Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Day By Day Armagedon, by J.L. Bourne

Does exactly what it says on the box. A never named navy officer decides to keep a diary literally days before a zombie flavoured kind of hell breaks loose, and the book is a day by day chronicle of his efforts to survive.

There are a lot of things to like about this book. If we start at a purely aesthetic viewpoint, this is a book that makes me glad to have resisted the ebook wave. I don’t mean the cover (which isn’t terrible but I wouldn’t say I’m in love with it), I’m talking about the pages. They are adored with handwritten notes, pictures (both hand drawn and photographs), coffee rings and tears and what are possibly blood stains. There are also sections of texts that have been scribbled out and rendered unreadable, which brings to mind one of my all time favourite books, House of Leaves. It makes the book feel more immediate and authentic, and it makes you feel closer to our unnamed hero.

Of course no quirky design will turn rubbish prose into good, but thankfully J.L. Bourne's text doesn’t need any help being good. Bourne's take on the Zombie apocalypse is a pleasing mixture of familiar and new ideas. He pays due homage to the zombie tradition while still managing to offer his own ideas without going too crazy with it.

But the real shining point, for me, is the narrator. Our hero is a military man, and this shines through in every aspect of the text. It's sometimes obvious, such as the use of military terminology, which is a little confusing at first but the author skilfully supplies enough context for us to figure out what all the words mean. (What, an author who doesn’t treat his readers like idiots? Imagine!) But his military background is also clear in his short, efficient sentences and the methodical way he views the world.

This book is an exercise in reading between the lines. As I mentioned, Protagonist McNoname writes his journal in a very straight forward, no fuss kind of way. He doesn’t dwell overlong on his feelings or hopes, he concerns himself with what is needed to survive; lists of remaining rations, brainstorm ideas of zombie proof fortresses and the like. When he meets other suriviors he writes about them foremost in terms of what the skills they offer, and when he finds those skills lacking he outlines plans to teach them. (Not, you may note, abandon them).

But when we look closer a picture of him begins to emerge. We start to see that he has always been a loner (when shit starts to go down he deserts the military without hesitation), and pretty bad at relating with women. He mentions briefly using army equipment to spy on an ex-girlfiend, and his thoughts when a friend calls to say his wife had left are also very telling. He refers to his guns as females, and in the early days of the book he is at his most considerate when he is carefully cleaning and maintaining them.

It is pleasure to watch, as the book progresses, our hero start to trust and depend on the few other survivors he joins up with. It’s also a pleasure to be in the hands of a perfectly capable protagonist. Often zombie books, or all post-apocalyptic books, are told from the point of view of unremarkable people who have to quickly learn how to survive. Our hero already knows how to survive, he just needs to learn how to love. (Oh man, that did not sound so cheesy in my head I promise…)

My biggest complaint with the book is the ending, or rather lack thereof. We are left with some major plot threads dangling in the wind, and while there is a sequel it’s still annoying to have to wait to get my hands on it. But then again, if the worst thing you can say about a book is that you want to read more right now instead of later, then it’s probably a pretty good book!

This book, I got it how? I actually won this one from Graeme's Fantasy Book Review. Cheers Graeme!

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