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New to Me: Review of The Zombie Autopsies by Steven C. Schlozman

The Zombie AutopsiesWhere I got it and why: This is what happens when I browse the library bookshelves: I go in for one book, I come out with five. And anything zombie-related.

Recommended? Only if you’re a huge zombie completest (or if you need a quick dose of zombies – this is a fast read at less than 200 pages).

Summary: It’s 2012, and two-thirds of humanity has been wiped out by ANSD – the zombie virus. In a last-ditch attempt to find some hope for humanity’s future, the UN has organized a scientific research station on an isolated island. These are the last reports from Dr. Stanley Blum, whose fate remains unknown.

Review: I wanted to like this book. It’s a fantastic idea, a story of the zombie apocalypse told through the journals of a medical researcher. The book is framed as if you are a member of the UN commission that is going to be making recommendations based on these papers, so it includes some notes from UN officials and appendices like the journals of some of the other scientists and the text of the Treaty of Atlanta which determined that zombies are officially no longer human (and may thus be experimented on without ethical qualms). I was pleased to see that more than one person in the book mentions that, Treaty of Atlanta aside, there are plenty of ethical issues going on here, but how can you be expected to care about ethics when the future of the humanity is at stake?

And that’s the point of zombies, isn’t it? You become so terrified of turning into them that you might stop being human before they get you anyway. Of course, there’s a big difference between even shady medical research and eating the brains of anyone and everyone you come across, but.

The actual book doesn’t follow through on the excellent setup, unfortunately. Written by an epidemiologist, The Zombie Autopsies tries to give a medical explanation for the stereotypical traits of George Romer0-style zombies, but it falls short. (Which is not to slight Schlozman’s medical knowledge; I just don’t think it’s possible to give a feasible explanation for how a human body in that state of decay can remain functional.) The failed attempt at hardcore realism put me off: I prefer my creatures to be either entirely believable or just plain supernatural, and this middle ground destroys my suspension of disbelief. It’s not a bad book, by any stretch of the imagination, but once that suspension of disbelief is gone, it’s not coming back, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this.

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Saturday Shorts: “Good Girls Go to Heaven” by Seanan MacGuire

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan MacGuireThis week’s online short fiction is a wonderful take on the old “hitchhiking ghost” urban legend by Seanan MacGuire. Rose Marshall died in 1945, and she’s walked the ghostroads ever since, those paths that lead you just between the worlds of the living and the dead. Sometimes she helps people over; sometimes she shoves them back on their side. It’s a way to get by.

I love the narration of these stories, it’s pure noir, you can just picture the gritty old black-and-white footage that these ought to be filmed in. And I love ghost stories, too — ghosts are my favorite paranormal element, much more than zombies or vampires, because they’re so versatile and yet so instantly understandable. (Rose reminds me a little of the ghosts in Cherie Priest’s Eden Moore series, although Rose is a little more “there.”)

The first story in the Sparrow Hill Road collection is “Good Girls Go To Heaven.” It’s a wonderful, creepy noir urban legend – and it’s the first of twelve! Enjoy.

Tuesday Recap (#9)

My weekly summary of blog, books, and life.

Reviewed: Embassytown by China Miéville, The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear, “White Charles” by Sarah Monette

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John BellairsAlso read: The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs. This was a re-read for me – I’d stashed the book in my desk at work in case I finished whatever I’d brought with me to read on breaks. I love this series; I love all of John Bellairs’s books. Forget Goosebumps, these were the creepy books I loved as a kid. And you know, they’re still kind of creepy, with their old-fashioned magic and ghosts and zombies, their heavy Catholic flavor, and their really wonderful villains. I love all the characters — I love how Lewis is terrified and still determined to prove himself, and I love how Uncle Jonathan doesn’t quite know how to take care of him but tries anyway. And I love Mrs. Zimmerman and her love of purple. If she wants to be a witch with a purple dress and a purple cape and a glowing purple wand, she will be, and she will still kick your ass.

I might have to find the rest of this series and re-read it all, I think. (Oh woe, oh hardship…)

Fallen Grace by Mary HooperAlso also read: Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper, which I’ll be reviewing later this week.

In Other News: Although it’s not my job on the line, the Borders closing has encouraged me to step up the job search. Doesn’t hurt that there are more public library jobs being posted now than for the past three months together. Onward and upward, I suppose.

30 Days of Books: Day Twenty-Six

Day 26 – OMG WTF? OR most irritating/awful/annoying book ending
Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice. Yes, I was a vampire fangirl at one point. I over-identified with Lestat something horrible in The Vampire Lestat, with his sense of revalation about the vast meaninglessless of the universe (and about the Church). What, I was sixteen. I loved the complexity of the universe she’d created, though, one in which the laws governing the existence of vampires had more to do with the vampires’ own beliefs (such as Armand’s certainty that the only proper thing to do was to live in a crypt under Paris and bemoan his fate) than with any laws of the universe. I even loved all the backstory in Queen of the Damned and the random, hilarious body-swapping in Tale of the Body Thief.

I lost it at the end of Memnoch, though. Time travel was one thing; Lestat at the Passion of the Christ was stretching it a little, but Armand randomly immolating himself on the steps of the cathedral because Lestat came back and told some ridiculous, unbelievable story? That was the first time I ever threw a book across the room in frustration. (The second time, for those of you who are curious, was the end of Clan of the Cave Bear, in which the ridiculous Mary-Sue of a main character invents the bra, in approximately 3000 BC. The third and most recent time was when I realized that they were actually not kidding about the scenes set in England in Left Behind. Both of those books, however, I read for classes.)

30 Days of Books: Day Twenty-Five

Day 25 – Any five books from your “to be read” stack
I’ll take the letter of this one instead of the spirit and actually pull books from my “to be read” shelf instead of sampling from my to-read list as well. You do not even want to know about my list.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. The only reason I haven’t started this one yet is I have now reached hailing distance of having no more Bujold left, and I want to draw it out as long as possible while I can.

Library Wars Volume 1: Love and War, Kiiro Yumi & Hiro Arikawa. It’s shojo manga! About militant anti-censorship librarians! I admit, I’ve never actually read any shojo manga before. (Shojo is the stuff aimed at girls, with a lot of romance and relationships; my preferred poison is shonen, the stuff aimed at boys, full of fight scenes and wisecracks, or seinen, aimed at young men, which tends toward either more realism or more dramatic science fiction type stuff.) I’m looking forward to this one, though. Militant anti-censorship librarians!

Chicks Dig Time Lords, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea. One of my friends got this for me for Christmas – it’s an anthology of essays by women about the glory and wonder that is Doctor Who. (People apparently think that women don’t like science fiction, thus giving rise to this project. I will never understand why.)

Sarah Monette, Unnatural Creatures. This is a special-edition chapbook of four published but uncollected Kyle Murchison Booth stories. The original collection is The Bone Key, which I urge everyone who’s ever liked ghost stories to go out and buy right now. (Although it is being rereleased shortly, so you may want to wait until the new edition comes out.) I’ve read two of the stories in Unnatural Creatures already, but there are two in here entirely new to me. New! Booth! Ghost stories!

The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths by Pat Brown with Bob Andelman. I may have mentioned previously on this blog that my favorite television show is Criminal Minds, now suffering from an excess of studio mismanagement but previously an exquisite drama about criminal profilers. It’s given me a fondness for profiling books and serial killer stories (and a low tolerance for badly-written fictional serial killers). And hey, this one isn’t by John Douglas.

A Book of Tongues, The Broken Kingdoms, Atlantic, Misery

Gemma Files, A Book of Tongues
I grabbed this book after just glancing through it at the public library’s new book shelf, and now I’m buying a copy and preordering the sequel. This is awesome, guys. Supernatural Old West, magic-wielding Confederate ex-Reverends, and a heavy dose of Mayan mythology to top it off. Also, gay characters who are a) main characters, b) not demonized (for being gay, anyway), and c) likely to survive to the end of the series and possibly even get a happy ending. Obviously it’s a trilogy and that last one is far from certain, but I’m thrilled at just the possibility right now.

N.K. Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms
The sequel to the excellent Hundred Thousand Kingdoms of last year, and you know, I think I liked this one even better. It seems to hang together better; the book feels a little more solid. I’d have to reread the first one to explain exactly why. (Oh the horror! *dramatic hand to forehead*) It seems, interestingly enough, that the main recurring characters in this series are the gods, not the mortals, but the POV characters in both books so far are the mortal women they deal with. I like that a lot, actually.

Simon Winchester, Atlantic
Finally, I have finished this book! This was another ARC I picked up at ALA in June, and I have been trying to get through it for months. It purports to be a history of the Atlantic ocean, but for large portions of the book it seems much more to be an excuse for the author to show off his superior knowledge of history and his extraordinarily exciting life as an investigative journalist. I was somewhat offended to find that the latter sections, while unbelievably pretentious, were also the most interesting parts of the book. Maybe he should have just written a memoir instead.

Stephen King, Misery
When did Stephen King stop being this good? No, really. I picked this up again after reading Learn Writing With Uncle Jim, where Jim MacDonald recommends it as a novel about how to write a book. And not only does it work on that level – spectacularly well, particularly the scene where Annie makes Paul burn his Serious Manuscript – but it’s also frequently tense, disturbing, and downright scary. I haven’t felt that way about any of the newer Stephen King books at all.

On Monsters, The Walking Dead, The New Jim Crow, Monk’s Hood

Stephen T. Asma, On Monsters
I picked this up while I was browsing the mythology section for faerie books. I didn’t find any, but I did find this, a history of the Western conception of monsters and monstrosity. It was interesting, but alas, not as good as I would have liked. I found by the end of the book that I was having to fill in the details of examples he was using from my own knowledge — not that the stories were wrong, per se, just drastically incomplete. This makes me distrust the earlier bits of the book where he was discussing things I didn’t know much about already. At least I acquired a nice long reading list from it.

The Walking Dead volume 5, Robert A. Kirkman
I do not understand the appeal of this series. It’s full of situations that would be traumatizing on their own, but presented as they are, it’s just One Damn Thing After Another. Trauma, melodrama, melodrama, trauma, horror, trauma, melodrama. And I can’t stop reading it. (Book six on hold now!)

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
A book about the dysfunctionality of the American criminal justice system, and how it (mostly based on the War On (Some) Drugs) functions as a social control system that keeps black (and brown) Americans in the position of second-class citizens. Overall I found it was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but having it all in one book, with all the connections drawn, was illuminating. Alexander says she hopes that this will open a dialogue about the problem, rather than being the definitive work on the subject, and I hope that it does, because I don’t see any way of fixing the problem without replacing all our legislators with pod people who believe in rehabilitation over punishment.

Ellis Peters, Monk’s Hood
More Cadfael! (I find Cadfael strangely soothing.) I did not have the redundancy problem with this book that I had with the last one, largely because the ending of Monk’s Hood the TV adaptation is completely different than the ending of Monk’s Hood the novel. For one thing, the novel has much more Welshness. (I should get my sister to read these, she studied abroad in Wales and has become very fond of the place.) Cadfael is also causing me to dig up more histories about twelfth century Britain – did you know about the war between King Stephen and the Empress Maude?

Not Flesh Nor Feathers, Traffic, ttyl, Mushishi

(I’ve been so busy with my 30 Days of Books posts, I’ve been neglecting to post about my latest reads. Ooops.)

Cherie Priest, Not Flesh nor Feathers
Last in the Eden Moore series, and still awesome. Now with zombies! This book is pretty apocalyptic, what with the flood of Chattanooga and the undead coming out of the darkness — not to eat people, in this case, but at the behest of an angry twelve-year-old ghost who can’t be stopped or comforted. I love the…well, the realism, for lack of a better word, of Priest’s ghosts. They act just like people do, only more frustrated, because they’re dead.

Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic
I blogged about this a little earlier in my 30 Days of Books series, too. Like I said there, it’s a pretty fascinating overview of what we know, scientifically, about how traffic works — not only how people drive, but how patterns and trends emerge, and what to do about them. There’s a whole chapter on my favorite insight about traffic, which is that roads are safer the less safe drivers feel, largely because when drivers feel safe they speed and when drivers feel unsafe they slow the hell down.

Lauren Myracle, ttyl
You know, I don’t have to look at this book and think, Was I ever like that in high school? I know I wasn’t. I just wasn’t that type of teenager; I couldn’t wait to grow up and get out into something that more closely resembled civilization than high school does. I enjoyed this book nonetheless. The girls are bright, their fights are indeed about real things high school girls fight about, and their solutions are occasionally brilliant. I don’t think I’ll read the rest of Myracle’s books, it’s just not really my thing, but I would have no hesitation about recommending them to people for whom this is their thing, particularly high school girls.

Mushishi 8-10, Yuki Urushibara
I don’t know why they decided to publish the last three volumes of this series all in one gigantic brick, and I have to say, I’m kind of annoyed about it. The stories themselves, though, are as wonderful as ever; Ginko is brilliant and slightly sneaky, the mushi are tremendously alien, and all of the stories have an excellent meditative kind of feel. They’re like haiku in manga form. Supernatural haiku. I love it, and while I’m sad there won’t be any more, I don’t think the series is lacking in any way.

30 Days of Books: Day Twelve

Day 12 – A book or series of books you’ve read more than five times

The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs. I can’t believe we’re this far into October and I haven’t read any John Bellairs yet! I’ve loved these books since I first discovered them when I was about twelve. House is a Lewis and Uncle Jonathan book, but overall I think I preferred the Johnny and Professor Childermass ones. (I have a very vivid memory of the scene of Professor Childermass reenacting some ancient sea battle in his bathtub, although I can’t remember which book it’s in.)

These books are wonderful ghost stories, creepy and with just the right touch of the realistic supernatural. There are evil wizards, curses, prophecies, hauntings, monsters, and wonderfully weird and believable characters. And, of course, many of the editions have Edward Gorey illustrations which are absolutely perfect.

They are, technically, young adult books, but I’ve certainly never let that get in the way. Bellairs did write one adult novel, The Face in the Frost, which is just as wonderful and strange as his kids’ novels, and really so similar to them that you wonder why the adult/ya distinction is even made in this case.

(I always think I like horror novels, and then I try to read mainstream horror and I hate it. I think I like YA horror novels, actually. I shall stick to my Bellairs from now on.)

30 Days of Books: Day Six

Day 06 – Favorite book of your favorite series OR your favorite book of all time

There’s that WORD again. Okay.

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski has to be the most involved book I’ve ever read. (Well, it’s in competition with Melmoth the Wanderer, I suppose, but they are both doing the same sorts of things, and Melmoth‘s cultural frame of reference is more distant. So.) It is also one of the few horror novels I’ve ever read that I’ve been actually scared by.

I’m not sure how to go about summarizing the book, so I’ll tell the story about how I first read it instead. When I went to college, I expected to be an English major but ended up an anthropology major instead, but an anthro major who took a lot of English classes. My favorite professor was Lisa Haines-Wright, who taught in this kind of overwhelming flurry of enthusiasm and information that scared most people off and made others devoted to her for life. We were in a Gothic Literature class, reading something like 1000 pages a week in order to get through monstrosities like The Mysteries of Udolpho and Melmoth the Wanderer, and she got off on a tangent — I don’t think there was a single class period where she didn’t go off on some tangent or another — about House of Leaves.

Now, one of the points of gothic literature is that if you tell people not to look at something, it only makes them want it more. It’s where all the suspense in Udolpho comes in, this mystery of What Is Behind the Veil. So Lisa talked all the time about “veiling,” which is basically forbidding access to something in order to draw attention to it. (Lisa had some interesting things to say about the Garden of Eden story in this vein.) So when she said, “But don’t go out and try to read House of Leaves right now, you have enough to get through and that book is addictive,” she knew exactly what was going to happen. And I was the one who took the bait.

It is a terribly addictive book, not least because you develop the sense that if you can just finish reading it it will stop being creepy. This is not the case, by the way, and architectural anomalies will continue to haunt you forever after reading this book. It started out as a hypertext novel, and you can tell: there are at least three separate narratives, taking place simultaneously in different fonts and layouts. You can read them all at once or one straight through at a time, as you prefer.

I wouldn’t say that House of Leaves is a uniformly successful book, but it does do one thing very well, and that is play with the nature of reality. The different plotlines work in layers, so Johnny Truant’s plot is the closest to the reader, Zampáno’s is one step removed, and Will Navan’s is even further away than that. It leaves you uncertain as to what really happened at any stage of the game — which is what makes this such successful horror, because when you’re that confused as to what “really” happened, some of the upper layers of the narrative start bleeding into real life and before you know it you’re checking over your shoulder for Johnny’s monster. In the end, though, my favorite part about House of Leaves is that sense that you have that everything would all make sense if you could just get a picture of it all at once. I don’t think you actually can, but you feel like you can, which is what makes this book so addictive and re-readable. And, by the way, an excellent Halloween recommendation.

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