June 18, 2012

LOCKED OUT (Book Review)

 by Mark Gosson

Locked In 
(Zombie Bedtime Stories #1)

By Thea Isis Gregory

Self-Published: 2011


3 / 5 zedheads

Bertolt Brecht wrote, “Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.” His words provide a fitting lesson for the characters in Locked Out.

In Locked Out we meet Doctor Anna Lewis who is the administrator of an infection disease research center. The plot unfolds and we learn that the military, led by Major Cartwright, enlists the doctor’s facility and staff in helping to identify the cause of a recent set of riots and violent attacks in the capital. While the facility is ill-equipped, the army quickly remodels the center. We learn a few things about the nature of the virus before everything falls apart and the facility must be abandoned. The virus turns people into violent, uncommunicative monsters with exceptional strength. They may be human on the inside and strong on the outside, but we learn they can still be burned like marshmallows at a campfire.

We don’t see the first infected character until halfway through the story, but that isn’t a problem. The storytelling is reasonably competent and the pacing is good. While the characters are flat and stereotypical, the story maintains interest as it progresses. The problem with Locked Out is that once we get to zombies the story is all but over. When zombies finally pose a threat there are so few pages remaining that we don’t get much time with the zombies or the problems they cause. The story ends abruptly, almost as if being told by a doomed character rather than by an omniscient narrator.

A number of elements took what might have been a mediocre zombie story and saddled it with a clumsy amateurism. It's not a problem that we are asked to suspend disbelief regarding the zombie virus; the problem in suspension of disbelief comes when the everyday aspects of a story don’t feel authentic. First, the story is set circa 2030, and Dr. Lewis has a reader that is powered by her body heat. The thermal powered tablet is the only device even remotely futuristic. The rest of the story could have easily been set today, and doing so would have been less distracting.  Gregory’s depictions of the military’s actions are ingenuous. We see soldiers clubbing a zombie to death with their rifle butts instead of simply shooting it. Curious readers might ask, “Where did they get the flamethrower used to defend the school?” (Reviewer's note: the US stopped using flamethrowers in the 1970s, half a century before this story is set) The final bit of irritation are the chapter breaks. In a short story that scarcely has 31 pages, you don’t expect to see any chapters; this story has eleven. It is baffling and distracting.  The shortest chapter is two pages long.

In the end, Locked Out feels like a story half told. Expanded further, it might have been an adequate zombie tale. There are parts that are reasonably interesting, but they rarely involve zombies. To quote Brecht again, “It's all right to hesitate if you then go ahead” and this applies to Locked Out. The slow methodical pace in setting up the story would have been much more welcome had we been able to walk ahead into the zombie half of the story with that same cadence.

Locked Out and other stories by Thea Isis Gregory are available on Smashwords.

Guest Reviewer Bio

Mark Gosson is a technologist and author who currently works at Microsoft. He has degrees from Florida State University and Michigan State University in English Literature.  Mark is also the creator of the web comic http://www.xombeeguy.com (America’s most loveable zombie). In his free time, Mark enjoys fermenting vegetables, making tonics, and reading comics. Currently, he's writing several works of fiction and maintains a blog at http://mark-gosson.blogspot.com, or you can follow him on Twitter (@MarkGosson).