Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rise Again

Rise Again: A Zombie Thriller
by Ben Tripp

Publisher's Blurb:

And a warning that would come all too late . . .

Forest Peak, California. Fourth of July. Sheriff Danielle Adelman, a troubled war veteran, thinks she has all the problems she can handle in this all-American town after her kid sister runs away from home. But when a disease-stricken horde of panicked refugees fleeing the fall of Los Angeles swarms her small mountain community, Danny realizes her problems have only just begun—starting with what might very well be the end of the world. Danny thought she had seen humanity at its worst in war-torn Iraq, but nothing could prepare her for the remorseless struggle to survive in a dying world being overrun by the reanimated dead and men turned monster. Obsessed with finding her missing sister against all odds, Danny’s epic and dangerous journey across the California desert will challenge her spirit . . . and bring her to the precipice of sanity itself. . . .

Filled with adventurous human drama—and shocking inhuman horror—Rise Again marks a vivid and powerful fiction debut.

My Reaction:
Short reaction:  It was alright.   (Damning with faint praise again...)

I mean, it's a zombie novel, and let's just be honest-- we don't expect the highest quality writing from those.  Or rather, we can expect it all we want, but if we do, we're usually doomed to disappointment.  Based on my experience of them thus far, that is.  Possibly there are some amazing zombie novels out there.  I have a short list of recommendations I'll get to, eventually.  In the meantime, I've come across more bad writing than good, in this little niche-genre.  "Adequate" is the best you can say for most.  (Though to be fair, that's true for a lot of modern writing, from what I've seen, lately.  It just doesn't seem to take much talent to get published, these days, and the problem is certainly not limited to horror alone.  But to get back to the point...) 

So, no, it's not the worst I've read, but (with the exception of part of the beginning) it never really grabbed me, and there were so many things about it that annoyed or irked me that I had to make myself finish.  That's never a good sign.

And now that I've finished it-- but that's something for the nit-pick section...  Suffice it to say that it lacked a sense of real conclusion, and I just don't think I can muster the give-a-crap (sorry, side effect of reading this novel-- and that's the toned-down version!) to start in on the sequel.  So... ~shrug~  Ambivalence.

NOT recommended for children or anyone who objects to descriptions of disgusting horror-movie-style images (though given the subject matter, you should be prepared for that) or quite a bit of cursing. 

Nit-Picks, Etc. (with SPOILERS): 
--  The very beginning was confusing.  We start with a lengthy section about Kelley writing her letter to Danny, and if you haven't read the blurb (which I hadn't, recently), you probably think Kelley will be the protagonist.  I also thought Danny was a guy-- maybe a funny mistake for me (of all people) to make, since I'm also a woman with a masculine name.  Momentary disorientation.  I don't know if the juicy (eh, trashy and gross?) tidbits about the people in Forest Peak is supposed to give us a feel for the place or what, but it didn't make a good impression.  No wonder Kelley wants to run away!

--  Incidentally, Kelley's supposed to have graduated from high school, right?  Did I miss something?  Isn't she at least eighteen?  How can she "run away", then?  Kids and young teens "run away".  Adults just leave.  They really shouldn't steal their big sister's primo candy-apple-red Mustang, though.  That's not nice.

--  "Maybe she could get out of this one-horse sh*thole of a town."  Um, so what's been keeping Kelley and Danny there, if it's so awful?  I really hate this kind of thinking.  It is beyond exasperating.  If you really, truly hate where you are, go somewhere else.  They don't even have family to keep them tied down.  It might not be easy to get out-- might require all kinds of sacrifice-- but if it's important enough to you, you can find a way. 

--  The way that Danny defines herself and her world in terms of her military service in Iraq gets old.  Not to be insensitive to the issue of her PTSD... but I didn't enjoy revisiting it so often.

--  Things like this:  "He'd been in the Army during a rare lull in the endless national war program."  ...They kinda rub me the wrong way.  Then there are the repeated references to "New Orleans"-- meaning Hurricane Katrina.  (Don't get me started.)  For example:  "These were Americans, who had never experienced refugee status before, unless they were from New Orleans."  ...Yeah, because they were the first Americans ever displaced from their homes by destructive weather.  Or fire.  Or gas explosion, etc.  Another example: "'...I heard a couple of things that make me think it's the Gulf Hurricane, times ten, everywhere in the entire country.'"  The "Gulf Hurricane"... Like it's the only one that ever was or will be.  (I guess I take this issue a little personally.  Was Katrina awful?  Yes.  Was it made worse by a variety of poor decisions?  YES-- but maybe not the ones that most would identify.  Was it the end of the world?  Clearly not.  As someone living in a place where hurricanes are a yearly threat, I find the whole thing frustrating.)

--  Early in the book, when there's just a sense that something may be wrong in other parts of the world, but no-one really knows what's happening in Asia-- or even just down in L.A.-- I couldn't help but wonder if Forest Peak didn't have any Internet connections.  Even if cell phone service failed and the government managed to silence traditional media, what about Twitter and Facebook?  Twitter's the first place I check for breaking news, these days.  (Maybe I shouldn't admit it...)

--  "It vaguely reminded Patrick of the day Princess Diana died, and the shocking news rippled out into the world accompanied by an equal measure of disbelief.  It hadn't been the same with Michael Jackson."  ...Huh?  What's your point, Patrick?  That people almost expected Michael Jackson to die?  (I have no idea.)  Strange comment.

--  "A bunch of talking heads in Washington blaming the Muslims."  UGH.  UGH.  UGHHHHH. (No, haven't turned into a moaning zombie.  Just expressing my emotions. Enjoy!)

--  Danny doesn't seem to have much respect for other people's desire for autonomy.  Too much in love with her own position of authority, I guess.  "People in crisis preferred, Danny realized, individual action over imposed order-- even if the price was bloodshed and confusion." (Imposed order?  Imposed by whom?)  "Maybe that was the primary freedom they were celebrating every Fourth of July: the right to act like f**kups now and then.  She hoped there was more to it than that."  (That brought a tear to my eye.  Very moving. *eyeroll*)

--   After a "runner" ignores Danny's order that she stop at the barricade... "Now Danny could see her eyes, and there was no recognition behind them, no mind.  Time to make an example.  Stop one, maybe stop a thousand."  ...But if they're all like the woman-- no mind-- then how will "making an example" of one possibly influence the others?  (Danny ain't the brightest, sometimes.)

--  "All of her furry friends had escaped during the morning.  She hoped Diggler was all right.  He was some pig."  (I think I sprained an eyeball from the tortured rolling, the first time I read that bit.)

--  "'They're going to have thousands of refugees on their hands, but with our uniforms we might be able to get some love.'" Oh, preferential treatment for the sheriff and fireman?  That's wonderful.  What about the rest of us poor, un-uniformed nobodies?

-- Incidentally, why do so many zombie novels (etc.) have military or law enforcement types as the main character(s)?  Target audience?  I guess they'd likely be pressed into leadership roles (early on, at least) in any sort of crisis-- and likely to volunteer their know-how-- so it's fairly logical.  A bit repetitive, though, at this point.

--  "[The zombies] were so stupid, but so dedicated.  Like Republicans, Amy thought.  She wished irrelevant things wouldn't come into her head so much."  Yeah... We all do, Amy.  (I don't like Amy.  Shocker, right?)

--  Danny explodes cars by shooting at the gas tank (iirc).  Am I crazy, or didn't I see the Mythbusters disprove that particular action/adventure specialty?

--  Some of the gory descriptions are just silly.  A zombie that "puked its brains out of its ear", and another "with its head emptied out like a pinata".  So juvenile!

--  Uh-oh!  It's another episode of Danny Knows Best.  "There was more discussion than Danny liked, after she was done speaking.  In the service it was considered insubordinate to openly discuss an officer's judgment.  These civilians didn't try to hide their skepticism.  They were expecting a vote or something, Danny thought.  F**k 'em, they could vote in November.  She had to keep them moving."  UGH.  Look, Danny, thank you for your service, but you're not in the army anymore.  Time to adjust to your new reality.  Why should these people-- most of whom don't know you at all-- blindly follow you "just 'cause"?  No way would she be satisfied to shut up and follow someone else's lead, so why is she always so offended when someone else dares to have an opinion about the decisions that will determine whether they live or die?  (...I must confess, I don't really like Danny.  Strong, yes.  But such a rude control-freak with an unrealistic ability to survive anything.)  Also, I can't be the only one who finds it obnoxious when a person in the military/law-enforcement insists on referring to the rest of us as "civilians", like that.  Far too often it comes out sounding like an insult. 

--  Oh, goody!  Another instance in which Danny can teach everyone else how they're Wrong!!  When her group breaks into a closed gas station and starts taking supplies, she promptly accuses them of looting.  Um, Earth to Danny.  It's the zombie apocalypse, and they're hungry.  I think it's ok to take some food and water.  If things ever get back to normal, go pay the store owner for what you took-- but it's not like they're taking big-screen TVs or expensive tennis shoes just for the heck of it.  Later on, I guess she decides it's ok to "loot"-- because they break into the airfield and start using up all its supplies-- but evidently it's a no-no 'til she says you can, dagnabit!  (Also, this was after she was exploding cars left and right. ...And someone-- Danny?  Amy?  the fireman?-- apparently decided it was ok to raid the Forest Peak Quikmart for food, earlier.  How was this any different?)

--  "'Palm Springs was full of zombies to begin with,' Patrick muttered."  Hardy-har-har.  I don't know or care much about Palm Springs, but this seems like a cheap shot.

--  "Danny's stomach knotted.  Sh*t.  Those stupid bastards were second-guessing her every move, of course.  That slimeball Ted Shoemaker was probably the ringleader.  There might need to be another come-to-Jesus moment pretty soon."  Yes.  How dare they question her authority?!  She's wearing a uniform, dammit!  Are they bleeping blind or something?

--  "Danny's vision grew red again and she thought she was going to go over there and [do something too disgusting to repeat] the [S.O.B] with the shotgun."  Well, now I see why Danny should be head honcho!  So cool under pressure!  So level-headed!

--  It was so lovely when Danny and Amy invited themselves into Patrick's RV-- and then Patrick seemed self-conscious to Danny, which she hates, so she told him to join her in a drink.  Very kind of her to offer him some of his own booze, don't you think?  And then they all get drunk, because that's what responsible adults do when the world has fallen apart and there are zombies on the prowl.

--  Just about the only time we get any insight into Troy (the fireman), it has to be about his race.  (Of course.)  "Who gave a damn if he was the only brother in town?  The other dudes at the firehouse knew he was cooler than them.  They welcomed the change.  And he knew somebody had helped make all that possible:  The locals figured if they could have a lady sheriff, they could even have a colored fireman."  (*rolling-of-the-eyes*)  Wow.  What an amazing back-story of that mostly-white small town finally embracing Change.  Nothing annoyingly stereotypical in all that, no-siree, nope. 

--  On the radio, Danny hears conversations among groups that call themselves "Wolverines", "Rebel Alliance", and "Ghostbusters".  Evidently, the nerds have inherited the earth!  (But... Where are the Trekkies?  And the Browncoats?  Don't tell me Ghostbusters has a bigger following than Star Trek.)

--  I wonder if Senator Anka was modeled on Pelosi... Because that's who I was picturing-- and she does represent most of San Francisco... That said, she's probably the least realistic character in the book-- and that's including the zombies.  I mean, really.  She yells, "Don't lecture me, you ragamuffin!" at Danny.  Now, I understand the impulse.  A Danny-lecture would be enough to make me want to shout, too, but who uses the word "ragamuffin" seriously, these days?  Realism all shot to pieces!

--  Amy refers to the (too infuriatingly mean and stupid for realism) mercenaries as "psycho-birdies".  What in the world is a psycho-birdy?  (Amy strikes again.  She has a habit of saying weird things.  It's so endearing, doncha know!)

--  I sincerely wish more authors would make the effort to leave their political opinions out of their work.  I guess they're just so convinced that they're totally right-- and of course, anyone with a differing view must be an idiot who probably doesn't even really know how to read.  Trust me, there are readers out here who don't agree with you politically, and we don't like insults any more than you do. 

--  So, Danny has to gnaw off three fingers to save herself from the zombies.  I've heard of animals gnawing off feet to free themselves from traps-- and of course there are cases when people cut off fingers or even limbs for the sake of escape-- but I don't think I've ever heard of a person gnawing off a body part.  Of course, Danny is SuperWoman or something, so sure.  It's perfectly plausible.

--  Patrick says, "I was staring at this godawful spray-on acoustic ceiling material...".   What is with people these days about the darned acoustic ceilings?!  Good grief!  You'd think an acoustic ceiling murdered their families in cold blood, or something, based on the way some people bad-mouth them.  Get over it, guys.  It's not that big of a deal.  If a popcorn ceiling is your biggest problem in life, count yourself lucky.  (As you may have guessed, my home has an acoustic ceiling.  The shame!  The shame! *hiding my face in my hands and wailing*)

--  Ok.  Here's the situation:  Danny and Zero-Killer have a hunch that the zombos can smell human breath and are tracking them by scent.  So Danny's sneaking through enemy territory wearing a firefighting mask and an oxygen cylinder.  It's uncomfortable, "but at least she wasn't leaving a plume of breath smell behind her".  Uhhhh.  Yeah... About that...  Maybe I'm wrong, but when you breathe with the aid of an oxygen mask, doesn't the "used air"-- your exhalations-- go out into the surrounding air (or water, if you're scuba-diving)?  So... It wouldn't really help hide the scent of your breath, would it?  Maybe it's different with the air masks firefighters use...

--  I love it when an author demonstrates just how stupid s/he thinks his/her readers are by spelling things out too precisely.  I think most of us had already figured it out before we were carefully informed that the figure in the very visible cop car was actually a decoy-- a zombie in a police hat.

--  "The interceptor came to a halt, puking gasoline and antifreeze from its guts."  Ha!  Even the car's "death" is told in grody detail.  I've never seen a car puking from its guts before, thank goodness...

--  Yay.  There's a bit about "zealots" in the post-zombie world.  Because of course there is.  Everyone knows that religious folks are cuckoo in the head.  Now, I don't doubt there would be some psychos who would come up with their own twisted version of religion under those circumstances.  Goodness knows those types of people already present a challenge-- but would it kill an author to write a more balanced portrayal of religion?  Why can't there be a few good religious characters, too, if you're going to address the issue at all?

--  I get the impression from one other review I read that maybe there's a tacked-on, after-thought explanation of how Danny went from the zombie-filled streets of San Francisco to back on the road toward the rest of her group.  I must've missed it.  (Maybe one of those times I nodded off while reading, I accidentally skipped it.) 

--  "...a guy from Philly who had walked and fought a thousand miles before he ran into the convoy.  People called him 'Beowulf,' because his story sounded like something from Norse mythology."  Really?  I have a hard time believing that many in a random group of people would know about Beowulf, much less spontaneously appoint someone that nickname. 

--  "Danny had a theory that groups could get too large for travel.  She kept her band capped around one hundred individuals, simply because beyond that she didn't recognize everybody.  It got harder to gauge the merit of individuals.  Cliques formed.  Little knots of people started coming up with their own plans and rules, which inevitably ran at cross-purposes to the larger group."  *gasp*  People coming up with their own plans and rules?!  We can't have that.  Nip it-- nip it in the bud!  Ugh.  I'm pretty sure I would be getting away from Danny's "Tribe" ASAP.  Thanks but no-thanks on the offer to run my life for me, Queen Danny.

-- ...Actually, that about sums it up.  Thanks, but no thanks.  Not sure if I'll bother with the next book.  I'm pretty annoyed that the last line of this one was a major, major cliff-hanger.  I'm definitely not up for the sequel right away, no matter what.  I need a breath of fresh, non-Danny-tainted air.  At some point, maybe I'll care enough to read the next one.  We'll see.