Sunday, 21 August 2011
Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
The novel is written as the journal of one man as he struggles to survive in a world overrun by flesh-eating zombies. The story begins on 1st of January (year not revealed) as the narrator makes a New Year's resolution to chronicle his life in a journal. We never do learn the name of the narrator but we do know that he is an officer in the U.S. Navy, serving as an aircraft pilot. This is worth pointing out right from the start, because the actual author, J.L. Bourne is on active duty as a commissioned U.S. Navy officer. It rather begs the question, is J.L. the actual narrator in his imaginary apocalyptic world? I don't know, but his knowledge of all things military gives the book a greater level of realism when he mentions guns, aircraft and other military hardware. In short, the guy knows what he's talking about, and I respect that.
As the story begins, TV and radio broadcasters make increasingly frequent reports about some disease originating from China that is spreading globally. As the days pass it becomes obvious that this is no normal bug that is being spread. People panic and stockpile food and other supplies. The narrator, with access to military broadcasts realises that things are going downhill far too fast and he too stockpiles his home, as well as making it secure from "looters". Reports of cannibalism and the rising dead are dismissed as rumour at first but as the zombie plague spreads the truth dawns and in no time at all we are plunged into the all too familiar zombie apocalypse setting.
The narrator receives a call to report to his unit based nearby in Houston, Texas. He makes the decision to ignore the order and stay at home - a decision that is later proved to be the most sensible one. He starts out alone but soon acquires the company of a friendly neighbour, John, and his dog, Annabelle. They initially decide to stay in Houston but that plan is abandoned when the First Lady announces on TV that numerous U.S. cities will be targetted for nuclear destruction to stem the rising tide of zombies. Houston is one of the cities on the list. So they leave the city and begin to trek across America, picking up more survivors on their travels.
I'll say no more about what happens but I found this a gripping novel of survivalism and humanity. The narrator is well equipped to survive in this harsh, unrelenting environment. He'd certainly start out as a Rep:5 Military veteran if this was an ATZ campaign. But, unlike the action heroes of Hollywood, he does suffer if he gets injured. Wounds take time to heal. There is no such thing as overnight recovery here. Things like dehydration affects the body adversely and he is aware of this.
Pleasingly, there is plenty of zombie action in here to satisfy any fan. The zombies in this novel are the slow-moving kind we are all too aware of from George A. Romero's films. However, after the bombs are dropped, a new breed appears. These are faster and more intelligent than the normal zeds. Have they become mutated by the radiation of the nukes? The answer is a rather vague, possibly.
I've read a few criticisms of the novel claiming that we don't learn enough about the narrator's past. Sorry, but this is just not true. It's all there in the journal if you read it properly. It's just not all in one convenient chapter. You have to probe and search the text to find out who he is and why he is the way he is, but believe me, the info is there. The only thing we don't learn about the narrator is his name and quite frankly, I can live with that.
Another criticism I've read about is that the novel is full of typos and clumsy grammar but I'm not sure if that really is a valid criticism. After all, this is the journal of a naval officer, not an academic, written at times in very stressful and dangerous situations. How good would your spelling and grammar be if you were writing your journal under the light of the moon whilst surrounded outside by a horde of zombies who want nothing more than to rip you to shreds? If this was an ordinary novel then, fair enough, it has been badly proofread. As someone who has studied proofreading, spelling mistakes do jump out at me. But, as I said, this is not a novel, per se, it's a hand written account, and for that reason, I can accept the typos and bad grammar. Quite frankly, it adds realism.
One thing that fans of the novel will appreciate is that the author signs off with an acknowledgement - there will be a sequel! It's called Beyond Exile and I'll review it next time. Day by Day Armageddon is printed by Permuted Press and retails for £8.99. I recommend looking around on the Internet for much cheaper copies. Try Amazon (£5.57) or The Zombie Shop (£7.99).