Review: The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: December 24, 2014 to February 24, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: no one; it was a gift
Recommended for: beginners on the run

Would you survive the apocalypse? Think that you can? I thought I’d do okay…and then I read this book and now I’m not so sure anymore.

As an introductory crash course to surviving on the run, this book has all the necessary things one would need to know to get by in all sorts of worst-case scenarios. It’s written in a light and fun way, as if to make it seem like you’d be going on a quest–to survive.

Before setting out, you’ll have to gather necessary essentials and prepare for the worst, which could range from the bizarre like zombie hordes to the tedious like severe weather conditions. If you remove the zombie apocalypse, this book is like any other survivalist how-to guide to living on your own, literally. Imagine that you’d be on your own and have to make/build everything from scratch or scavenge for whatever else you need. You have to know how to forage, hunt, fish, clean and dress your own kills. And that’s just one part of survival. You also have to know where, how, when to hide and where, how, when to run. As if that’s not hard enough, there are zombie hordes lumbering down every street and alley. (Post-apocalyptic scenarios are thrown in for fun, you know, to keep up with the times.)

What I like most about this book is the way it’s formatted, with you, the beginner, in mind–let’s imagine you’re a beginner. There are detailed sections on packing, going on the run, scavenging, looting, various ways to make camp, build fires and snares/traps, fishing, cleaning and dressing kills, avoiding detection, and much more. The first few sections of the book are on packing survival kits and making the tough decision to bug-in (stay put and fortify) or bug-out (go on the run); many of these sections are geared toward bugging out. If you have the “should I stay or should I go” dilemma figured out, you have a fighting chance. The other sections deal with various necessary preparations, most of which requires a lot of pre-planning, pre-zpoc planning. Like, start now if you want to live. So that if you are to survive the initial chaos of the apocalypse, you would be extremely prepared to live several months or even years by yourself before the apocalypse becomes post-apocalypse. Things would eventually settle down and you’d be able to venture back to civilization again. But what you find there is anybody’s guess.

A big downside to this book is its foraging section. It’s not as thorough as it should be. Half of this book could be focused on foraging alone and that might increase your chance of survival, and personally I think foraging would be much more useful to lone survivors in the wild. Much of your post-apocalyptic diet would–I have to keep myself from typing “will”–consist of plants and roots because they’re safer, less time and energy consuming than hunting and trapping. But wild vegetation is dangerous, berries and fungi especially. There are tell-tale signs to determine if a berry bush or group of mushrooms are edible, but that requires some training and experience. If you don’t know how to tell the edibles from the poisonous ones, there’s no point in trying. It’s just too risky. You could do a taste test, but that takes time and patience, which people on the run don’t have. Undead flesh eaters are on your trail.

Although I find this book funny and its take on impending doom practical, it really got me thinking about all the things we depend on to get through an average mundane pre-zpoc day. Fresh, clean water. A roof. A safe place to sleep. A warm bed. A sense of security. All of which would disappear once the electricity goes out and society breaks down exactly like Cormac McCarthy imagined it would. There’d be chaos, violence, turf wars breaking out everywhere… and while imagining all of this, I couldn’t help thinking how I’d never have perfectly cooked, seasoned food again. All that chaos and violence wouldn’t bother me as much since I expect that to happen. It’s the idea of never being able to prepare my favorite dishes again that gets to me. Spices are out of the question, unless you somehow loot a grocery store in time before the hordes overtake it. Forget about breads, pastas, and all diary products. Baked goods and sweets are history, literally. And these are just the simple things. It would be all about living the Paleo way of life from here on out. Way to get me all choked up, book.

Anyhow, this was a fun read, like a romp through an abandoned city that’s gradually being taken back by nature. But take away all the zpoc doom and gloom, and you have a beginner’s guide to venturing out into the wilderness all by one’s lonesome. Great for people on the run, whether it’s from zombies or federal agents or assassins or drug cartels.

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Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 10 to 14, 2013
Read count: 1

Not nearly as dead as it could have been, for a zombie tale, that is. If it had been more dead, it could have been a zombie tale I’d enjoy.

As it is though, it’s a hormonal combination of teenage angst and existential crises, typical of what you’d find in a Shakespearean remake with the purpose of appealing to the current generation of YA readers. This relatively new dead spin on the Romeo and Juliet story doesn’t appeal to me personally, just as most revamps of Shakespearean “love stories” don’t appeal to me. What it comes down to is a matter of taste, really, and also because I don’t care for Shakespeare very much.

Overall though, the writing was a pleasant surprise, and many of the prosey descriptive passages depicting barren settings, like abandoned lots and other wastelands, were some of my favorite moments. YA authors are not known for their writing merits or prowess, and so I had been expecting this book to be similar to its weak-in-prose and high-in-angst forerunners. It surprised me though by being more intellectual than your average bear genre YA and more “humane,” for lack of a better word, than average zombie or monster fiction. (Despite the somewhat eye-rolling love story at the heart of it.)

The story is OK overall, but if you’re fed up with Romeo and Juliet remakes or you’re overwhelmed by the amount of zombies in the market, then you’d probably not like this book. But if you’re looking for quick and light post-apocalyptic adventure, you might want to consider it.

As decent as the story is, the characterization is very flat and typical of what you’d find in genre fiction, though not typical of what you might expect in a supposedly character-driven story. Many reviewers say the weakest point of the book is dialogue, and I agree. Too much angst and brooding, not enough getting to the point. I think the book would have been a lot better if most of the conversations between R and Julie were cut out, to be replaced with plot development. And maybe if the “love story” angle was cut out too, to be replaced with…nothing. But that’s just a matter of personal reading preference.

My biggest issue with this book is internal monologue, which seems contradictory to say since I just said I liked the writing. The thing is there are just too many internal monologues running too close together that did little to build up this dark and grim near-future post-apocalyptic world. And while I liked the airport setting, it wasn’t featured enough in between R’s long-winded internal monologues and Julie’s brooding. There’s also not enough story progression for my liking. The plot stays very much flat even as certain events are pushing the story forward, which threw the story off-balance.

And another thing, I don’t like first person POV. When the narration is literally made up of internal monologues strung together, the character spewing these words has to be really, really, extremely interesting for the story to work. Otherwise, it’s just boring.

That’s not to say this book was a terrible read. It wasn’t terrible–more contradiction? It’s just unfortunate enough to have all the things I don’t care for, all pushed into one book.

Whenever I come across a book such as this, I’m always glad I’m no longer a teenager. This book is the embodiment of almost everything I don’t like and don’t like to remember about adolescence. If it weren’t for the zombie aspects and/or post-apocalyptic setting (both flooding the market right now), this story would not stand out in the sea of generic genre fiction. It certainly would not have made an impact (or been turned into a movie) if it was adult genre fiction.

* * * * *

Maybe if I’d read this book before Raising Stony Mayhall, I would have been able to appreciate it more and find the existential concepts it introduced nuanced and interesting. Daryl Gregory is a tough act to follow. I think he ruined the whole zombie genre for me by having written such a great book and a great zombie character.

Review: Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: May 04 to 26, 2013
Read count: 2

5 stars upon finishing, but now that I think about it, it’s more like 4 or 4 ½, depending on my current mood of interpretation.

John “Stony” Mayhall is a living dead miracle who defy all odds, logic, laws of physics, our understanding of anatomy and physiology, our sense of “living” and “death,” etc. He lives despite not having that spark of life, he grows despite not having proper bodily functions, and he ages despite time not being a factor that should affect him. And he thinks, not only intelligently, but deeply and ponders questions like, “What is that spark of life?” and “How am I moving and thinking but not really living?” Important questions (for both the living and living dead).

One cold blizzard evening, Wanda Mayhall and her daughters come upon Stony and his birth mother by the side of the road, almost frozen and certainly looking dead. Stony’s mother doesn’t make it, but miraculously he does. The Mayhalls bundle him up and bring him back to their farm and then realize what he is, a zombie baby. He seems almost like any average human newborn, except for his gray skin and inability to eat or sleep. Wanda decides to keep and raise the baby on the farm, instead of informing the authorities.

Stony grows despite all the things mentioned in the above paragraph and learns to live as human. However, there’s always something missing or feels not quite right in his life and he doesn’t realize what it is until he meets other living dead and live among them. Then to his disappointment, he finds out he’s not quite like other zombies either because he was raised by a human family, which brings up that age-old question of nature vs. nurture.

This is mostly a story of a boy coming of age in the late 60s/70s in a time of intense persecution. It’s alternate, yet family history. The War in Vietnam never happens and the Cold War never happens either. Instead the US government is fighting a silent war against an unstoppable viral outbreak that, if spread again, can spread at an alarming rate. The world Stony lives in is a world that traps itself in a police state for fear of another outbreak, and while people comply with zero-zombie-tolerance laws and regulations, there are some who help the living dead as part of a network that runs all across the country.

The zombie virus causes the infected to die a physical death while exhibiting all the classic zombie traits, like a bout of fever, mindlessness, a hunger for human flesh, and a gray skin tone. The infection is passed on through saliva entering the bloodstream. After 48 hours, the infected regain control of themselves and a majority resume whatever state of mind they were in before the infection, though there are a few who never recover. The living dead can die and be killed, but they don’t feel pain or heal themselves. Though no exception to the limitations of zombies, Stony is a special case because he grows and achieves a level of body awareness that’s never been seen before. He comes to understand why “the stick” moves and what actually makes it move.

It’s fun to see Gregory’s interpretation of classic zombie lore and how he develops them further. I’ve always had an appreciation for sci-fi / fantasy writers who can incorporate real-world science into their imaginary worlds. Gregory does it in a believable way. I hope this is where the zombie genre is heading–less mindlessness and flesh-eating; more focus on thoughtfulness, the science of viruses & outbreaks, and zombie physiology.

What keeps this story from a 5-star rating is the unusually huge jumps in time. There are a couple that jump over a decade or so, and that’s just too much time lost (from a reader’s perspective). Other than this one minor thing, I really like the direction in which Gregory takes his zombie story, and I hope he’s planning to write more.

Original review can be found here.