June 25, 2010

Zomblog (Review)

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Zomblog (2009)

T.W. Brown

May December Publications: 2009


4 / 5 zedheads

In Zomblog, T.W. Brown drops readers head first into a vivid zombie apocalypse in a series of episodic encounters with the ravenous undead, raiders, and all manner of scum and broken humanity that rise to the surface after civilization falls into the putrid clutches of the zombies.

Written as a journal kept by a single father named Samuel Todd, Zomblog charts Sam's day-to-day experiences living in a world that is crumbling all around him. From his suburb home to a fortified settlement of survivors, from a prison commandeered by its inmates to a beacon of hope in the most ironic of places, Zomblog takes readers on a worrisome tour of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Sam soon realizes it's not just the zombies that threaten to extinguish humanity but humanity's own trend towards cruelty and violence.

Zomblog's greatest strength is the vividness with which it paints Sam's rambling adventures. Sam isn't much of a character -- after a traumatic event at the beginning of his journal he buries much of his personality and becomes, essentially, an observer and narrator rather than a personality in the narrative -- but Brown's attention to detail compensates by anchoring the reader in a very tangible world. Scenes and actions have a very concrete existence in Zomblog that helps the reader to occupy Sam's shoes rather than his heart. In the same way, there is a variety of locations that the readers can experience with Sam that gives the scope of the zombie apocalypse a worldly depth that I hope Brown returns to in future books.

In particular, the zombies are rendered in grisly detail. I find zombies most frightening in fiction if they are portrayed as vividly and gruesomely as in the movies. Thankfully, Brown makes a point of giving his key zombies individual character and descriptions, even coming up with short-hand expressions for certain types of the undead, such as the "creepers" who are little more than mobile hunks of crawling torsos and hungry jaws. Even when describing a massive horde of zombies, it has a distinct movement and character. Because Sam and the survivors don't have much time to study or examine the zombies, they can only observe some strange undead phenomena in passing. For example, some zombies seem to be able to mimic the crying of babies to lure in prey. And could it be that some people are really immune to the zombie bite? Again, I'm intrigued by these snap shots and developments. I hope Brown explores them further in future books. If he does, he can count me as a continued reader.

Unfortunately, Brown's choice to present Zomblog as a diary works against the strengths of the writing. As I mentioned earlier, the book is very episodic. There's little plot or through-line development. The development of the story, in fact, feels more like a free-roaming video game in the tradition of Fallout 3. I loved all the different scenarios that Sam briefly glimpses on his journeys, but I was always hoping author T.W. Brown would just settle into one scenario and location to flesh out the plot and his characters. Instead, Sam travels here and there with an ever-changing roster of survivors, meeting various characters and encountering various dangers. Arguably, this would be the very experience of an actual person in an zombie apocalypse; however, it doesn't make for a compelling book. Also, I find it unlikely that one would have the time and energy to write such a detailed expository diary when facing a dire struggle to survive. Sam sure seems able to find a lot of time and paper to write about his daily life while also managing to never lose his collected manuscript despite losing his other supplies and friends. Zomblog feels like a novel written by someone with a lot of time and devotion, and therefore it less like a "genuine" zombie apocalypse diary. Near the end of the book, there is also an abrupt change in narrative voice that threw me for a loop; the end of the book starts to feel more like a novel with more substantial character development, but it's not through the voice with which we have become familiar.

Despite what I think is an awkward narrative structure that does not capture all Brown's strengths as a writer, Zomblog is a very enjoyable book and one of the more detailed zombie diary stories available today. Like me, you may not find Zomblog a compelling page-turner because of its episodic nature; however, do expect to be fully engrossed by the detailed vision of a post-apocalyptic America and the vivid horrors of the dead walking the earth.

Zomblog is available from May December Publications and through online retailers such as Amazon.

Happy zombie hunting!