan, I can never identify with the characters in these books and always find myself left with the same question – “What would an ordinary woman like me do when the zombie apocalypse comes to my town?”

Over the years I have discovered some satisfying reads. The Girl with All the Gifts and The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey, World War Z by Max Brooks, and Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion are all up there among the best for me. All of them contain imaginative and interesting plots and authentic and sympathetic characters who react in believable ways to the end of the world as they know it and the threat of being eaten by dead people. I have also played some great games that have given me some sense of how I might fare in the apocalypse, the best by far of those being The Last of Us and The Last of Us II.

I even took part in a reality TV show called I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse that aired on BBC3 in 2015. A cross between Big Brother and The Crystal Maze, this involved a dozen or so members of the public being locked up in an abandoned shopping centre with a troop of zombies – courtesy of Scare Scotland – and having to undergo a series of survival type challenges. The basic premise was that if you got caught you got eaten and were out of the show. My strategy, which involved literally zero machismo behaviour, was to try and make myself indispensable to the other survivors by cooking and cleaning in the vain hope that this might dissuade them from sending me out on missions. I made it to day 6 of 7 before being killed in a freezer by a super-zombie called the Abomination.

In 2021 I attempted to answer the question by writing my own book, Wait for Me, set at the start of the zombie apocalypse in the UK. The main character, Lisa, an introverted and overly analytical forty plus woman, is on a train on the way home from London to Solihull when a devastating, bio-terrorist attack occurs. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, which turns 90% of the population into zombies, she decides to try and get home to her husband and sets out on the most difficult 20-mile journey of her life.

World Departed is the first book I have read in a long time that looks at how ‘ordinary’ people would react in the zombie apocalypse. It is also the best ‘quality’ zombie book I have read in a long time in terms of the writing. I came across the book in the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards where it was 19th in the horror category. I finished it yesterday and I loved it! So much so that I have looked up and downloaded the first of all her other books (Until the End of the World) which I am now about to binge on in chronological order. Hopefully, by the time I have finished, the sequel to World Departed, World Between, will have been released.

What I liked:

For me, it was all about the characters. All of them were, authentic, flawed, complicated, and very, very ordinary. Most were likable to the point of being adorable and even the unlikable ones were described and explained in a way that made their behaviours and motivations at least understandable. They way that they developed and grew throughout the course of the book was well-handled and convincing.

The quality of the writing was excellent. An light and easy read, it was heavily dialogue-based but with enough description and action to give the story atmosphere and pace.

Despite the seriousness of the situation the book was sprinkled with humour. The banter between the characters was sharp and witty and at times that I laughed aloud while reading.

I loved the location. What a perfect place to survive the apocalypse. I have just finished playing the zombie game, Days Gone which was set in the wilderness of Oregon and at times I wondered if the game had been inspired by Sarah Lyons Fleming’s writing, or even if she had contributed to the script for the game. There were also some scenes in the book that were reminiscent of some in The Last of Us. E.g., trying on hats in the museum.

There was a fair bit of romance going on between several of the characters. In fact, most of the key characters had some sort of developing love interest. Looking at the blurbs and some of the reviews for her other books, it seems that this is a key feature of the authors’s writing. You could even go so far as to say that she writes romance novels set in the zombie apocalypse. I wouldn’t normally go for a romance read myself, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.

Didn’t like:

There was truly little that I didn’t like about this book.

Of course, I didn’t like Ethan and his ‘friend’ Eva, but I don’t think I was meant to.

I was a little disappointed with the ending. It wasn’t really an ending for me. It made sure that I would buy the sequel to find out what happens next, but I prefer my books to have a beginning, a middle and an end in their own right. I felt a little bit as if I were left ‘hanging’.

For me, some of the characters settled in a tad too quickly to their new way of life to make it completely believable. I’m not sure that ‘real’ people would be laughing and joking just a few days into the zombie apocalypse. I think they might have been a bit more shocked and distressed than they appeared and that it would have taken longer than it did for them to adapt and recover. Nor would they be thinking about getting romantically involved with someone else quite so soon after their wife and son had been killed in the most horrific away imaginable.

Finally, it was a tiny bit predictable in the sense that, after the first couple of chapters, nothing bad happened to any of the key characters. When I finally realised that none of them were going get killed or seriously injured it took a little of the suspense out of some of the action scenes.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed World Departed and can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

World Departed on Amazon