Friday, November 25, 2011

The Gathering Dead

The Gathering Dead, by Stephen Knight

"The Horde Is Always Hungry...
The zombie apocalypse has begun, and Major Cordell McDaniels is given the most important mission of his career: lead a Special Forces team into New York City to rescue the one man who can stop the ghastly virus that reanimates the dead."

If you like action movies, zombies, a military p.o.v., and stories that take place over a short period of time (in this case, fewer than 24 hours pass from the novel's start and finish), this one's for you.  Personally, by the last few pages, I couldn't help feeling some agreement when a character asks, "Good God, when will this be over?"  That said, the very end won me back (a little), and earlier in the book, I was thoroughly enjoying the story, so...  Maybe I can only handle so many descriptions of Hollywood-style action sequences before my eyes start to glaze over.

Many who've read this novel think it would make an excellent movie.  I'd be interested in seeing a film adaption (especially given that much of it feels like your typical action flick), and I'd even be interested in similar books by the author.  After I've had a palette cleanser in the form of something less military/action-focused.

My Incredibly Long List of Random Notes:
(Some of them may be slightly spoilerish.)

•  Wolf and Regina Safire?  Very odd names.

•  I thought about commenting on the cursing, but then I realized that, A) this is a book about zombies, so it's not really geared toward kids, B) cursing when a zombie's chasing you is different from casually cursing because you think it makes you sound cool, and C) most of the characters are military.  I don't know what percentage of those serving in the military actually curse with frequency, but if you believe what you see in movies, it's practically a requirement.  ;o)  Actually, there's not that much cursing.  Not as much as I've seen in some other books where characters weren't in life-or-death situations.

•  At first, the military-speak and terminology can be a bit off-putting to someone who isn't familiar with it.  It's a little like reading a book that's peppered with foreign words and phrases.  However, eventually it settles down and you stop feeling (so much) like you're having to jump over verbal hurdles every sentence or two.  Still, the specific names of military vehicles and guns... Good grief!  I guess a military buff might think they add to the story, though.

•  Ditto for the NYC street names.  I might have found them worthwhile if I knew anything about NYC. 

•  Though I may not have always enjoyed the gratuitous military terminology, I did it refreshing that the author seems to be pro-capitalism.  The zombie virus is suspected to have originated in Russia (thought to be a "long-forgotten relic of the Cold War" that was tampered with and released).  "...Within weeks, Russia went dark.  Satellites showed the legions of the dead moving across the nation, heading for both Europe and China.  It was the double attack on capitalism the old Soviet guard might have dreamed of, but the soldiers had an entirely different perspective.  They weren't in it to destroy capitalism."

Another opinion I rarely see in novels:  "McDaniels had heard reports on his way in that a group of the walking dead had emerged from the East River and was headed for the United Nations building.  He had chuckled at that.  Finally, something would devour the United Nations before it could envelop the world in leftist glory."

•  Zombies in this book are called "zeds" and "stenches".  (Reminded me of "stenchable", a made-up word from my childhood/youth...)

•  The writing at times (many times) could've used some polish.  "The security situation was clearly deteriorating more quickly than the forces on hand could handle." (forces on hand could handle?)  "The wheels folded up as they were designed to do, absorbing a goodly amount of the G forces."  (goodly?)  "Keep an eye on the weather... It would totally suck if we get closed out because of a little rain and wind, over." (Yeah.  Totally.) "...temporary situation..." (should've been "temporary solution"...) "...his battlefield skills were beyond redoubt." (should be "beyond doubt", right?) "Beyond the door, darkness reigned, slashed by wet rain."  (Oh, so it's the wet sort of rain.  Important distinction.)

• "The first sergeant's head panned from side to side like a tank turret as he took in the sights."  Heh.  Like a tank turret, huh?  (g)  Even the author's similes and metaphors are military in nature.

•  What a surprise that the doctor's daughter happens to be beautiful!  Black hair!  Big green eyes!  At least she's in her mid-thirties instead of a perfect twenty-two. 

•  I was confused when the helicopter pilot and gunner turned into zombies.  They weren't bitten... or had I missed something?  Apparently, in this universe/zombie apocalypse/whatever, you turn into a zombie after dying even if you haven't been bitten. I guess it's airborne.

•  Of all the military terms the author uses, he chooses to spell out/define two of the ones that almost anyone would already be familiar with-- "hooah" and "FUBAR".  (g)

  Interesting that the author chose not to reveal that the main character is black until ~70 pages into the book.  But later on much is made of McDaniels's race.  (A little too much, imho.)

•  A couple of times, I was surprised to realize that such-and-such was supposed to have taken place in a mere twenty minutes (for instance).  These characters seem to squeeze more time out of their minutes than I do.

•  I preferred the part of the book where the characters are holed up in a building.  I like the survival aspect-- watching them think things through, compare options, take precautionary measures-- better than when characters are just running around in imminent danger, shooting at zombies.  However, I'm well aware that many people must have the exact opposite opinion.  (Don't worry; there's plenty of running and shooting later on in the book, which is when it started to go downhill for me.)

•  I was surprised how many conversations take place over radio.  Interesting...

•  Doctor Safire is so completely unlikeable.  I think the author went out of his way to make Safire someone that no-one really cares about. 

•  On the other hand, clearly we're supposed to fawn over Earl-- and I like Earl just fine, but I felt like I was supposed to like him even more than I did.  However, I can't help be feel resistant when I'm so clearly meant to feel sympathetic, and the "folksy" is poured on a little too thickly, at times.

  Or in other words, there are some character clichés-- stock characters.  

•  The description of Regina being "turned on" was unnecessary and...  just ew.  I really found myself wishing Regina wasn't even in the book, by this point of the story.  She felt pointless.  I guess she was there to provide a humanizing element for Dr. Safire, but honestly, both the characters fell pancake-flat for me.

•  "...another goofy Jersey Shore guido..." Ick.  A bit too current pop culture for my taste.

•  The descriptions of exactly what everyone is eating feel amateurish:  "She went ahead and made herself a zesty salami sandwich with oil and vinegar and black pepper..." Well, what are you waiting for?  Don't hold back!  Go on!  I need more detail!  How many slices of salami, exactly?  How many swishes of vinegar?  What kind of oil?  I MUST KNOW.

•  Also:  You're holed up in a building surrounded by zombies, waiting for rescue.  Anything could happen at any time.  What better time to kick back and drink a few beers, right?  (At least the military characters don't partake, but neither should the civilians!)  What is it with characters in zombie movies, TV shows, and books drinking alcohol-- sometimes even hard liquor?  Honestly, if you get drunk or even just tipsy in a zombie apocalypse situation, you deserve to be eaten by the zombies.  It's natural selection, weeding out the poor decision-makers.  (Never mind the fact that I'd probably be weeded out for my inability to run long distances. And if I ever lost my glasses... *gulp*)

  "He understood now why there were so few African Americans in Army Special Forces.  No one wanted to deal with this s**t."  Um, and members of other races have no problem with that sort of thing, I suppose...

•  It felt like the characters had some obsession/compulsion about cleaning/checking their weapons.  I guess it makes sense-- don't want to find something not working when you need it-- but I wonder if members of the military really are always doing that so often, or if it was exaggerated here.

•  When Gartrell said something was "totally of the hook" I stared at the page in disbelief.  He didn't really say that, did he?  How old is Gartrell supposed to be, anyway?

•  Another amusing moment: "You listen to me, soldier.  You've been a total stud muffin this entire time... ...No one's ever going to be able to convince me you're a girlie-man.  Got that?"  Got it.  Stud muffin, yes.  Girlie-man, no.  

•  "I need both of you out there with booger hooks on the bang levers."  Much more efficient than saying "fingers on triggers". 

  Oh. My. Gosh.  How many times did the author compare the zombies to cancer?  I think I counted at least three.

•  How in the world did OMEN keep up with the group when they were driving a van?!  I guess they weren't driving very far each time?  I had a hard time visualizing that part of the story.

•  "From behind, more zombies massed, but even the most fleet of them were unable to match the pace of the living."  Oh really?  Because at some points in the book, they're sprinting...  Incidentally, I'm not sure how I feel about the sprinting zombies... I guess it makes sense that the "fresh" zombies who died at a young age, in fit condition might be able to run pretty quickly...

•  This novel is responsible for my finally googling "tango uniform".  So that's what it means.  (Obviously, it meant a bad situation, but I never exactly knew what it stood for.)

•  How many times was Finelly described as "big"?  That's almost all I remember about him, apart from the fact that he was "raw-boned", looked like a farmer's son, and was the one responsible for Regina's disgusting and utterly pointless "turned on" moment.  Thank you, Finelly, so very, very much.  (*fakeretch*)

  "This isn't my idea of a hot date!" Gartrell said as he blazed away at the approaching mass of ghouls, dropping them to the street as quickly as the AA-12 could fire." 

Comments with **BIGGIE SPOILERS**:

•  I'm not super crazy about the OMEN zombies.  For one thing, are we supposed to believe that these were the smartest guys in NYC?  Wouldn't some of the non-OMEN zombies be just as intelligent?  True, they wouldn't be as likely to have weapons on them, but surely they would remember how to drive a car, etc.  The bigger issue is that any zombies at all remember how to drive, shoot a gun, use a grenade, and so on.  I think that I, personally, prefer the old-fashioned zombie that's dumb as a bag of rocks, but I wouldn't want to discourage writers from experimenting with different types of zombie characters.  There's no reason why they all have to be the same.  Just like vampires.  You have the scary vampires, and then you have the sparkly ones.  ;o) 

•  When Regina grabbed the gun from McDaniels's belt, I had to roll my eyes.  Really?  She has to be the one to shoot her (now dead) father?  And it's not even one of those "I should be the one to do it" moments-- it's because everyone's in a hurry to move on and can't spare the time to fire a single shot.  Give me a break!  Another clichéd Hollywood-style moment.

•  I was seriously annoyed when Leary died.  I think he was one of my favorite characters, which is odd, considering that we hardly get to know him.  Very rude to kill him off like that.  Not nice.