Thursday, April 19, 2007

Another great review!

From Mike Brendan's blog (

Now that we've gone through the nasty stuff, let's get to the fun stuff: Death! Or rather, undeath as portrayed in Kim Paffenroth's Dying to Live: A Novel of Life Among the Undead. Now normally, I don't -- or try not to -- say much about the writer in question. In this it's different because I think it's important to understand where this book is coming from. You see, this is Dr. Paffenroth's first foray into fiction. He's an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Iona College. He's also written a book called Gospel of the Living Deadwhich critiques and analyzes the series of George Romero films (which hold a particular soft spot for me, being that Mr. Romero's from 'round here). It's a good read if you want to take an academic look at the zombie horror genre, although those who have deeply studied the genre may or may not find something new. Dr. Paffenroth takes the challenging high road, in my opinion, by asking, "What good can we derive from these movies and this genre?"Dying to Live is his follow through. It's clear that this novel is written by someone who is a fan of the genre and clearly wants to contribute. And he sticks to his guns in the writing, which is what gives it its strength. If I didn't know any better, I'd have wondered if he went through the same program I did when I started learning how to write.It's a solid read, one that took me about 3-4 hours of time to get through (and only because I can read fast). The narrative is tight and keeps a good pace throughout the book. Action is sufficiently gory for the genre, but not done to excess. It's done to enhance the story not surpass it, and that's the sign of good horror writing. In my opinion it was a little long on the beginning and short on the end, with the character of Milton being a bit of a deus ex at the climax, but in the story at large these are minor points. Milton's solution to the situation had plenty of build to it, for one thing, so in a way it made sense.The key point to the story is about morality, and what happens when everything goes to hell. The Zombies are two fold victims, once to the plague that made them, and once more to the humans that put them down. Indeed, while the outpost Jonah first finds isn't quite the best place on earth, it's a refreshing sight from all the despair of a dying world. We also the ends of depravity man can fall to without morals, and much of this can be drawn from Dante's Inferno. Even the survivors can be likened to the occupants of the first circle of Hell. A more Nietzschean edge can put to the story, considering the philosopher's ominous warning about fighting monsters without becoming one in the process. We see some of that in the story, from repentant to savage to indifferent, each character deals with the grim task in his or her own way.Personally, I think Dr. Paffenroth is to this genre (and perhaps horror in general) as Killswitch Engage is to metal -- in fact I recommend listening to said band while reading this. The message in the work itself is uplifting if you can bring yourself to look past the surface. This is the thinking man's zombie story.

I'd rather be what JUDAS PRIEST is to metal, but let's not get carried away! Thanks Mike! I'm glad people are digging the content and the execution of the novel and I hope I can follow up on it with more tales of mayhem, carnage and hope.


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