Day by Day Armageddon by Bourne, JL, 2009
One of my favorite subgenre of speculative literature is, despite my love for well written and cerebral books, zombie stories. I am a big fan of the splatterpunk and zombie genre. Although I have not read a lot of them yet, I pick new ones up all the time and have resigned myself to reading every word of it I can, even if it turns out to be terrible. I'm slightly masochistic that way; as long as its zombie, I will read it. I don't care if it sucks. I will, however, be happy to let you know when I've found something bad, so those of you who don't share my love for this crap won't be fooled into wasting your time or money on something that you will probably hate.
Over the last few years I heard a lot about certain zombie books; zombie "literature" seems to draw in the sycophantic and the toadyish. I have yet to see any real criticism of anything in this subgenre, save for some real reviews of Max Brooks World War Z, or what I've written here. Today's book, Day by Day Armageddon, has gotten some great internet reviews. I agree with none of them. I think because zombie authors are looked down upon so much by their mainstream and other genre peers, they feel the need to bolster each others feelings whenever possible. As a long time SF fan from the days before commercial acceptance, I can readily identify with that. I did it myself when I was younger, before I started doing critical reviews. It just felt like the right thing to do. Unfortunately I think that blind obedience keeps a lot of authors from working to develop their craft. Consider, as an untried author in an ignored subgenre, once you find and audience, will you really feel any push to develop your writing chops? Probably not, especially if that audience fails to criticize you when appropriate. I have seen quite a bit of this with today's book. I've never seen one bad review of it, surprisingly enough. Prior to reading it I'd been meaning to pick it up for a long time based entirely on the strength of online reviews and author blurbs. Day by Day Armageddon is a copycat version of innumerable other zombie books out there that has nothing new to add to the subgenre. The story is boring. The characters are uninspired. The gore is way, way too low key, and the explorations of situation mirror any number of other books out there. It feels to me like Bourne read a bunch of zombie books, made a list of points of discussion, then executed upon them in his book without once considering thinking outside of the box. As I went through the book I made copious notes at first about the standard kinds of things that one sees in these stories, hoping that before too long he would have something new to say. Unfortunately, he never really did. Bourne did go through the motions; we know that all dead rise, even if not bitten. It takes a head shot to kill them. They respond to sounds, instead of scents or visual stimuli. They can travel in packs. They will beat upon doors until their arms fall off. Their flesh is rotting so as time goes by they move slower and slower. There is a scene with a zombie baby. Lots of them are trapped in their cars by their seat belts. And so on and so forth. I guess that there was one, very small novel element in this book. As part of their response the government decided to nuke the larger cities. For some reason radiation made the survivors move faster. That was new, though it was completely irrelevant to all other aspects of the story. It just kind of was a fact that existed in a vacuum.
Day by Day Armageddon is told in the form of survivor's journal. I think Bourne did this to cover up terrible writing skills. This way he can blame his character for the hasty kind of prose that one usually finds in a journal entry. Our main character is a Navy pilot on leave at his home in San Antonio. The plague - a biological one, I presume - came down and killed just about everyone right quick, within a few weeks. Our hero saw it coming and prepared for an extended stay in his home, which he stocked with supplies and fortified. After most everyone died he found a neighbor, John, who survived. The two teamed up and traveled out of San Antonio just before it was nuked, and made their way from refuge to refuge, picking up stragglers along the way and building up a small little community of survivors. Eventually they stumbled across the launch hatch of an ICBM that was used to take out a city when the bomber pilot it had been assigned to went rogue (refusing to drop their payload on an American city). The survivors set up shop in the underground warren of tunnels and rooms. They fought and killed zombies with surprising ease the whole way, then had to defend the silo and its base from the inevitable band of ill-equipped and ready-to-die reivers. Like I said; we've seen it all before.
Maybe the most striking aspect of this book is the writing. It's terrible. It is written in a faux-intense style of first person present, limited. Sometimes its in a conversational tone, sometimes the main character slips back and describes what he sees. None of it was good, most of it was bland. Some of it was laughable. Consider:
Yesterday and today were interesting. My humanity bucket hadn't been filled for a while, and it was getting dry and rustic.
The stench was incorrigible.
Perhaps my favorite part was at the end of the Afterward, where Bourne announces proudly, "There will be a sequel." That was the only part of the book I really found believable. And the most unfortunate to read. Unfortunately this thing is trash.
In this subgenre, the critical question that I ask myself as a reviewer is "what did the author do to push the boundary? What is new here, and is it interesting?" I hope I've communicated to you that the answer to the first question is "no." That should make pretty clear what the answer to the second question is. The Sequel, Shall Not Be Read.