Sunday, 20 February 2011
Dying to Live by Kim Paffenroth
So what's it about? To quote the blurb on the back cover, "Jonah Caine, a lone survivor in a zombie-infested world, struggles to understand the apocalypse in which he lives. Unable to find a moral or sane reason for the horror that surrounds him, he is overwhelmed by violence and insignificance."
"After wandering for months, Jonah's lonely existence dramatically changes when he discovers a group of survivors. Living in a museum-turned-compound, they are led by Jack, an ever-practical and efficient military man, and Milton, a mysterious, quizzical prophet who holds a strange power over the dead. Both leaders share Jonah's anguish over the brutality of their world as well as hope for its beauty. Together, with others, they build a community that re-establishes an island of order and humanity surrounded by relentless ghouls."
"But this newfound peace is short-lived, as Jonah and his band of refugees clash with another group of survivors who remind them that the undead are not the only - nor the most grotesque - horrors they must face."
The story is set in an unnamed American city, which the author mentions in his acknowledgements is based on Grand Rapids, Michigan. Seeing as he spent some time there, it makes sense to base your story in a place you know well. There are numerous biblical references throughout the novel. Just look at the name of the hero, Jonah Caine, which is based on two characters from the Old Testament. Some critics have been put off by the author's religious overtones (believe in God and He will look after you) but for me, they washed right over my head. I read a novel for its entertainment value and never go into a deep analysis of the author's motives or message. As for entertaining me, this novel sure did that.
First up, the zombies are the old-style Romeroesque slow moving shamblers. This is always a big plus for me. I'm not a big fan of these new style zombies who can outrun an olympic sprinter. Secondly, the scenes of violence, when they do occur, are brutal and violent. Again, this is a big plus for a gorehound like me. Thirdly, I now look at zombie books and films for ideas to use in my ATZ campaign. Dying to Live has a number of intriguing ideas. The setting of the survivor camp - a museum has been well thought out. It is, however, far too large a structure to recreate in 28mm scale, so I won't be making one for my own campaign! The other group of survivors mentioned above, the bad guys, are a group of prisoners who have taken over their prison, having killed the guards and many weaker prisoners. The prison has shades of Mad Max 3; Beyond Thunderdome about it, with its nightly games of death between zombies and inmates. I know that the idea of using a prison as a holdout for survivors was covered in The Walking Dead series of comics/graphic novels, but this prison is nothing like the one Rick and co. come across. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this is a novel that makes you think. I read one critic describe it as "a thinking man's zombie novel" which is fair comment. It certainly does not insult the reader's intelligence and how refreshing is that?
The small cast of characters are well written and fleshed out, and as a reader, I cared about their wellbeing. Surely, the most enigmatic character in the book was Milton, of whom the blurb on the back says "holds a strange power over the dead." To say much more would be a huge spoiler so I'll say no more, but I found him a fascinating person and he certainly gave me much food for thought.
This is a large format paperback measuring 6" by 9" and running to 190 pages. It costs £9.99 and is published by Permuted Press. I bought my copy from Amazon.co.uk for considerably less and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I hope you will too.