Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: Day by Day Armageddon and Origin to Exile

Normally, I don't read horror novels.  But ever since reading World War Z, I've been intrigued by the "Zombie Apocalypse."  This may stem from the fact that I'm ex-military and I currently work in emergency management, like the folks from the Zombie Squad.
What I like about "zombie lit" is the unambiguous nature of the conflict, at least on the "street level." 
It's a no-holds barred, fight for survival and often viewed as an allegory for a modern pandemic. 
A lot of my friends enjoy this horror sub-genre for pretty much the same reason as I do.  With this in mind, my friend Tim sent me a copy of the double-novel Day by Day Armageddon: Origin Exile by J.L. Bourne
It's the story, written as journal entries, by a naval aviator witnessing and surviving the outbreak of a zombie pandemic. 
The first book Day by Day Armageddon initially started as on-line fan fiction, which resulted in a blog-turned-published-book success story.  (The second book is called Day by Day Armageddon:  Beyond Exile). 
While Day by Day Armageddon earned an average rating of 4.3 out of 5.0 stars, only 63% of those reviewing the book gave it 5 stars.  Enough to give Bourne's initial work a favorable opinion to be sure, but that still meant there's a sizable minority with valid criticisms. 
The most common complaint was on the writing itself.  Specifically the spelling, punctuation and overall lack of editing.  I noticed this myself and this illustrates the lack of quality-control that can occur with self-published books, or ones printed by small/niche publishing houses.  J.L. Bourne's work is currently produced by Permuted Press, which specializes in a variety of apocalyptic literature.
Some folks didn't like the journal-style narrative and felt this didn't draw the reader into the story.
What I noticed most was the switch between present and past tense.  I thought the first-person narration was well suited for the story and I'm willing to forgive the spelling, syntax and even tense errors, because this is suppose to be a journal written-on-the-fly. 
But professionally speaking, the book is in need of better editing. 
Another complaint I noticed was that the growing band of survivors seemed to be no more than plot devices, rather than real people.  Everyone appeared one dimensional, lacking in most emotions, along with a complete lack of description. 
My opinion is split on this issue.  I didn't mind the lack of visual description, because sometimes "less-is-more."  That is, not describing every detail lets the reader's imagination fill in the gaps and maybe even imagine themselves in the story.  It also helps when a movie comes out, like World War Z--which opens tomorrow!  (25 March 2013). 
If a character's description is too detailed, then it's very hard to find an actor to fit the role and readers' preconceived notions can be shattered.  (One of the major complaints about the movie Jack Reacher, was that Tom Cruise did not fit the description of the main character in Lee Child's popular series).
There also seems to be some inconsistency with the protagonist (who never mentions his name).  Sometimes he describes the zombies as "evil," while in other moments he feels sorry the creatures that were once human. 
The most jarring issue I had was also the most fleeting:  As the zombie outbreak unfolds, the narrator relates breaking news from the President of the United States and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--George W. Bush and Richard Myers.
Revealing these names "bumped me out of the story," as we writers say when we're editing work.  If this is suppose to be a story set sometime in the future, then mentioning the names of a past president and his leading general automatically places the narrative to the years 2001-2009.
So the "fear factor" was diminished for me, because I knew this wasn't an "oh-my-God-this-could-happen-any-day-now" kind of story.  While the book was written during Bush's tenure, the author should have thought about maintaining the currency of his tale. 
On the other hand, I didn't mind military hardware being described in detail.  Some weapons systems have been around since the mid-20th Century and are still being utilized, albeit after a lot of upgrades and modifications. And such systems will most likely remain in use, with lots of upgrades and modifications for some time in the indeterminate future. 
Writing speculative fiction is a difficult tightrope to walk and for the most part the author succeeded.  So I give this book a solid 3-stars.  I wasn't expecting great literature, but I was intrigued and entertained.  (Thanks Tim!).
One word of caution: 
If you've read Day by Day Armageddon (Book #1) and Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile (Book #2) separately--DO NOT BUY Day by Day Armageddon: Origin to Exile
As I mentioned above, this is the double-novel containing Books 1 and 2. 
The only difference between the two separate books and the double-novel is that a short story has been added to the latter.  Many reviewers were unhappy with the double novel and slammed it with a 1-star rating, because they thought they were buying an entirely new story. 


ColKillgore said...

I picked up the Day by Day Armageddon on a whim at a used book store and was surprised at how much I liked the book. I thought it was an interesting story and while not as polished a manuscript from a larger publisher, it held my attention and entertained me. I picked up World War Z on the same trip and just recently finished it. I want to catch the movie and see how they stack up against each other.


Ted Henkle said...

Despite the editorial issues, I liked the book too and am interested in reading book #3. World War Z takes a different approach and from what I've seen of the movie trailer, the movie doesn't seem anything like the book. But it does look exciting!