Review of The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer

SFFaudio Review

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - The Loving Dead by Amelia BeamerThe Loving Dead
By Amelia Beamer; Read by Emily Durante
7 CDs or 1 MP3-CD – Approx. 8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: July 2010
ISBN: 9781441868343 (cd), 9781441868367 (mp3-cd)
Themes: / Horror / Zombies / Sex / Airships / Humor / San Fransisco / California /

Kate and Michael, twenty-something housemates working at the same Trader Joe’s supermarket, are thoroughly screwed when people start turning into zombies at their house party in the Oakland hills. The zombie plague is a sexually transmitted disease, turning its victims into shambling, horny, voracious killers. Thrust into extremes by the unfolding tragedy, Kate and Michael are forced to confront the decisions they’ve made, and their fears of commitment, while trying to stay alive. Michael convinces Kate to meet him in the one place in the Bay Area that’s likely to be safe and secure from the zombie hordes: Alcatraz. But can they stay human long enough?

Beamer creates scenes, and cuts adequately between them, but when confronted by the surrealistic circumstances she provides (like being trapped in a Zeppelin bathroom with two lesbian zombies) her characters seem more like emotional marionettes, than like real people. It’s almost as if Beamer was actually role-playing a series of improvised scenarios, rather than plotting it out like a novel. When one of the characters discovers that these zombies respond to the crack of a whip, for example, Kate downloads an “Indiana Jones App” to her iPhone and subdues them with it. Clever? Sure. Novelistic? Notsomuch. Thus the tension of a zombie confrontation – will she or won’t she be able to get 3G service high above Oakland – isn’t very satisfying.

Shortly after this audiobook arrived I listened to it’s author, Amelia Beamer, being interviewed on the SFSignal Podcast #006. She talked about how she found the relentlessness of zombies almost endearing. It was a neat idea. And then she said she intended it to be a romantic comedy with zombies. And that was enough to put it in my bathroom audiobook stack. So, for the last week or so I’ve been brushing and flossing my teeth to this novel. I didn’t go in expecting much other than zombies and loving and a few laughs. It has the first two. The loving is actually sex and the zombies are less dead and rotting than they are contagious and sex crazed. If you did a count you’d probably find as many individuated zombies as there are sex scenes. Come to think of it there were probably about just as many tattoos as there were sex scenes and zombies. Where this novel really doesn’t fulfill it’s promise is in the humor department. I didn’t laugh, or smile, or even smirk. Thinking about it, it wasn’t that there were jokes and they weren’t funny, but rather I that the humor was supposed to come from the absurd situational specifics and the slacker/poser cast’s bumbling their way through it all. It has relationships, and people thinking about their relationships, and it has some zombies but I didn’t find it funny.

Getting into specifics now – there’s something odd going on with the meta-Americanness, or rather some subset of it, within the novel’s characters and setting. Even though both Kate and Michael both pretty quickly recognize the infected as zombies, Beamer’s characters seem highly reticent to kill them. Instead they far prefer restraining their wrists, sitting on them – any form of bondage – as in, tie them up or tie them down. Yeah … well … okay. So, I have to think that, in combination with the whips, and the sex and all the tattoos, that taken as a whole this is not so much a zombie novel as a kind of contemporary fiction novel, set in a slacker BDSM San Fransisco subculture, with some zombie additions. Maybe that’s what I signed up for, but I was wrong to do so.

At first I liked some of the references to local stores and products. This is something that is done far too little in most fiction, as far as I’m concerned. It’s one of the things I like most about William Gibson’s prose, he has a reverence to specifics. But as it all went on in The Loving Dead, and as the characters repeatedly reminded each other that they’d read Max Brooks (World War Z |READ OUR REVIEW|), worked at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, it seemed like it wasn’t so much fun – instead it became increasingly clear that it was what was on their minds all the time. It seemed like the real zombies in this audiobook were the characters, living their quiet lives of desperate consumption, performing a narrative for themselves and expressing it in text messages. If I believed in a soul I’d call it a soul-numbing audiobook.

On the final disc we get a flash cut to ten years after the zombie apocalypse first hits. It’s an interesting experiment, to take a doomsday scenario way down the road and see what life is like in the aftermath. One of the redeeming features, of David Moody’s otherwise lackluster Hater |READ OUR REVIEW|, is also in The Loving Dead too. The author takes one significant aspect of a premise to it’s logical and (hopefully inevitable) conclusion. As such, it has some novelty value if only for that. For some true vanilla zombie goodness I’ll get back to reading Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Narrator Emily Durante, a new voice to my ears, is a good reader, I can see that, even despite my not loving The Loving Dead, she provided a steady voice to a patchy and punctuated narrative.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Max Brooks on the recording of World War Z

SFFaudio Online Audio

SFFaudio has had some downtime. Sorry about that. We had some “server issues” (and that’s probably not a euphemism). Perhaps it was something to do with Project Flashlight in New Zealand? If so that would explain why it left us talking to a cardboard cut-out of Adolf Hitler. Shameful really.

Luckily a couple of other blogs have picked up on a story we missed while the sky was exploding with a thousand mushroom clouds.

[via Mary Burkey’s Audiobooker blog and Audiobook DJ]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - World War Z by Max BrooksWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
By Max Brooks; Read by a full cast
5 CDs – 6 hours – [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 0739340131 ;ISBN-13: 9780739340134
Themes: / Horror / Zombies / War / Politics / Apocalypse

For my birthday last year, my wife got me a subscription to The Believer, a magazine for bibliophiles put out by the good people at McSweeney’s Publishing (Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon, Nick Hornby, and Rick Moody have all been involved with McSweeney’s in one way or another; sci-fi fans would do well to check out both McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales and their Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories I was pleasantly surprised to open up to the 2006 Believer Book Awards in the last issue and find at least two science fiction novels listed in the top 40 (two that I recognized as such, anyway). Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was number one; not too shocking given McCarthy’s extensive, “respectable” (read: non-sci-fi) bibliography. The other was more of a surprise; Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. I’d listened to the audio version of the novel months ago, and enjoyed the hell out of it, but it was kind of shocker to see a book about zombies written by Mel Brooks’ kid rubbing elbows with the new ones from Pynchon, Munro, Roth, and Virgil. Chalk some of the success up to Brooks’ connections, chalk some of it up to the inexplicably universal appeal of zombies, but give credit where it’s due and realize that World War Z is a well-written novel, and remarkable, given the crudity of the titular characters, in its subtlety and nuance.

Brooks presents the novel as an actual historical document of the spread of the virus that results in “zombiism,” and the reaction of the various nations to the problem. The book is structured as a series of interviews with representatives from around the world with Brooks himself as interviewer, and the device works well. Brooks has obviously done his homework; it’s not much of a reach to imagine Chinese bureaucrats engaging in an elaborate coverup of the spread of the virus (poisoned dogfood anyone?), South Africa deciding on a cold-hearted but necessary policy of abandoning the portion of the populace exposed to the virus, or the U.S. entertainment industry attempting to make a reality show of the zombie attack. The only part of the political description that felt a little unrealistic was Brook’s characterization of Israel’s generosity in its offer of asylum to Palestinian refugees before completely closing its borders for the duration of the war.

The decision to paint something as visceral as a zombie attack in the broad strokes of policy and strategy is an interesting one. Zombies have heretofore been portrayed mostly in the more action-friendly medium of cinema, and mostly from an up-close, short-term perspective. Brooks avoids the trap of becoming too impersonal and detached from the war by grounding the novel in the first-person reminiscences of the folks who lived through it. It’s impossible not to develop some attachment to the Canadian girl who describes the effects of the northern winter on the ill-prepared refugees looking to escape the warm-weather-dependent zombies, and the blind Japanese gardener’s account of his daily battles with the walking dead is strangely tranquil and moving.

The first thing you’ll notice about the audio version of World War Z are the cast members listed on the cover. Alan Alda, John Tuturro, Henry Rollins and, wait for it, Mark Hamill all contribute their voices to the project. Not quite A-listers, maybe, but definitely in the B or B+ range. Give it a little more time and Hamill might start being known first as a solid voice actor and secondly as that guy from the Star Wars that didn’t suck. He’s particularly effective in this production, as an American soldier reminiscing about the ups and downs of the military’s encounter with the zombies. Turns out the U.S. military was operating on an obsolete wartime paradigm and was ill-equipped to deal with an enemy that doesn’t fit the old model of nation-on-nation warfare. Hm.

The rest of the cast fares as well as Hamill; it’s admirable that the producers of the audiobook went to the trouble of securing actors that actually hail from the area they represent in the book. The genuineness of the accents is apparent and is definitely preferable to having some Rich Little-type give his impersonation of a Cuban.

So, whether you’re a zombie-loving, George Romero-worshiping, Shaun Of The Dead-reciting, walking dead aficionado; a history-channel-watching, political science-junkie; or just an audiobook listener with a taste for the unique, you’ll be welcome among the growing ranks of the scholars of dubya-dubya Z.