Friday, January 27, 2012

Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? Book Review

For Christmas I got a shiny, shiny gift card for our local mega-conglomerate big box book store, and just before leaving for Boston I cashed it in. Along with some other books (including Deadline, the second in Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy, which I will review here soon, promise), I also bought Max Brailler's Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse, a choose your own adventure-style book about dancing penguins trying to break into show business surviving the zombie apocalypse in Manhattan.

I bet many people my age have fond memories of the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books, along with its various knock-offs and variations (I was fond of a series written by a role playing creator team that made you role dice and everything!), so combine that with a zombie apocalypse, and I would be lying if I said that my expectations were high, so I'll own up to that.

But even if we adjust for overly-high anticipation, this, at best, is a mediocre zombie apocalypse book. It is also, at best, a mediocre choose your own adventure book.

Brailler's writing is good enough: he has enthusiasm, which is good, and he clearly has an understanding of the genre. The 3 "adventures" that I took involved underwater zombies, stripper zombies, and comic-book-convention zombies, which are all bright spots in zombie lore. Brailler also has a clear love of the city in which the action takes place. I've been to New York a few times, and this struck me very much as a book written by a New Yorker. There's a sense of fun, a sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge, that infuses the pages and makes me feel a little bad about not liking the book as much as Max Brailler clearly does.

There are a few problems with Can You Survive: the first is that while the author clearly knows and understands the source material, the reader is plunked into the shoes of someone who clearly does not. The protagonist ("You") fumbles from one encounter to another, making the sorts of choices that make horror movie-seers groan in disgust. As the adventure was beginning, before my first choice was offered, I was busy taking stock of the situation, paying attention to details, trying to form a plan of attack to survive. I needn't have bothered, because at the junctures that I thought might be a good place for me to choose, Brailler instead railroads me into his own choices. Not even seconds after I've gotten to the "safety" of my apartment, the phone rings, it's mom, and my character decides to cross the city to reach her for no good reason. Time and again, junctures where a decision or choice might have been nice, the choice isn't offered, and even when I do make a decision circumstances conspire to erase the consequences of my choice so that I'm forced into ever-more ridiculous situations against my will.

The second big problem is the ridiculousness. It seems strangely misplaced here. Spoiler alert, but one of my adventures ended with me sitting on the arm of the statue of liberty, waiting for an airlift that might never come. What? Is that even possible? Another involved George Romero being the King of the Zombies. The last had me following a stripper-slash-ninja through the city to find her baseball hero boyfriend for an airlift out of a yankees game. I can see the whimsy. I know that really, really bad jokes are ALSO a staple of the genre. Just, the execution didn't work for me.

The biggest problem, the one that made me stop at 3 adventures, is my own fault. Unfortunately, I am not a heterosexual male who is so easily distracted by his penis that he will forget about the apocalypse for a little T and A. In the stripper-slash-ninja storyline, every chapter involves me oggling my would-be savior. I suppose the fact that she's a martial arts expert means that she is "empowered" or something, but really? Yes, the kick-ass girl is a trope of horror and sci-fi. Geeks really like half-naked ladies who can weild a katana, I guess. But that doesn't make it right.

The thing is, there's a subtle difference between honouring established traditions in a genre, and just repeating them, and Brailler doesn't add anything new. I found this book frustrating, and not very fun. The adventures start out bland, you can't make any good decisions, and then they just go crazy without actually going crazy. The book is challenging in all of the wrong ways. I will give it one and a half severed fingers out of five.


  1. This book looked really cool, i'ts a shame that the reality of it didn't meet the promise.. I have read Ami Mckay's The birthouse and the virgin cure and really enjoyed them! It's nice to hear about what you're reading

  2. After I wrote this review, I went and read a bunch of other reviews and everyone else seemed to love it, so it might be worth checking out anyway, because maybe I'm a freak. But yeah, I was pretty disappointed.