Friday, September 28, 2012

The Zombie Survival Guide, a review

The next time a Class 2 zombie outbreak occurs in my neighborhood, I’ll be well-prepared to deal with the shambling corpses of hungry undead now that I’ve read Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead.

The Zombie Survival Guide dispels exaggerated myths and legends of the undead and instead presents the reader with unvarnished “truths” about zombies. You’ll find information on zombies’ physical strength, sight, hearing, and rate of decay, and the pros and cons of various weaponry for battling the undead (everything from medieval maces and claymores, to M-16s and flamethrowers). It describes various scenarios for identifying early signs of localized (Class 1) outbreaks, to full-blown widespread undead infestation (Class 3). You’ll find best practices for battling zombies in urban settings, in harsh desert and swamp environments, even under the sea. The Zombie Survival Guide tells you how to defend your home by stocking up with key food and supplies, moving to your second floor and destroying all staircases (recommended for Class 2), or how to survive on the run as you move to the most remote and therefore safest parts of the planet in a world-wide zombie apocalypse in which mankind is overrun (Class 4). The best vehicle should an outbreak occur? You might not guess it, but it’s a bicycle. On a bike you can easily outrun the slow, slouching pace of zombies, it will never run out of gas, you can carry a bicycle over rough terrain, and you can maneuver a bike through the inevitable traffic jams that accompany a full-on panic. Motorcycles are very good too, though their noise attracts the undead. Boats are also a secure means of travel, says Brooks, but watch your anchor line—zombies walking on the ocean floor can use it to climb up to your boat. “Hundreds” of hapless victims have died this way, Brooks tells us.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Last Call by Tim Powers, a review

Scott Crane abandoned his career as a professional poker player twenty years ago and hasn’t returned to Las Vegas, or held a hand of cards, in ten years. But troubling nightmares about a strange poker game he once attended on a houseboat on Lake Mead are drawing him back to the magical city. For the mythic game he believed he won did not end that night in 1969—and the price of his winnings was his soul. Now, a pot far more strange and perilous than he ever could imagine depends on the turning of a card. Enchantingly dark and compellingly real, this World Fantasy Award–winning novel is a masterpiece of magic realism set in the gritty, dazzling underworld known as Las Vegas. 

Tim Powers’ Last Call (1992 William Morrow and Co.; 2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.) is studded with references to old myths, snatches of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” the art of poker playing, and the unique culture and atmosphere of old and new Las Vegas. It contains numerous major and minor characters, overarching themes and subplots, and digressions into probability theory. In other words, it demands close reading and attention to detail. Listening to it in half-hour chunks as I did while driving to work was probably not the best idea, and may have affected my review of the book, but what follows is an honest appraisal.