I’m just going to come right out and admit it. I love zombies. I do, I really, truly do. I love everything about them, from the voodoo zombi to Romero’s social commentary, from the shamblers to the walkers to the runners, and all the undead evil in between.
Unfortunately, I am also a complete chickenshit. As a kid I’d watch Are You Afraid of the Dark with my hands over my eyes, and screamed when Eerie, Indiana got too scary. As an adult I watched The Crazies with my hands over my eyes (except when ogling Timothy Olyphant) and screamed during every episode of Fear Itself. Verily, your faithful reviewer is a coward of epic proportions.
So it’ll be no surprise when I tell you that when the Powers That Be dropped Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brallier at my door my first reaction was “ZOMBIES! Mwahahah!” and then “ZOMBIES! Squee!” and finally “ZOMBIES! Nooooo!” After calming down a bit I settled in for 384 pages of zombie-fied Choose Your Own Adventure. As luck would have it, my excitement was matched for quality.
No Choose Your Own Adventure should be this much fun. There are dozens of different tracks to take and each one twists you off in a crazy new direction. If zombies ever did attack I’d either be the creepy loner survivor who hides in trees and hordes cans of beans or I’d be the chick in the beginning of the movie who says something stupid like “Hey, dude, why are you moaning like that?” and manages to be the first person killed. In the first “adventure” I played it safe and smart, but by the second and third go-rounds I was shooting out brains at the Statue of Liberty and rescuing kids in subway tunnels.
There’s also enough touches of geekiness to satisfy even the die-hards. A bunch of nerds—including one dressed as President Taft—from a failed Zombie Walk are hiding out in a meat-packing warehouse. And who wouldn’t give a secret smile when an obnoxious hipster in one of those annoying super-tight flannel shirts gets his comeuppance? +5 for having a guy dressed as Legolas shoot a zombie in the head with an arrow. The scene in the New York Comic Con can be summed up thusly: “Boba Fetts—why are there so many goddamn Boba Fetts??—are dying all around you…Black Conan [the Barbarian] swings the gigantic blade around. Chops the head of an undead Cobra Commander.” I still refuse to run down the Lucasfilm aisle. One can only make so many bad choices in life.
Strictly in terms of horror, Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? feels closer to a horror movie or TV show than a full-fledged novel. The scares here aren’t drawn out or mired in suspense. The zombie apocalypse comes on fast and furious. Days pass in a matter of sentences, and secondary characters are killed off as quickly as they are introduced. Brallier isn’t staking out new territory in zombie fiction here, but playing to—and playing up—the tropes. And I mean all that as compliments. What he does here he does very well.
Brallier is most definteily not the next James Joyce or China Miéville. On the other hand, Joyce is no Brallier, heretical as that may sound. He writes with a succint, frenetic, tense style that kept my heart pounding and my fingers eager to turn the page. Not every creative work has to inspire men to move mountains. Sometimes being an enjoyable ride is more than enough.
Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by profession, Rob Gordon and Randal by paycheck, novelist by moonlight, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare…