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Zombocalypse Now: Choose your own demise

Zombocalypse Now coverHoly crap it’s a book review. Haven’t done one of these in a while. I’ve been reading but I decided the books weren’t sufficiently nerdy enough to warrant your attention. Stuff like Rising Tide by John Barry a la A lil birdie on the XKCD blag. That is until I had to fly to Boston for a friend of my in-law’s wedding. (Read: free booze and lobster) My enjoyment of air travel has been on a steady decline since my first experience on a 747 in the early 90’s. There are a number of factors that play into this, my increasing length and girth, the push for smaller planes, the loss of amenities, and for the first time I became annoyed with the TSA line. To be fair, the TSA folks were as kind and courteous as could be, it was just an unnecessarily long line. Turns out the Nashville airport only has one entrance I guess. Still, it’s an airport that far exceeds La Guardia. I felt like I had some how slipped back into the 80’s while I was stuck there for two hours, and not in the bright clothes and awful music way that seems to be hip these days. It was more of the get-stabbed-in-Times-Square kind of 80’s. The one from Big.

The point is, the one thing I can do is read. I’d completely forgotten I had scored a free Kindle edition of Zombocalypse Now through twitter in early September so when my wife fell asleep I got my chance. I always loved the concept of the choose your own adventure book as a kid but I rarely got my hands on one and if I did they were usually bad spy stories or something. Fortunately this is a zombie story. Zombies have to be about the best subject for a choose your own adventure book. I mean honestly, who hasn’t watched a zombie movie and thought, No, I’d do it this way or that way? Well with Matt Youngmark’s book you can do just that. Except this isn’t your run of the mill zombie story.

You start out on a date with some chick you met on the internet. Simple enough. Except you’re a rabbit. Not even a fuzzy little nose wiggling carrot eating rabbit. You’re a stuffed rabbit. Apparently stuffed animals live along side humans in this world for reasons that are never fully explained. There is a casual mention of a civil rights movement for stuffed animals, but as the main character you don’t find the topic particularly interesting. What you do find incredibly interesting is the fact that people are turning into mindless brain craving psychopathic living dead. Unfortunately for you stuffed animals do in fact possess some form of brain matter and this gray squishy stuff is incredibly tasty to the hordes taking over the city. So off you go, reacting to situations.

It just occurred to me that it will be incredibly difficult to discuss the plot line in anything closely resembling a detailed description. Spoilers sweety. In fact, the choices begin after meeting your date so I’ve pretty much divulged all I can without completely ruining the whole thing. Luckily we can have a lovely discussion regarding the structure of the book itself, and if your interested I’d love to discuss the navigation system developed for the Kindle. You can’t exactly “turn to page 100 if you want to end it all and pull the pin on the grenade before the zombies engulf you.” That’s not a scenario I’ve run across for the record.

The characters I’ve come across are all quite entertaining and if you follow them long enough they even develop sufficient depth, reaching beyond their initial defining characteristic. There was one particular character that I grew quite fond of and was sad to see him go. Still, he died well. Oops. Did I say too much? Better keep moving.

Youngmark’s writing is both clever and well composed, which already puts him above every other choose your own adventure book I’ve ever read. As you can imagine, a book whose main character is a lonely stuffed rabbit trying to make it in this modern society is not a book that takes itself particularly seriously. This really gives Youngmark a lot of leeway to do some fun things. The genre, choose your own adventure that is, is notorious for breaking the fourth wall particularly upon reaching a conclusion to the story, which Youngmark does to a degree. But he also plays on the absurd and stretches the boundaries of accepted zombie cannon in fun ways that are all together acceptable and more importantly entertaining.

The choices are about as diverse as you could ask for, but given the situation it’s not surprising that almost all of the 112 conclusions end in death. Either that or I made about 50 very poor choices. In fact, I died within five minutes of picking up the book. I will say there is at least one happy ending and one bittersweet. Luckily the great thing about choose your own adventure books is they have an exceptional amount of readability. I’m the sort of nut who will retrace my steps from my first ending and methodically play out each alternative with nothing less than German precision and with Zombocalypse this is an unusually rewarding experience.

As I said, when your presented with this type of book in a digital form it can present some obvious issues when you try to back track. I don’t actually use my wife’s Kindle very often because I’m the sort of bibliophile who will not give up the tactile sense of holding a book in my hands and the Kindle has a surprising amount of buttons for a machine designed solely for reading books so it took me a bit to figure out how it worked. But once I figured out what the back button was for, this should have been obvious I know, moving through the various scenarios resulting in my grotesque departure from this life became a breeze. The only drawback is the need to scroll through each line to get to the hyperlink that will lead you to the next result. Unless I’m missing something there is no way to get the cursor to jump right to the link and sometimes I end up highlighting it instead of clicking on it. Still, it’s slightly faster than flipping through the pages manually. Keeping one finger on the last page always ruins the spine anyway.

Bottom line, if you’re jonesing for a choose your own adventure and don’t want to slip into text adventures Zombocalypse is the way to go. It is both succulent and enlightening. Much like the brain I have now learned.

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