Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Outsider, by H.P. Lovecraft

Hands down one of the best Lovecraft stories, and one that I could probably listen to over and over again. There are a lot of literary parallels between this and other writings that are said to inspire it, but in any case, this is sad and haunting genius and I love it.

I will point out, as I have before with Lovecraft stories, that my description of the story leaves no secrets as far as the plot is concerned so don't read further if you intend to read the story for the first time and desire some element of surprise.

The Outsider is a story of a man- at least, he believes himself to be human- that has lived his entire life in solitude, locked in a castle where he has never encountered anyone else. He is lonely and sad, and decides that he is going to break free. He climbs through the highest tower and through a trap door in the ceiling and ends up on the surface of another world entirely. He wanders across the surface, elated and rejoicing in his freedom, and comes across a castle filled with people having a party. He joins them, happy to finally be amongst others, but they scream in terror and run when they see him. He assumes something else has scared them, and traces around the room looking for it, when he spies the figure they're presumably afraid of and creeps slowly towards it. It is horrifying indeed, and is described as being of another world, decaying and twisted. In reaching up his hand to sheild himself from it, his fingers brush the surface and he recoils and runs in terror back to his castle, realizing that he can never be anything but an outsider, for the surface he touched had been a mirror and the twisted figure within was his own reflection.

I can't even count the number of times this, or something similar, has been done. Some of them predate this exact story, and some of them follow it, but this will always be my favorite telling of it.

The Horror at Red Hook, by H.P. Lovecraft

I can't find a good image to associate with this story.

This story focuses on a cop, Detective Malone, who has a fear of large buildings that he attributes to a case he worked on in a district called "Red Hook", which is supposed to be based on New York. He goes on to tell the story, and you follow him back to a case he worked on. Kidnapping was running rampant in Red Hook, as was gang activity, and Malone believed it to be related to what he suspected was an underground cult lead by a man named Robert Suydam. Detective Malone takes you through the case, until finally he ends up in the basement of Suydam's apartment during a raid, and finds a door that opens into this abyss that sounds like it's Lovecraft's idea of hell, in which he witnesses a parade of demonic figures carrying Suydam's corpse. Meanwhile, the apartment is crumbling around him. Authorities later find Detective Malone under the wreckage, laying next to a fetid pool that contains the remains of Robert Suydam, and convince him that the door to hell was all a dream. They also find underground canals leading from Robert's home to different places like the basement of a church and the docks, and are able to confirm that children, etc. have been smuggled through these passageways, which are sealed. Rejoining the Detective in "current day", he goes on to mention that he's heard the passageways have been reopened, etc.

Lovecraft himself apparently didn't like this story, and called it "rather long and rambling", and I have to agree with him. It doesn't have the attention holding brevity of his other stories. There were several times that my mind started drifting. I have noticed, too, in reading about it that it's been panned for racism. I didn't particularly notice it, but again, I couldn't get into this one so I simply may have missed it. However, where this isn't one of my favorites, the storyline itself is one of the more detailed and modern. I believe there've been movies attempted on this and I am not surprised. It's a good storyline. What really stands out to me, though, is the description of this hell that Malone gets sucked into. Lovecraft goes all out in this one, unleashing this powerful torrent of imagery on the reader/listener that demonstrates the depths of this man's twisted imagination. Let me see if I can find a quote to provide to illustrate my point:

"Somewhere dark sticky water was lapping at onyx piers, and once the shivery tinkle of raucous little bells pealed out to greet the insane titter of a naked phosphorescent thing which swam into sight, scrambled ashore, and climbed up to squat leeringly on a carved golden pedestal in the background.

      Avenues of limitless night seemed to radiate in every direction, till one might fancy that here lay the root of a contagion destined to sicken and swallow cities, and engulf nations in the foetor of hybrid pestilence. Here cosmic sin had entered, and festered by unhallowed rites had commenced the grinning march of death that was to rot us all to fungous abnormalities too hideous for the grave’s holding. Satan here held his Babylonish court, and in the blood of stainless childhood the leprous limbs of phosphorescent Lilith were laved. Incubi and succubae howled praise to Hecate, and headless moon-calves bleated to the Magna Mater. Goats leaped to the sound of thin accursed flutes, and aegipans chased endlessly after misshapen fauns over rocks twisted like swollen toads. "

Final consensus is that it's probably my least favorite so far, though as aforementioned, some of the descriptive ramblings he goes on when recalling Malone's "dream" are pretty admirable.

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

I'd heard about this story many times, but had never actually read it. When I came across it in my search for audiobooks, I decided it was time to hear it for myself. Bonus that it's read by Ralph Cosham, who I recognized and loved from the Watership Down audiobook. The story is about a traveling salesman named Gregor that wakes one morning to find that he's been transformed into a giant beetle. It sounds ridiculous, and it's true that there is a LOT of comedic aspects to the story, but it's also very sad.

First, though, we'll talk a little about what made me laugh. I mean it, too. I was driving down the road laughing, people that witnessed it probably thought I was mad, and they're not terribly far off. Anyway- Gregor wakes up and sees that he's become a giant beetle. He then realizes for the first time how small his room is, and tries to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, being that he is now a beetle, he can't roll onto his side as is his preferred method of sleeping, which he laments- not being a beetle, mind you, he laments that his being a beetle prevents him from sleeping comfortably. In fact, I don't recall that he ever directly feels sorry for himself about actually BECOMING a beetle, merely the different changes that are made as a result. Later in the book, his father is trying to chase him back into his room and does so by lifting his foot high in the air and bringing it down to the floor while moving towards Gregor, which causes Gregor to scuttle backwards again and again clumsily. This goes on for some time, Gregor observing how slowgoing the process is, and the imagery had me in stitches.

What's sad about the story, while maintaining an amusing quality, is that Gregor lives with his mother, father and sister and wholly supports them- or did, at least. They live in a rather large apartment and Gregor is the only one that worked. You get the distinct impression that he did so diligently and without complaint, and he even attempts to get up and go to work as a beetle, apologizing all the while for his state and promising he'll figure out how to fix it. Of course, everyone else is horror stricken that he's a giant beetle and ultimately lock him in his room. His parents want to avoid acknowledging him completely, but his sister brings him food while they're sleeping or absent. Eventually, the parents and sister end up having to get jobs to maintain their lifestyle. They complain constantly about how inconvenienced they are by having to work, and how awful it is for them to come home and have this giant bug waiting for them in their house and demanding of them. The ironic part is that Gregor, having a large heart and who has always cared for them without complaint, still finds it in himself to feel terribly guilty about being a bug and therefore inconveniencing them. He even goes out of his way to cover himself with a sheet and stay perfectly still when his sister comes in to feed him so as to not frighten her or cause her to have to view him in that form.

I won't go so far in my description as to talk about the ending in the event that someone's reading this that hasn't read The Metamorphosis, but I can see why this book is widely studied in a lot of colleges. It really sets the perfect example of martyrdom, guilt, greed and both selflessness and selfishness alike. The ending was abrupt but with purpose, and I found myself both infuriated by, and ashamedly identifying with, Gregor's family. Definitely a good read if you're the type that enjoys being introspective, especially. Though the idea of a man turning into a giant beetle comes across as fantastical and crazy, this is one of the more honest examples of writing I've read in a very long time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Music of Erich Zann, by H.P. Lovecraft

This is another favorite of mine. It's about a poor college student that accepts a room in this strange apartment building on this weird street where all of the buildings lean one way or another. Lovecraft mentions that on certain parts of the street, if the buildings on either side are both leaning inward, they almost touch at the top. Certain buildings have bridges from one to another. These aren't necessarily important details, but I find them absolutely charming imagery.

So the student starts hearing music from upstairs. It's crazy, haunting music, using notes and melodies that the protagonist has never heard before. He eventually decides to visit the man upstairs, who is a mute man named Erich Zann, who plays the viol. I will admit I had no idea was a viol was (it is, in fact, a type of viola, which I was guessing) and had to look it up after hearing this story. In any case, the man plays him a rather boring song, and the student gets frustrated and insists that he's heard more. He attempts to whistle one of the melodies that he'd heard Mr. Zann playing on previous nights, and Zann becomes agitated and kicks him out, even going so far as to petition the landlord to move the student further away in the building. The student is still able to hear him play nightly, however, and one night hears his music become frantic and then cease. Worrying about the old man, he visits his room and rouses him. In the course of his brief visit, he looks out the man's window and sees that it's not a view of the street, but rather an endless and violent oblivion which Erich Zann believes to be the entrance to another dimension. Before he rushes from the room, he discovers that the music Erich Zann plays is to keep back creatures that are fighting to get in through the window.

Like 'The Rats in the Walls', I really have no negative critique to offer as far as this story is concerned. One thing that both stories have in common, that I absolutely love, is a subtlety that hints at a terrifying, alien, monstrous existence rather than the physical and dynamic presence of monsters. I was not surprised to see, when looking up the correct spelling of the name 'Erich Zann', the huge amount of bands that have named themselves, their albums, or a song in some manner after this story. What an awesome and terrifying concept, and an unbelievably haunting role it would be, to play the gatekeeper between dimensions, armed only with a musical instrument. Can you imagine the things that man may have witnessed hurtling towards his window?

The Shunned House, by H.P. Lovecraft

Supposedly this is the actual house that inspired this story. I think it's nice.
This isn't one of my favorites. The end is great, but there's sooooooo much lead up. He goes through generations of people, all becoming sick and dying while living in this house, and any babies born while in the house are still born, etc. The story is written from a man who's fascinated by it, and his uncle, and after the owner is unable to rent it due to all of the deaths and sicknesses linked to it, they ask if they could be granted access to it. To at least leave some intrigue, the man and his uncle encounter some vicious supernatural occupants in the basement of the home and that whole description is rather entertaining and creepy. I do like this story, but I feel like such a large part of it is spent detailing the history of the house and that the entertaining meat of the story is rushed a bit.

It looks like this was made into a movie in 2003 that got a terrible rating- so I'll give you a bonus recommend and tell you to not bother with the movie ; )

The Rats in the Walls, by H.P. Lovecraft

I hadn't heard/read this one before, so I happily obtained it when it was recommended to me by a friend that knew I was Lovecrafting it up. It is so utterly fantastic it almost defies description. I can so clearly hear Wayne June saying "The Rats in the Walls" every time I think about it and that alone sends a shiver down my spine.

In this story, a man inherits an estate and moves there, with several cats. He begins to notice that at a certain time of night, there's a scuttling sound as of rats in the walls and the cats start going mad clawing at them. The noise can get very loud at times, even seeming to make the rooms tremble. The cats seem to always follow the sounds down to the subcellar door. The man eventually invites some friends over to help him scout out the sound and discovers that an altar in his sitting room can be pried open to reveal a path descending downward. They follow it and discover a terrible subterranean city in which there's evidence of human beings having been raised as cattle and cannibalized by his ancestors.

I mean, really now. Do I even need to say anything else? That's just perfect. There's nothing I would change about this story at all. Nothing.

The Call of Cthulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft

This is the ICONIC story that has inspired games, movies, comics, etc. etc., almost so much that I should tag it as 'Classic' as well.

The story is based on the writings of fictional character Francis Wayland Thurston, found among his belongings after his death. Within them, he describes having found notes left by his granduncle, whose abrupt death was somewhat questionable. Along with the writings was found a small figurine that Mr. Thurston describes as "A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings", which is later identified to represent Cthulhu. Further research reveals that this figurine was used in "voodoo-esque" rituals in which human bodies are being used by a cult that's formed to worship the "Great Old Ones". Thurston uncovers a lot of history behind the cult and eventually sets out on his own to investigate a shipwreck of suspicious detail, which leads him to conclude that he now knows too much and will likely be killed, for "the cult still lives".

There are certain subjects that, to me, are more likely to induce fear. Cult activity and ritual sacrifice are among those. This is one of my favorites for that reason. It not only includes a lot of those topics, but presents them in such a way that they're so conceivably being read from actual manuscripts found among a dead man's personal belongings. I also feel that overall this story is more likely to appeal to those that aren't necessarily huge Lovecraft fans, because its focus is a lot more on ritual and rumor and less on the beasts themselves.

The Dunwich Horror, by H.P. Lovecraft

This is my favorite of the images Google presented me with.
A word about H.P. Lovecraft before I go review-crazy-

I personally feel there is a difference between the way most people interpret horror and the way a Lovecraft fan interprets horror. Horror these days is generally associated with any wide array of 'scary' movies, most of which are associated with a fairly sparce and typical assumptions of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, demons, psychopaths or aliens. There are attempts to be ground-breaking and unique in inspiring fear in others, but generally it boils down to the same basic plotlines and antagonists. Writers, directors, etc. are on a constant quest for shock value. They devise and come up with stories to tell that they hope will scare people and/or create a sensation. They are very much in-your-face.

H.P. Lovecraft does not need to think and devise plans with which to shock and scare people. This a man that simply eats, breathes and dreams the grotesque, unnatural and weird, in the truest sense of the word. His stories are scary in that they're generally written in journal or auto-biographical form by the subject or a relative thereof. Typically the person begins as a skeptic and is confronted with undeniable evidence of something obscene and troubling, and gets in over his head in a situation that is evil and otherworldly, more often than not, ending with his death. A lot of the times, there are not any monsters actually present in the stories, just hints or one. Sometimes you are entirely left to your imagination. When you're not? Maybe it's even worse. Monsters in Lovecrafts stories are strikingly unusual and entirely unattractive in nature- no sparkly vampires here- sometimes falling to the other side of the line between plainly disturbing and perverse. They are their own entities, and fans of Lovecraft can doubtlessly point out their influence in other media. These are not stories for everyone, not because they're "too scary" for most, but because they're written with a passion for the obscene that might be off-putting for those that aren't equally passionate about their content.

I decided to celebrate October and the approaching Halloween holiday- my favorite- by listening to as much of the Lovecraft collection as I can on audiobook. My drive to work in the morning is done before sunrise, and on wooded, isolated roads, so I thought it was the perfect atmosphere for such things, and I was right. NOTE: SINCE THESE H.P. LOVECRAFT STORIES I'LL BE REVIEWING ARE SHORT STORIES, THERE'S NOT MUCH LEFT OUT IN MY DESCRIPTION. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN READING OR HEARING THEM AND WANT TO BE SURPRISED, JUST DO IT, AND QUIT READING THIS.

The Dunwich Horror was the first story I listened to. All of the stories I obtained are read by Wayne June, who has a deep, gravelly voice that lends perfectly to the serious and creepy atmosphere of the writing without going overboard or making it campy in any way. The Dunwich Horror takes place in Massachusetts, in the fictional town of Dunwich. Lovecraft goes through a great bit of detail about the area of Dunwich, setting a very ominous tone right from the get-go. The tale goes on to describe the Whateley farm, where an albino woman lives with her father. She gives birth to a son, father unknown, and names him Wilbur. The boy grows very rapidly, being the size of a full grown man by five years old. The townsfolk aren't sure what to think of him, and generally keep their distance. Wilbur and his grandpa are constantly adding to their house, and strange noises are heard from the upper floor when visitors call. Cattle are constantly disappearing, and the townsfolk notice a ramp has been added leading from the ground to the upper story of the house. Grandpa Whateley dies, and the albino mother eventually follows of unknown means.

Wilbur begins seeking a copy of the book Necronomicon at a nearby university and is denied. Finally, with urgency, he attempts to break in and steal it and is attacked and killed by the guard dog. With Wilbur dead, what's revealed to be an invisable creature growing inside the farmhouse is unchecked and breaks free to bring horror and death upon the town of Dunwich.

I can't very well debate the mastery of any of Lovecraft's stories because he's practically his own genre of writing. When I offer "critiques" it's to explain why I favor or do not favor the particularly story, and nothing more. I am still humbled by him and his expansive creativity and ability. Having said that- The Dunwich Horror isn't one of my favorite, I will admit. I feel that there are parts of the story where the action lulls a bit. Wilbur dying and the monster breaking free of its captivity is a huge and fearsome chain of events but I don't feel it was highlighted enough to make a serious impact. The end of the story is, in my opinion, somewhat anti-climactic. This one doesn't inspire chills in me the way some of the others do. Concept, however, is fantastic. The idea of Wilbur and his grandfather perpetually adding on to the house to contain the beast is chilling in and of itself. That the monster is invisible is PREFERABLE to me. I was almost let down when a glimpse of it is allowed and the description that followed- the unknown struck me as more frightening in this case. Still a fantastic and entertaining listen, especially in the dark in the woods!

A Game of Thrones: Book One in the series 'A Song of Ice and Fire', by George R.R. Martin

I became interested in the 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series when a friend recommended them upon hearing it was going to be made into a show. I am honestly surprised I hadn't heard of them before, the fantasy genre being my absolute favorite and this being a series of HUGE depth, comparable to Tolkein's 'The Lord of the Rings' though not as ground breaking. 'A Game of Thrones', for which the HBO series was named, is the first book. I initially downloaded it on my Kindle app and began reading it. Working full time, being a mother of two, and having a hundred and one other obligations began interfering with my ability to immerse myself in such a huge piece of literature. It was taking me forever to make headway on it. Once I began purchasing audiobooks, it was only natural that I looked into listening to this instead of picking away at the book.

A Game of Thrones is thirty-three hours long, which is pretty formidable. Nonetheless, I was happy to be able to make it through the book, finally, despite the entire first season having concluded already. The TV series seems to have followed the book pretty closely, so the majority of it was no surprise. There is no real efficient way to summarize the plot of the book. It's, again, comparable to the Lord of the Rings and reads similarly to the books as they're written after the Fellowship divides, where the chapters move between the different party members or groups in turn. It's ripe with sub-plots, some of which became my favorite, but none of which bored me. The cast of characters is huge, with personalities to appeal to everyone. George R. R. Martin is an absolute genius for character development. I found myself very quickly becoming attached to certain characters and their storylines, and drawn in to their personal trials and drama. I hate to keep making comparisons to Lord of the Rings because it leans more towards Historical Fiction than hugely fantasy-rich tales of Elves and Dwarves, but the epic feel of it forces comparison. Having compared them frequently, it should be said that it certainly holds it's own against the beast that is the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One aspect that is touched on frequently and is one of my favorite details of the book is a giant wall that was constructed along the top of the Seven Kingdoms to separate it from the northern lands. This wall also keeps out sinister, cryptic races of creatures whose existence becomes evident in delicious little tidbits throughout the book. The way the north outside the wall is described is frankly bone chilling, both in the depth of its temperatures- impossibly cold- and in the way the darkness is described- absolute and cloaking all manners of evil.

The book starts out focusing on House Stark, in their home in Winterfell, which is the northernmost kingdom in the Seven Kingdoms. Their family members are eventually divided and lead us into the remainder of the book, where the attention begins to reach out and touch on other families in other areas. The Stark motto, "Winter is Coming", is mentioned frequently and lends a lot to a foreboding atmosphere. You come to find out that Summers and Winters last years and years in this world, and that Winter brings with it pain and hardship so bad that mothers are known to kill their own children just to avoid having to watch them freeze or starve to death.

To focus on the audiobook, since I've now mentioned the book and the show as well, it's read by Roy Dotrice, who I've come to find out is NOT the reader on Book Four- hugely disappointing. This man is a master. As one of my friends who has also listened to the book mentioned, he is almost comical at times. He seems to start out a little rusty- having trouble recalling the voice he used for a specific character, it seems, though I can surely forgive him that since there are so very many characters. By the end of the book, I was so sorry to be finished. He is absolutely IMMERSED in his reading. He really defines what it means to be a voice "actor". You can hear the actions and efforts of the characters when he reads their dialogue- if a character is in pain, you can hear it without mistake in Roy Dotrice's voice.

Having said all these things, it's a pretty massive undertaking to listen to. Again to compare it to the Lord of the Rings, there is an abundance of description of lands and castles and people's lined faces and histories, etc. that can sometimes reach a point where it almost becomes a "drone" to someone like me who listens while they drive. I had to use the 'rewind' function several times because I'd become suddenly aware that I'd zoned out and missed something. Admittedly, I tend towards being a bit attention deficit at times, particularly in the car when my attention is constantly being drawn back to what's happening outside of the vehicle.

All in all, It's worthwhile if you can get your head into it. Some people don't like to have to "commit" so much to a reading. It's what can be referred to as "heavy", so light readers won't like it. It's long and detailed and has such a huge cast of characters that it's got to be a genre of particular interest to you if it's going to hold your attention. For fans of the fantasy/historical fiction genre, however, it's a masterpiece as far as I'm concerned. There will never be another 'Lord of the Rings', but this is close enough to warrant repeated comparisons.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

This is the cover of the audio edition, not the book.

This is probably my favorite of all I've listened to so far. Since this is my second entry, it may look like I don't have much to compare it to, but considering I'm 10 or so stories in by the time I'm writing this it should give you a better example. I know Watership Down is a classic story, but I honestly can't remember having ever read it before. I think I might have seen the animated movie when I was younger. In any case, you're never too old to enjoy a story about bunnies, especially when it's written so impossibly well as it is by Richard Adams and read by Ralph Cosham (who also reads the book I am currently listening to, to my excitement). There were several times when I first started listening to it that I puzzled about how long the recording was. I am a "ruiner" (self-titled ; ) in the way that I like to know the plot line of a book before reading it. I generally will Wiki it, or ask someone that's read it before to tell me how it ends. It's just how I roll. When I DO finish something that hasn't been ruined for me, I'll go back and re-read it to pick up on the subtleties I previously missed that hint at the ending. Since I wiki-ed this prior to listening to it, there was no mystery in the plot line. There was, however, mystery to me in the length. Why, when X-Y-Z were the only major events, did it need to be THIS LONG?

Having listened to it all, I can confidently say that I would listen to it all again. All fifteen hours of it. There was not a moment in the entire story where I found my attention waning, or where I regretted having started down this road. I know from having read about it and hearing the prologue that Richard Adams initially wrote it for his daughters. It had started as a story he told them aloud during car trips, and upon their insistence that he write it down, eventually become a book. He never really wanted more than to give his girls their own hardback copy of the story they loved, but I can understand completely why it became such a renowned and beloved story.

Assuming I am not the only one in the world that hadn't previously read or listened to this, I'll give a brief overview. The story begins with a rabbit, Hazel, and his runt brother, Fiver, who is a 'seer' in the way that he has dreams and visions of what is to come. Early in the book, while Hazel and Fiver are off loping around, they come across a sign posted near the edge of their dominion and Fiver has a vision implying that their burrow is in danger. He warns Hazel that they need to leave, and the big-hearted rabbits make the decision to go to the chief rabbit and try to persuade him to move the burrow. This isn't received well, so Fiver and Hazel attempt to gather what other rabbits they can and leave on their own. This is a bold move for rabbits, particularly for Hazel, who has been low on the hierarchy and has no real leadership experience. The story follows their adventure as they seek a new home, which is a huge feat for animals that by nature are convinced that everything in the world is out to get them. They encounter many predators on the way, and find that they even have enemies in their fellow rabbits at times. Even once they've found a home, their problems aren't over, as they realize that without females their numbers will dwindle and die off, which begins a whole new adventure to obtain further members. My favorite character, personally, is a rabbit named Big Wig (that's the human English translation). He is abrasive at the beginning, but goes on to withstand violence and fear that define him as a hero. It occurs to me in saying so, however, that I really do love each of the rabbits in one way or another, even the villains for their cleverness. The characters are all so memorable.

It would be easy, as an adult, to dismiss this story based on the fact that it's about rabbits and was initially written for children. However, that would be an error in judgment. Not only is it tremendously entertaining and impeccably written, but so many parallels can be made between the tough decisions these rabbits have to make and the decisions we're faced with as human beings. Likewise, inspiration can be taken from their loyalty to one another, their perseverance, and their ceaseless capability to love and hope. Finally, if nothing else, the author has created the outlines of a whole new language ("lapine") and a wealth of lore in the stories these rabbits tell to each other- for they are great storytellers themselves. I'm back and forth with myself about whether or not I should share this with my son. Him being a creature of immense empathy, I am worried about parts of the book that are violent in nature. There are ears ripped, necks sliced into, blood shed. There are many mentions of death, and shadows of fear worked into parts of the book that I am worried might scare him a little at the age he is now. Still, overall, it's an inspiring tale and I think that it will definitely one day be a part of his library, if not now. It will definitely stay a part of mine as well.

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

It was only a matter of time before I got the idea to combine my love of literature with two great factors in my life- my ever-handy smart phone, and my long commute to and from work. Having downloaded the "Audible" app that allows the purchase and download of audio books through Amazon.com, I was granted a credit with which to download one of many advertised books. One of them was the subject of this post, and I was immediately drawn to the inclusion of the words "War" and "Zombies", as a firm supporter of team human in the imagined Zombie Apocolypse. Further appealing was the author- the son of Mel Brooks, of whom I am a fan.

The premise of 'World War Z' is that a virus or sickness of sorts is spread through contact with saliva of an infected person, largely in the form of a bite, that kills a victim and reanimates them as a zombie. Contributing to the spread of the virus is the disbelief of the majority of humanity, and decisive inaction at first. As the virus spreads, initially unchecked, each nation is forced to evaluate how to best combat an enemy that doesn't need to eat, drink, breathe, rest or interact strategically in order to operate on the offensive. This isn't exactly an original idea. Zombie stories have been done over and over again. What lends a refreshing quality to this piece is, I believe, best exemplified in audio-book format. I am glad it's the direction I took, because I fear that there would be a lot lost in reading this rather than listening to it.

The story is a collection of firsthand recollections and testimonies from people involved in the Zombie War, or World War Z, in some manner or another. It reads like a collection of interviews, which could be boring in writing, but is very much brought to life by the AMAZING voice actors in the audiobook. Contributors such as Max Brooks, Alan Alda and John Turturro- to name a few- make this a hugely believable and entertaining read. I mentioned to a friend during the time I spent listening to this that I was almost convinced World War Z had actually happened. It begins in China with an interview of a physician called in to evaluate several early victims in the spread of the virus. When he shares his concerns with others about the lack of infection surrounding the bites on the sickly victims, and their appearance to be from a human assailant, we are given the impression that this isn't the first time something like this has happened. China, from apparent reluctance to take credit for the beginnings of the virus, stay tight-lipped about the problem and do their best to isolate it. However, their efforts fail and it begins to spread elsewhere in Asia and into Europe, eventually further reaching.

Throughout the course of the book, you hear the fictional stories first-hand from members of the military, from criminals, fugitives, doctors. You hear the story of a hardened woman who grew from childhood during the Zombie War, having to witness things a child shouldn't, and close herself to her natural empathies in order to survive. The most fascinating, to me, are the accounts of the military personnel and their descriptions of the horror that seized them all when they realized that they had no idea how to fight the unstoppable mass that fell upon them, wave after wave. Hearing about the terrible and destructive forces that were brought out to combat the animated dead and their reasonably small effect was chilling.

My only complaint with the audiobook is this: Because of the way the book is written, my enjoyment of it depended a lot upon the believability and authenticity of the voice actors in their ability to make the writing sound like their natural and first-hand account. I cannot stress enough how amazing most of them were at doing this, but there were one or two readers that sounded like just that- readers, rather than 'becoming' the character the way the others did. Max Brooks himself sounded almost unbelievably flippant at times. His role is that of the interviewer that drives the stories and its players along, and his voice almost betrays a happiness at times that doesn't fit with the grave atmosphere of the book.

Overall, however, I found it a very entertaining and well done piece and would definitely recommend it, even for those that aren't horror buffs the way I am. It got me excited to continue my adventure into audiobooks.


I read, and/or listen to, a LOT of books. Upon reviewing the books I've completed recently, I realized that I'd like to talk about them. Because they can be plentiful I'd prefer to not dominate my "main" blog with discussing them, because it's reserved for family and poop talk if the mood takes me. So I've created this one! I don't expect that I'll ever review them from the perspective of someone who wants to uncover the deeper meaning behind the written words, because that's just not how my brain operates. I take my own meaning from things and like that everyone else does as well. Rather, I'll likely just give a summary and talk a bit about how I felt about it, at which point you will or won't read it, and will or won't agree with me. Until I "catch up" to where I am now, this will likely look like a boneyard of post titles with no bulk, so if you've mistakenly come across this prior to the entries being filled in, I apologize (and secretly wonder how you managed that). Enjoy : )