Sunday, 25 November 2012

Book Review & Giveaway: Meta-Horde by Sean T. Page & John McCuaig

"The year 2020 was a good one for the walking dead. 
The initial reports of a mysterious plague reanimating corpses caused unbridled chaos and as the world descended into hell, nations turned on each other in the battle to survive. Europe is devastated. 

The remnants of NATO managed to create safe zones within cities that still had the protection of medieval built stonewalls. Once again, these ancient bastions were a sanctuary from invaders, keeping back the dead legions. The rest of the continent was a dead zone - populated by hundreds of millions of walking corpses. 

The medieval fortress-city of Carcassonne, in Southern France, became the headquarters of the living but as the last pockets of human survivors rebuilt the fragile framework of a new society, one man discovers a terrifying secret. So far, what has happened is only the beginning. 

Humanity now faces a true extinction level event. 

The dead are clustering in massive numbers. Mere walls can't defend against the overwhelming force of the meta-horde."

This is the intriguing plot of Meta-Horde, the latest zombie book from Sean T. Page (The Official Zombie Handbook, War Against the Walking Dead) and John McCuaig (The Church, The Pyramid of the Dead). Whilst the book has an overt zombie theme, it's also very reminiscent of many books (and films) set during WW1 and WW2, especially with soldiers from various nations coming together to fight a common enemy and the civilian population being expected to fight as well.

The story opens in Dubrovnik, Croatia, but swiftly moves to Carcassonne, France. It's here that the main character, an English scientist called Dr. Raymond Carter, his young, German lab assistant Darcy and Gary the obnoxious, teenage computer genius are introduced. They discover the meta-hordes of hundreds of millions of zombies forming and collectively migrating together. Then, with the help of the military presence within the city, the three start to calculate and form a viable plan of attack. This part of the story line is excellent; it's well thought-out, unusual and really made me want to keep reading.

Unfortunately, there is a twist part way through that really doesn't make a lot of sense and somewhat takes away from the great story that has been built up until that point. It could have been redeemed by more in-depth explanations and solid motives, but that didn't happen. Ultimately, it seemed as though the twist was introduced to provide a way of continuing the story, should the authors decide to write a sequel. It doesn't ruin the book completely, but it does detract from Meta-Horde as a stand-alone a little though.

Apart from this plot point, the novel was well-written, on the whole, though there were quite a few typos and grammatical errors that probably should have been spotted during the editing and drafting process. (So of course this means that I will probably end up missing some errors in this review...) Still, the writing flowed well and was consistent from chapter to chapter.

Although the plot is an important part of the novel, to me it seemed largely character-driven throughout. This is somewhat problematic, as I really started to dislike Carter about halfway through. I wasn't particularly fond of the vulgar and violent soldier Taylor either, but at least he doesn't self-righteously chastise others for behaving the same way he does. Moreover, I don't think that the authors intended Taylor to be likable, for the most part.

The problem I have with Carter's character is largely due to his hypocritical attitude towards saving Darcy at the expense of other people, while constantly criticising others for that exact same kind of selfishness. I understand that she's supposed to be like a daughter to him and, therefore, the only family that he has left, but he constantly bleats on about the (lack of) morality of the actions taken by everyone else. Yet when he needs them to help Darcy, those morals are abandoned almost instantly without any regrets. Perhaps the point is that people who wouldn't ordinarily behave in such a way are changed by their circumstances and the horrific realities of war (and zombies...), but Carter is present in such a substantial portion of the book that it's hard to keep that in mind during every one of his outbursts.

However, there are a plethora of other characters, each with their own personalities and back stories, involved throughout the novel. At times it seems as though there are too many personalities crammed into the 246 pages of plot and some of the characters are left undeveloped and seem quite generic. Having said that, there are others - particularly the soldiers - to whom Page & McCuaig give lots of dimensions and slowly deepen over the course of the book.

At this point, you may be wondering why there are so few mentions of the undead contained in a review of a book about zombies. Well, there really aren't that many zombies in the book. Or rather, there are millions mentioned, but they are always in the background gnashing their teeth, moaning and lurching their way forward, driven by their unsatisfied hunger for human flesh.

Even when the survivors are in conflict with the shambling masses, the horde are still predominantly a backdrop to the story progression. They serve as a grotesque, constant threat to humanity, with the occasional unique physical description here and there, but without individual identities. This meant that there was no screaming and shrieking at the mere sight of zombies, as there are in many stories of this genre. The silence, followed by mild but quiet panic that follows the sightings of an imminent zombie danger works much better here; especially as the dead are drawn in and frenzied by particularly loud noises. Besides, I think, after years of battling zombies that people would have reached this level of desensitisation towards the dead anyway, if only to keep their nerves and sanity in tact.

Meta-Horde, like any book, has flaws but overall it was an interesting read with a great starting premise. It was well-written and had a (mostly) plausible plot. Anyone who likes zombie action-dramas, apocalyptic war-time survival horrors / dramas or even conspiracy theory narratives will probably enjoy this book immensely.

Want to get your hands on a copy of Meta-Horde? 
Enter the giveaway below before December 5th for a chance to win!
Open internationally.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Many thanks to John McCuaig for providing the giveaway prize.

Meta-Horde is out now! 
To purchase the book or find more about the authors, visit the links below:

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Book Reviews: Land Down Undead by John e Normal

Land Down Undead by John e Normal is a zombie comedy, set in Australia, after an outbreak of the undead. Their government allows the other nations of the world to dump their undead in secure, allocated locations, but the zombies escape, unleashing a second wave of flesh-eaters. The other countries of the world, having offloaded their zombie problems in Australia, have returned to their regular lives and the younger generation can barely even remember the outbreaks. Land Down Undead Tours Inc decide to capatalise on that by offering them guided backpacking tours across the still zombie-infested country. After surviving for several years, John, the narrator, decides to get a job as a tour guide with the company, and that's where the story begins.

The premise of the book is quite amusing and, like the book Zombie Housewives of the Apocalypse, it tells the story from a first person perspective, as though the zombie infection had actually happened. In this case, however, it's a human telling the story and not the zombies! The comedy is in a similar style to the films Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead though, in as much as there are frequent zombie killings - many times just for fun - and gory scenes intermingled with humourous quips and one-liners.

There is something I personally don't like in the zombie genre: killing zombies for fun / for sport. I don't mind the gore and flesh-eating or even the killing zombies for survival reasons and the zombie opera, but, for some reason, hacking off a zombie's arms and putting tape around their head so they can't grab or bite while a tourist bashes them over the head repeatedly with a bat bothers me.

On the other hand, you do get the sense that John has just become completely desensitised to death and violence in general because of his experiences, and uses humour as a coping mechanism. Even human deaths don't really seem to phase him much, as when any of his tour group is killed by one of the infected, he seems more concerned about getting grief from his employers and having a half-empty  tour bus, than anything else. Still, as a character, he is likable. Or I wasn't wishing he'd be eaten by zombies halfway through, at least!

Land Down Undead is promoted as a comedy and that's primarily what it is, but actually I think that there's more to it. I could be way off here, but the inclusion of zombie politicians, reality TV shows, Australian celebrities that only ever return to their country to get good publicity, and many other things seem to be something of a social commentary in the guise of a zombie book. The zombie apocalypse doesn't change human nature and there are always people looking to take advantage, no matter what the situation. As the narrator states at one point: "the scumbags who relished the new chaos were worse than the infected".

Overall, Land Down Undead is a quirky and fun read and works well as a mock travel guide to zombie tourism, especially with the references to real places in Australia. It is relatively short at 70 pages, but it doesn't really need to be any longer. Besides, the Kindle version only costs 77p, so it's not exactly expensive! I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone with a penchant for gory zombie spoofs, or who's looking for something a bit different from the genre.

You can purchase the book from Amazon here or visit the website below for more information:

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