Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Now, the vampires get their chance at apocalypse

Zombie apocalypse books have been all the rage of late. The Walking Dead, World War Z, Under a Graveyard Sky and a whole host of other novels have shown us what to do when the undead hoardes appear: kill it with fire. But what are we to do when the hoardes aren't undead? What do we do when the newest predator is just as smart, and just as alive, as us?

V Wars, edited by Jonathan Maberry, gives us just that situation. While working far, far North, two separate groups of people are exposed to the I1V1 virus from the melting polar caps. And thanks to globalization, and the wonderful virus breeding grounds that are airplanes, the virus quickly spreads around the world.

Ostensibly America's Patient Zero, Michael Fayne just got back from a wonderfully icy movie shoot in the wonderfully icy locale of Point Barrow, Alaska. Only a stone's throw from the North Pole, Fayne isn't surprised in the least when he gets sick upon arrival back to New York City. But the bills won't pay themselves, and neither will the paycheck from his SyFy Original Movie, so he hauls himself in to his part-time barista job. A series of blackouts culminates in a date gone terribly wrong, and he finds himself in NYPD's 6th Precinct, being interviewed by a very strange man.

Mooney Lopez knew that monsters roam on two legs long before the V-Event. An orphan on an Indian reservation in the American Southwest, no family came forward to take her in, so she lives with a foster mother she calls Mother Gaso. Raped at 17, Mother Gaso sends her on a trip to NYC to get away and find herself, but she comes back with more than she bargained for.

Ruksana Vulpes of Bucharest was one of the scientists studying glaciers in the Antarctic. With a lifelong love of mountain climbing, she and her partners have no problem rappelling down a glacier that has just calved, getting samples of ice that hasn't seen the light of day in millennia. As she and another member of her team are sampling, a moment of carelessness leads to an eruption of thawed sediment landing on the both of them.

Hugues 'Big Charlie' Charles is the District Attorney of the Bronx. Credited with dramatically decreasing the crime rate in his part of the city, he seems like a shoe-in for the upcoming Primaries. But it's not in Big Charlie's personality to hide anything from his constituents: in the run-up to voting day, he announces that he's been infected with the I1V1 virus.

These are just a few of the stories in V Wars. With the overarching world of a virus activating the 'junk' DNA in its victims, and each region of the world having its own vampire lore, the authors have a wealth of tales to pull from. From Chinese hopping vampires, to Native American rattlesnake-based vampires, to Eastern European vampire-hunting beings, the huge variety of creatures available to pull from makes this anthology truly fascinating.

Highs: The moral quandary of what to do with literally thousands of human beings who may or may not be able to control their need for the flesh, blood or life force of other humans is a moral and legal nightmare that I never want to be a part of

Lows: While the main storyline, written by Maberry himself, is date-stamped, it's hard to figure out exactly when some of the other stories take place

Verdict: A refreshing change of pace from the traditional ZA story

Further Reading: World War Z, Under a Graveyard Sky, Feed

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Perhaps the source code for the universe is a bit too much power for some...

A computer geek ends up even deeper than the Deep Web in Scott Meyer's Off to Be the Wizard.

Like many people, Martin Banks likes to play around on the internet when he's bored. He doesn't really do anything malicious; it's just not in his personality to create chaos for chaos' sake. Rather, he pokes at the security of random companies, simply to see if he can get around the often laughably minimal security measures that institutions put up.

Lodged in the inner workings of an old cell phone company, he finds an absolutely enormous text file. Five terabytes of text is a whole lot of text, and out of habit Martin ctrl+f's his name, and tinkers with the numbers after it.

Well, long story short, it turns out that banks sorta notice when your bank account randomly inflates itself. And with the feds on his tail, Martin escapes to the one place he can think of that the government can't find him. Of course, being the computer geek that he is, that place would be Medieval England.

But of course, he's not the first person to find this bit of code, nor is he the first to escape to the middle ages. Here, after thoroughly embarrassing himself in the nearest town, he stumbles upon other folks like him; folks geeky enough to have discovered how to manipulate the universe, folks living as wizards in a time when magic was simply accepted as part of life, folks who also kinda always wanted to be wizards.

Just because a person is clever enough to find the text file, though, doesn't mean that he is a good person. In fact, several people have been banished from their little slice of history, hog-tied, naked, and sent back to deal with whatever they had going on in their native time. As events in a town nearby become stranger and stranger, the group of wizards start to suspect one of their own is making a mess of the code. And it'll be up to Martin and a few of his friends to figure out exactly what's going on, and how to stop it.

Highs: Obviously written by a geek for geeks, Off to Be the Wizard feels like an idle daydream, but it's a fun one.

Lows: The author glosses over the whole 'timeline' issue with the It Just Works theory, which is rather unsatisfying.

Verdict: A fun, if shallow, fantasy-fulfillment read, perfect for a summer vacation.

Further Reading: Chasing the Moon, Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A few more stories from the zombie apocalypse

In a book with as grand a scope as World War Z, it would only make sense that there would be some untold stories floating around. In Closure Limited, author Max Brooks has released four more short stories, as well as an intro that explains how he got into the zombie business in the first place.

Coming in at a slim 124 pages, these feel like tales that were left on the cutting room floor from the original book, and the quality is a bit shaky. The title story, 'Closure, Limited: A Story of World War Z' is the story of a rather ingenious entrepreneur after the dust settled from the Zombie War. He and his employees mine the areas that are still infested with zombies, capture them, and let their customers use them for a sense of 'closure.'

'Steve and Fred' gives the reader a perspective that couldn't be gotten from the interview format of World War Z. Here, a man is trapped in a water closet, with only a book. As the days go by, the sound of the Zeds never leaves the door to the bathroom for long, and his grip on reality gets harder and harder to hold on to.

'The Extinction Parade' is by far the weakest story in the collection. Our characters are a group of vampires, who have lived alongside humanity and the zombies since the beginning of time. At first, they think it's funny that the humans aren't taking care of the zombie flare-up very well, but as time goes on and their food source dies off in record numbers, the vampires start to wonder what the future might bring.

Finally, in 'Great Wall: A Story from the Zombie War', we return to the journalistic storytelling of World War Z. Our UN observer interviews a Chinese woman who fled North after the war broke out. Eventually she reached an offshoot of the Great Wall, and along with other refugees frantically works to rebuild the Wall. But, unlike in the Xia Dynasty, this time it's to protect the North from the threat from the South.

We're also treated to an Introduction by the author. Here, we're treated to Brooks' first encounters with zombies, and the train of thought that caused him to write The Zombie Survival Guide.

Overall, the stories here are decent, but not amazing. As with most 'deleted scenes' in movies, there's generally a reason they were left out. Only the first story is up to the quality of his novel, but the rest are readable nonetheless. Fans of Brooks may want to check it out, but it might be better suited to a cheap ebook release than the physical release it got.

Highs: The title story is actually a morbidly fascinating look at the human psyche.

Lows: Brooks really did his universe a disservice by introducing vampires into an otherwise realistic situation.

Verdict: An uneven collection, worth reading once but perhaps not purchasing.

Further Reading: Under a Graveyard Sky, Boneshaker

Monday, July 15, 2013

Manga Monday: Humanity's last stand

Humanity has declined. The last known colony of humans lives in a walled fortress, hiding from the monsters without. Very little is known about this new predator. They range in height, several meters tall, towering above buildings, and able to pick up humans like plaything. They look eerily like humans, but without any intelligence in their eyes.

They look like us.

For a hundred years, humankind has hidden behind these walls. Almost all information of the world before the Titans appeared has been destroyed, and it's taboo to talk about the would outside of this last garrison. But for Eren Yeager, and his friends Mikasa and Armin, that's not good enough.

Eren wants to enter the military when he's older. Not the Garrison that patrol the walls, or the Military Police, who protect the elite within the innermost walls. Eren wants to be part of the Survey Corps. For Eren isn't content living within this last bit of safety. He wants to help study the Titans, find out where they come from and how they work, and eventually reclaim the rest of the world on behalf of humankind.

His mother reacts with the same horror one would expect from a parent whose child told them that they want to risk their life in a branch of the military with an 80% casualty rate. She forbids Eren from joining, but his father remains oddly quiet about the whole situation. He simply says that when he returns from his trip, he'll show Eren what he's been hiding in their locked basement all these years.

As Eren and Mikasa join Armin in town, however, the unthinkable happens. After a century of safety, a Colossal Titan appears, tall enough to see over the 50meter walls surrounding their village. And as he decimates the complacent wall guards and destroys the outer wall, another Aberrant Titan charges through the inner gate, allowing normal Titans to flood into Wall Maria. Homes are destroyed, countless children are made orphans, and Wall Maria is abandoned as refugees flood Wall Rose.

Eren, Mikasa and Armin are part of the new generation of children. They lost everything with Wall Maria fell, and they hold a special grudge against the Titans. Unlike so many, they are not willing to simply wait behind the walls until the Colossal and Aberrant Titans appear again to destroy their homes, 

Eren is going to destroy the Titans.

A sleeper hit in manga form, the popularity of Attack on Titan has skyrocketed during the first season of the anime. The anime closely follows the manga, and while it's not strictly necessary to read the book after watching the show, fans of the series will enjoy another way to experience this compelling, horror manga.

Highs: The faces of the Titans are terribly unnerving, adding to the creepy air of the series as a whole.

Lows: Fans looking for more insight into the characters may be disappointed, as some scenes are panel-by-panel recreated in the anime.

Verdict: Every manga and anime fan should check this series out, in one format or another.

Further Reading: Monster, Under a Graveyard Sky