Wednesday, 16th November, 2011 § 3 Comments
I was actually warned off from this book. By a die-hard Stephen King fan no less. He said it isn’t one of King’s best. Go read his earlier books, he suggested. But I persevered and found that I enjoyed Cell. Perhaps because I have a thing for zombie fiction. Or perhaps because I’m a relative newcomer to the works of Stephen King which means I have no preset ideas of how one of his books may be like and would not know if he had indeed ‘jumped the shark’. Or maybe because like Pet Sematary, Cell hit me in the gut as a father.
Just as Louis Creed is torn with guilt when his child dies and goes to extreme lengths to make things right in Pet Sematary, Clay Riddell in Cell is anxious and fearful of his wife and son hundreds of miles away at home when ‘the Pulse’, a mysterious electronic virus that literally erases people’s minds, hits while Clay is in Boston where he was pitching his graphic novel project to his publisher. He needs to go back to Maine but with people literally turning into mindless zombies and killing indiscriminately, getting home, on foot because the streets are packed with abandoned vehicles, might just pose a bit of a problem.
One word that often comes up when Cell is being criticised is, ‘predictable’. To which I reply, “Yeah, and?…” It’s a horror story featuring zombies. Of course it’s been done. Only now, Stephen King’s doing it. And typical of King, he chose an everyday object to be the carrier of the horror; the cellphone. I’m not going to pretend to analyse the book and say that Cell is “an indictment of our slave to technology yada yada yada”. I’ll leave that to the first year modern-literature students. I’ll just say that yes, the story is somewhat predictable even to someone who is not familiar with King’s work. The tropes are all there: an everyman stuck in a world gone mad, quickly makes allies, figures out the cause of the problem, finds a solution, succeeds. But as I wrote above, Cell resonates with me because I’m reading it not just as a fan of zombie fiction but as a fan of zombie fiction who is also a father to two small children. I could relate to Riddell and share his worry as his sneaks his way north with his newfound friends in order to reunite with his family (who may already be zombies). All the while looking out for zombie and human threats. The horror isn’t so much about the mindless ones but instead it’s with the not knowing if your wife and son are still alive, already dead or turned. And you can’t call them because using the phone was what caused the whole shebang in the first place.
The zombies by the way are telepathic and, according to one of the characters in the book, they could also levitate. Levitating telepathic zombies. If the story wasn’t so frightening it’d be funny.
Yeah, Cell worked for me.
Monday, 31st October, 2011 § 7 Comments
I was going to write a comprehensive review of the first Malay novel about a zombie apocalypse by Adib Zaini but a flu attack last week which I’m only recovering from now just killed any inclination I had for a long-ish review. Seriously, flu virus is the biatch. So I’ll just write it in a form of a list:
- Zombijaya is funny. Not ha-ha funny but it doesn’t take it seriously which is just the way I like it with my zombie fiction. It is possible to go all serious with zombies but it is difficult to pull off. Max Brooks did it with his World War Z.
- Zombijaya thumbs its nose or more accurately raises a middle finger at bureaucrats, cops on the take and even reality shows which just so happens to be my favourite targets as well. It also takes a dig at Malaysians who say/spell “Congrates” instead of “Congrats”. Yes, it annoys me too, Adib.
- Adib Zaini went for the no-actual-reason-given-for-the-outbreak route. There is no Patient Zero or virus from space. Although one of the characters became a zombie after he was bitten by a stray dog, no more explanation was given. Was the dog rabid? Was it bitten by a zombie? Who knows and who cares? People are turning into zombies and craving flesh. That’s what’s important.
- The book is a gore fest once things start rolling. Adib doesn’t shy away from describing what zombies like to do. One can get away with a lot in a prose novel and boy does the author use that to his advantage. I’m still sad about what happened to Lisa. She’s just a kid, damn you!!
- Two small things which I felt didn’t fit well in the context of the story. Very small things, but still. One was when one of the survivors yelled “Lerrroooy Jeenkins!” when charging at the zombies and the other when Azman, the dirty cop, quipped that besides ‘eating’ graft he also loved munching on doughnuts. The former is meaningless unless you’re a video game geek (was the author Mary Sue-ing?) and the latter was too much of an Americanism. Malay cops prefer roti canai surely?
- There was one line in the book that I thought was clever: upon witnessing zombies eating anyone they could find regardless of race, religion, age or creed, one of the survivors cynically wondered if the 1Malaysia idea can only be achieved when Malaysians have become zombies.
- Zombijaya isn’t the next great novel about zombies. It is just what it is; a thriller about trying to survive a zombie apocalypse in Malaysia. Original? No. Fun read? Yes. You want literature? Go read A. Samad Said.
I should note that I received a free copy of Zombijaya from the publisher because they promised every blogger who has reviewed at least three FIXI books on their blogs a free copy of Adib Zaini’s novel. My review of Pecah can be read here, click here for a review of Ngeri and Jerat‘s review is here.
Monday, 24th October, 2011 § 2 Comments
There’s nothing more annoying than catching flu. And catching flu on one’s birthday? Major bummer.
But fortunately several books ordered online chose to arrive on the same day so a day spent in bed wasn’t a waste after all. Plus the new FIXI book, Zombijaya which I’ve been preparing myself for all week last week also arrived today.
Finally bought Campbell’s treatise on myths and his argument that all the stories in the world have been told but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Especially essential if you want to start writing fantasy. George Lucas was inspired by this book when he wrote Star Wars. I’m Feeling Lucky is about Google when they first started and nobody knew who they were and Song Yet Sung came highly recommended by people whose taste I trust and Amazon was giving it away dirt cheap (67% off).
Exorcist is the 40th Anniversary edition, hardcover and deckle edge (and you know what I think about deckle edges). Apparently William Blatty has added a new scene and a new character. Huh? Why? But I lost my paperback copy so I had to have this edition. All Hell Let Loose is yet another World War II book for my shelf. I never get tired of WWII books mainly because I never experienced it, thank God for that. And two comic hardcovers: Kamandi from Kirby’s DC work in the 1970s and Sikoryak’s parody of classic literature with comic strips in Masterpiece Comics looks to be fun. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment starring Batman? Wuthering Heights as told in EC Comics Tales from the Crypt style? WINNING!
Thursday, 20th October, 2011 § 1 Comment
This book can either go spectacularly well or it can suck donkey balls. Let’s find out shall we? To order it just click here. I’m waiting for my free copy to arrive next week, insyaallah.
Yes, I’m getting a free copy because the publisher thinks I’m awesome. Shows how much he knows.
Tuesday, 18th October, 2011 Comments Off
About three years ago, there was a nice shoot-’em-up video game called Left 4 Dead where you had to shoot zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. You play one of four survivors who find themselves stranded in a city occupied by the ‘infected’ (the zombies in this game are not the undead but humans who have been infected by a rabies-like virus). I liked to play the black guy in the first game and the John Cusack lookalike in the sequel.
It was a great game, a perfect antidote for stress. After a long day there’s nothing more relaxing than shooting the heads off infected people who vomit zombie bile on your onscreen character while you, the player, scream like a five year old girl. It was so popular they made a sequel. I can’t revisit those games today because my console died about a year ago and I just couldn’t be bothered to get a new one. But sometimes when I arrive home, feeling all tired and down, I look back at the time when I had zombies to shoot and run away from. Good times. Good times.
Yeah, I never actually finished either of them. Playing a co-operative game all alone (because I have no friends) meant that I had to do all the work while my computer controlled teammates just stood in my way while I’m trying to shoot zombies or stood back and let me go first into a dark empty room armed only with a pistol. Thanks guys. I guess I’m not a hard core gamer.
Oh and you know what the zombies will do if they manage to overwhelm your character? They stomp on you until you die. That’s just funny as all get out.
All this talk about zombies is making me want to play these games again.
Monday, 17th October, 2011 Comments Off
When I first read it in the late 1990s (I’m a late comer when it comes to King) Pet Sematary* was all kinds of scary. Louis Creed moves with his family to a nice country house in Maine and soon befriends Jud Crandall, an old timer who has lived there since like forever. Jud tells Louis that in the woods behind his house there is a pet cemetery which was originally an Indian burial ground. Wait. An Indian burial ground? Was this the first time an Indian burial ground used in a popular horror story? Because it’s become such a cliche now. If you ever watch those ghost-hunting reality shows, whenever they do the research on the alleged haunted place 8 times out of 10 the place was built on an Indian burial ground. Man, why did those Indians, sorry, Native Americans like to bury their dead on prime locations?
Anyway, Judd tells of how one time a friend of theirs buried his soldier son in the pet cemetery and soon after the dead kid came back as a zombie. Not a mindless zombie though. This undead was shouting secrets about the townspeople who came to kill him (again). The pet cemetery turned the dead into zombies who knew your secrets! That. Is. Just. Wrong.
When Louis’ son is killed in an accident, Louis gets the idea to bury him in the cemetery hoping it will resurrect the child. Gee, Louis, I don’t know. What do you think will happen?!
Reading it for the first time back then, this book scared me on a basic level. It was a zombie story. I loved it. Re-reading it again today as a husband and a father, it frightened me on so many more levels. Would I have done the same stupid thing as Louis Creed if my child was killed even after, like Louis, I already know the resurrected child won’t be quite the same? There is a passage in the book where Louis discovers that his son was alive and well only to wake up and realise it was all dream and to find his pillow soaked wet with tears. That hit me. Hard.
And that is the question King wanted us to ponder. If we were in Louis Creed’s shoes, would we have done the same thing? It frightens me that my answer could probably be a resounding, “YES!”
Very, very few books of fiction has managed to press my buttons like Pet Sematary managed to do and that is why it’s my favourite Stephen King book (not that I’ve read many but this one is no. #1 on my list).
*The title was a deliberate misspelling. It’s explained in the book.
Sunday, 16th October, 2011 Comments Off
After all these years this is still hilarious. They’re undead, that makes them zombies and therefore totally appropriate for this blog’s Zombie week.
Oh and thank you Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
Saturday, 15th October, 2011 § 3 Comments
Day #2 in the prelude to the first ever oh-God-let’s-hope-it-won’t-suck Malay novel with zombies in it, Zombijaya by Adib Zaini. Today, let’s look at some instances of zombie rampage in books with pictures in them. My favourite medium, the comic book!
1. Suicide Squad #20 (DC Comics, 1988)
Suicide Squad was comic series written by John Ostrander that lasted for 66 issues and its premise was simple: the US government came up with a plan to form a super secret team of operatives and give them assignments that are deemed important to US interests but are just way out of the league of their normal covert units. This secret team will consist of super villains who have been captured and sentenced and are now given a choice to either serve out their sentences or go on a mission, accomplish it, survive it and have their sentences reduced or even expunged. If they die no one will care since they’re super villains anyway.
A regular character on the team was Captain Boomerang, one of the Flash’s rogues, and really a bit of a joke when he was featured in the Flash’s own book. That was the great thing about “Squad”. It was basically used as a place to do something with characters that no one really cared about. You never saw A-list villains featured in the book. What Ostrander got instead were B-grade and C-grade bad guys like Captain Boomerang whose entire shtick was to throw trick boomerangs at people. It was only in the pages of the “Squad” that Australia’s shame finally had some of his character developed and it was usually done humorously.
By issue 20, Boomerbutt as he is affectionately known within the Squad, has survived enough missions that he was allowed to live in his own apartment in the city but is still required to serve with the Squad. But Boomerang being an unrepentant thief decided to abuse his privileges and commit crimes but disguised as one his colleagues and another of the Flash’s old rogues, the Mirror Master. Unfortunately, fake Mirror Master is soon captured and is pressed into joining the Squad so now Boomerang has to serve the Squad under two identities. Things come to a head when the team has to tackle the Loa, a New Orleans criminal gang that mixes voodoo into their operations and Captain Boomerang has to run around in graveyard all night alternating as himself and Mirror Master to fool the team. Unfortunately…
his entire team has been turned into zombies! Turns out it was all a joke to teach him a lesson (but with a twist at the end). Issue 20 remains one of my favourite “Squad” comics ever. DC has just begun to collect this series this year but at the rate they are going this particular issue will probably not appear in collected edition until 2013 at the earliest.
2. Marvel Zombies (Marvel, 2005)
An alien virus has mutated all of the Marvel superheroes into zombies. That’s all you need to know.
Here are some of them devouring Galactus.
3. Walking Dead (Image Comics, 2003 – ongoing)
This series focuses on Rick Grimes, a small town cop who, after waking up in a hospital after suffering a gunshot wound in the line of duty, discovers that America perhaps even the world has been overrun by zombies. He begins his search for his wife and kid whom he soon finds among a small band of survivors. Thus begins their search for a safe place to live in a world gone mad. The series is still ongoing and more bad things than good have happened to Rick and his band of survivors. In issue 50, almost everyone dies when the prison complex they’ve been holding up in falls to a zombie onslaught. I’m behind with this series (I’m not getting the monthly comics but wait for them to be collected in the annual hardcover editions) so I don’t know what has happened since the attack on the prison but I’m guessing it’s more bad stuff. Writer Robert Kirkman has stated that Walking Dead isn’t so much about the zombies but more about the human survivors and how they cope in a zombie ridden world and he has no plans of ending the series anytime soon. There’s a TV adaptation as well but I’ve never watched it.
4. The many, many zombies in Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror (EC Comics, 1950s)
Before the pogroms began on the old comic books and horror comics specifically, the late Bill Gaines (he of MAD Magazine fame) hit it big with his trifecta titles Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear and Vault of Horror. These comics were each hosted by the Crypt Keeper, the Old Witch and the Vault Keeper and their stories were usually humorously dark. It never ended without an O. Henry like twist where the bad guys receive their supernaturally influenced comeuppance. And the zombie stories were usually drawn by Graham Ingels (who was so closely associated with EC’s horror comics that when those books went out of style Ingels had a hard time getting any work to the point that he refused to acknowledge his career at EC when asked). These EC book have been reprinted many times, as recently as 2008 in glorious hardcover editions (I have a thing for hardcovers, can’t you tell?) The economic slowdown caused the reprinting of these classic books to be put on hiatus but recently word got out that the books will again return around November 2011. Sweet!
Zombies and comic books. If ever there were two things that were made for each other, it’s these two.
Friday, 14th October, 2011 § 6 Comments
A week from now the first ever Malay novel featuring a zombie apocalypse will be available for online purchase at FIXI’s site and on 31st of October, the book will be available at all good bookshops in Malaysia. And some bad ones as well.
No I didn’t write the book and I’m not receiving any remuneration for promoting it. I’m doing this because I’m just chuffed that there will soon be a full length novel in Malay about zombies crying havoc in Malaysia. I love zombies. I find them funny as all get out. Even when they’re supposed to be taken oh-so-seriously *cough*28 Days Later*cough* I still can’t help but have a silly grin on my face when I’m reading a book or watching a movie featuring the undead. I’m strange like that. Also, they are proud of their rancid, fresh from the grave appearance so the chances of a zombie romance story is between slim and none. And if there is a zombie romance fiction out there, I don’t wanna know about it! Let them romanticize the hell out of vampires. Leave the zombies alone for us guys. Zombies are vampires for guys.
No, I have no idea what that means either.
So in order to get myself (and hopefully you) in the mood for a Malay zombie story I decided to dedicate the entire week to highlighting zombies in popular culture. Yes, it’s Zombie Week here at The Malaysian Reader, in preparation for ZOMBIJAYA! The darn novel better not suck. That’s for vampires.
To start off, I’m re-reading a book I first read about 4 years ago written by Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. How do you pronounce the Z in the title? Zee or Zed? Anyway, in ‘WWZ’ the zombie outbreak is played straight as if it really happened (even the books’ press material plays along) and is presented in a series of interviews conducted by Brooks with survivors of the war from every level of society. Two interviews stand out as personal favourites: the female Air Force pilot who bailed out of her doomed plane and landed in a zombie infested swamp, and the one with the infantryman who survived the Battle of Yonkers where American troops were massacred by zombies on live television.
The book traces the origin of the outbreak that probably began in China with Patient Zero, its infectious progress around the world and the aftermath of the war. Though it is hinted that the first zombie appeared in China, the actual origin of the pandemic is left unanswered as it should be. I don’t know why, but I believe that how zombie outbreaks begin should always remain a mystery. No science experiment gone wrong or virus from outer space. The dead have risen and they want brains. That’s it.
Of all the zombie literature out there, ‘WWZ’ is probably the most serious and realistic. Brooks’ straight faced investigation of a worldwide zombie pandemic reminds one of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio adaptation that so scared America, some people actually committed suicide rather than face the Martians they thought were actually touching down and killing people. No danger of that happening when the story’s told in a book but that does not make it any less horrifying and not necessarily because of the zombies.
While reading this book I rooted for the undead and in ‘WWZ’ they reached a sort of a stalemate. At least half the world has become no-go areas and the surviving humans experienced such an upheaval politically, militarily, economically and spiritually that it is doubtful that the zombies can ever be eliminated.
Hollywood is making a movie version with Brad Pitt scheduled for 2012. Now that send shivers down my spine.