Book Review – Shades of Survival by Robyn Watts

Let’s talk zombies. They’re the perennial bogeymen of the apocalypse, an unstoppable force that devours everything in its path, moaning disease on two legs – provided the legs haven’t rotted off anyway. The first pop-culture zombie invasion started way back in 1919 in a largely-forgotten French silent movie called J’accuse that featured romance and the rising dead of World War I. The big daddy of zombie movies, though, still has to be Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a movie Romero himself said was inspired by Christmas shoppers.

I would argue that zombie can also represent the crushing weight of day-to-day life in the modern world. They’re the constant siren-song of social media and “making it big” and keeping your head above water when most people are quite happy to stand on your shoulders to keep their own heads above water. The burdenous ennui of Godot wrapped in rotting flesh and waiting to gleefully eat your ass. Not in that way, either, ya pervs. The bad way. With teeth and blood and screaming.

In literature, the big name in zombie books has to be Brooks’ World War Z. The comic rendition of The Walking Dead was good, but World War Z was on a whole other level. World War Z had the temerity to reimagine the zombie hordes and giving us a worldwide look at how the whole planet dealt with the dead rising. Now, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: There are some similarities between World War Z and Shades of Survival, but there are important differences, too. In a genre that’s been kicking around for over a hundred years – at least in film and probably in lit, too – there’s going to be some cross-pollination going on. It’s inevitable and understandable. But each new interpretation brings the creator’s voice to the moaning, grumbling hordes of Wal-Mart shoppers at Christmastime.

So, what are the similarities? Well, for starters Shades of Survival has a similar theory of rolling out its massive, world-ending tale in bite-sized chunks rather than following a straight narrative. They’re both large tales told in vignettes. Apocalyptic amuse-bouche. There are major differences, too. Shades keeps the narrative tightly focused on one person rather than the entire planet and is told in a series of letters written by one woman as she watches first the world then her world collapse around her. Like all good stories, it has moments of levity and moments of sheer terror. It also spends a goodly deal of time taking a hard look at the living, uninfected people who still inhabit the world and just how they fall to their animal natures. Almost as if virus mutated and while it tuned the vast majority of people into nigh-unstoppable killing machines, it turned the some of the rest into massive assholes.

There’s a disconnectedness to Shades of Survival as well. As our protagonist is recounting her life post-zombie, she’s looking back through time. This kind of creates a gnawing sense that no matter how things might look in the short term, nothing good will come of this tale. In a way, it’s almost like reading Anne Frank’s diary; you just know there’s no way this will end well. And just like young Anne’s diary, you’ve got an intimate, front-row view of the end of everything.

“Hollywood shows us their idea of survival in an end of the world, apocalyptic scenario. But what would it really be like? How would you actually cope and survive? Shades of survival is a journal-type account of one person’s desperate attempt at surviving the apocalypse. Dealing with the dead walking, the living attacking, periods, and lack of hair dye. They come across different types of people, dealing with different situations and learning that Hollywood can only glamourize what would, and ultimately does, drive the average person crazy.”

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Book Review – Ego Trip by Eric Malikyte

Years ago, I had a buddy at an old job who actually had a set of Google Glasses. Remember those? Eyeglasses with a HUD that could display extra information like emails and videos and stuff like that. They were kind of a trip and, in their own way, kind of disruptive. This guy would be walking and talking and would suddenly stop what he was doing, fiddle with his glasses, and then move on like nothing had happened. And that was primarily for email and meeting notifications.

Google had some cool designs for Google Glass including adapting them so they could do little things like identify parts of the car you were working on give you and exploded – no pun intended – view of the bomb you were defusing. They were intended to be less virtual reality – which is tremendously immersive – and more augmented reality, meaning they dropped a layer of reality over the top of the layer of reality you were experiencing during normal day-to-day activities. Pokémon Go did the exact same thing a few years later by layering tiny monster eggs over your phone’s camera. While less immersive than Google Glass, Pokémon Go did have more than a few people step into traffic or get mugged because they were focused more on the augmented part of reality than the rapidly approaching car or knife-wielding maniac parts of reality.

Point being, even sticking parts of virtual reality on top of reality can change what we perceive as real.

Now, imagine what it’s going to be like when you don’t have to don a bulky headset to play Drunken Bar Fight (a fun game that I highly recommend) or wear glasses to see different things. Stuff a chip in the side of your head that can directly interface with your brain and suddenly you can experience all sorts of wacky realities. You could be the star of a show, the smartest person in the world, or the savior of the human race. It could all be a game. Realities on top of realities on top of realities that would all seem just as real as stepping on a Lego.

And that’s the heart of Eric Malikyte’s latest work, Ego Trip. This isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed one of Malikyte’s books. He’s dipped his toes in the monster-ridden wasteland of Mars and cuddled with Lovecraft’s demons and always delivers a cracking good story. This time around, he’s left the monster-monsters behind and focused on the human-monsters that we all love to believe we aren’t. Instead of Mars or the frozen end of the world, we get a tour of a dystopian country run more by corporate greed than political greed. So, you know, less sci-fi than functional modern-day reality.

In a way, Ego Trip is about two guys who desperately want out of their lives. They’re both ground down by the day-to-day activities of trying to keep their heads above water. One keeps his head barely above the water intentionally, the other sticks his neck as far out as he can. One plays a game of good-guy/bad-guy, the other plays a similar, if augmented-reality-driven, version of the same thing.

This is what makes good sci-fi. The best science fiction is always about people. Sure, technology can abound and the world can be remade to fit the story, but at the end of the day good sci-fi is always about the people involved. And Malikyte is good at creating people. Especially people who have no qualms about exploiting the technology in their neon-drenched wonderlands. And as the crushing blows of that exploitation slowly dawn on you, the general sense of foreboding evolves first into malaise then to shock then to the general notion that maybe hunting Pokémon on your phone was only the beginning of how weird, wonderful, and wicked the future is going to become.

Paul Anderson Fou’s life is about to change. This rather boring fast-food worker has been offered a chance of a lifetime. Dynamo, a mysterious girl–the only one who’s ever willingly talked to him–has gifted him the key to his dreams of MMO stardom, a chance to dig himself out of his successful brother’s basement, to make something of himself.

But, as bodies start piling up all over Neo Rackham, attracting the attention of a relentless detective with a cybernetic eye, Paul’s life is certain to become far more complicated than he ever dreamed.

The price for fame is high.

And some deals are too good to be true.

Paul is about to find that out the hard way.

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