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Book Review – Day by Day Armageddon

510vg5q2bdilJ. L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon is written as journal entries. The whole book is journal entries. Reading the book is liking reading a journal, because the book is written in journal entries.

I hope I got across that this book is written as journal entries because that’s the one and only interesting thing about zombie-tale Day by Day Armageddon. I’m not being too harsh either, since most of the marketing and blurbs about the book are about how it’s written. But, where as Max Brooks’ modern classic, World War Z, used a unique format to tell enthralling zombie stories, Bourne uses his style to hide a dull, plodding book.

The beginning of the book starts out strong enough, with an account of how the zombie apocalypse comes about and how it escalates. The cause and effect of the early chapters works because there’s momentum in the dominoes of the modern world toppling over. But, even then, cracks begin to show.

Bourne reveals his amateurish writing from the beginning. I don’t want to call it lazy, because laziness doesn’t complete a book. But, you can write a novel without having much skill in the art. There’s an overemphasis on descriptions, from locations to activities. As we follow our main character, every step he takes is accounted for, even if he does the same things everyday. Now, that could be interesting, as it could be an examination of how monotony can ruin a person’s psyche, especially in survival situations. That’s what Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is all about and it’s fascinating.

Unfortunately for Day by Day Armageddon, Bourne isn’t up to the task. He rarely brings psychological ramifications to light and, when he does, they’re random and thrown away quickly. Thoughts like “Why am I still trying to live?” and “What’s the point of tomorrow?” are ignored as quickly as they arrive. Either Bourne isn’t interested in that type of story, or he thinks these quick snippets are enough.

Now, not focusing on the psychology of the character would be fine if that’s not the type of story Bourne wants to tell. But, I’m not sure what he is trying to say. Day by Day Armageddon isn’t an action story and it’s hard to feel tension when we know the character had to survive to tell the tale. It’s not a book about relationships falling apart or the evil nature of humanity. None of the characters have enough depth to invest in and there’s no dialog to learn from. There is a group of survivors who show up and cause trouble for the main group, but they’re taken care of without much fanfare.

Without any unique perspective or point of view, Day by Day Armageddon is just a daily account of someone taking the bus to the office. Except, even that type of story could be interesting if it had the right focus. Here, we’re reading about survival without purpose. The book doesn’t end with a cliffhanger or closure, it just ends. There’s no inertia given for the reader to want to continue the series. Bourne shows he has the commitment to write a book and get the technicality of it down, but he doesn’t have the skill to make it something worth reading.

If you’ve read more than the first book, maybe you can tell me if he gets any better as a writer. I doubt it, but I won’t be finding out for myself. Day by Day Armageddon is a book I wouldn’t recommend, even if you were desperate for zombie fiction. Maybe, when this book was written in 2010, we had less options and would read anything we could find. Today, you could spend years reading zombie apocalypses and never need to pick this up.

George A. Romero – A Brief Retrospective

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When I first watched Night of the Living Dead, I was fifteen. I had only gotten into the world of zombie fiction earlier that year when I watched the first Resident Evil movie. The very concept of zombies was relatively new to me, and creeped me right out. Even with that fear, as someone who found the first Alien movie not scary or that great, I wasn’t expecting to be put on edge by an older horror film,  no matter the monster.

Watching George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead made me check my attitude at the door. It didn’t matter how old the movie was, it was still unsettling. The zombies were still creepy and only grew in number throughout the night. The building tension was just as palpable as I imagine it was at the drive-in during 1968. It also showed me what zombie fiction was really about, the living. The whole movie is a boiler because the occupants of the house are flawed, sometimes destructive people and just because there’s a horde of zombies outside doesn’t mean the survivors are going to work together. Technically, it’s an amazing achievement of budget constraints and independent film making. While aspiring directors may look to Scorsese or Tarantino for inspiration, what Romero did is both attainable and impressive. It helps that Ben is one of the great movie heroes of all time and the shambling extras make for convincing zombies.

gaylen-ross-david-emge-ken-foree-et-scott-hDawn of the Dead is all of that but bigger. While not as focused as the laser-sighted storytelling in Night, the sequel is great and stands on it’s own. Less frightening, its an examination of consumer culture, as well as the struggle to survive in a world that will never get better. The opening raid in the rundown apartment complex is brutal, but so is watching the relationships break apart. I’ve watched both Night and Dawn multiple times and they both bring something new to table with each viewing.

It was by luck that I came upon Day of the Dead on TV.  I was hooked by that creepy synth playing over the calls for any survivors during the opening credits. The story is maybe less focused and maybe the budget wasn’t up to the Romero’s vision. Taking place in an underground military base, the movie does have a sense of claustrophobia akin to Night. New to the table is the idea that zombies can be domesticated, maybe brought back from the brink. Of course, being the dark film this is, it doesn’t work out but the journey is still entertaining. The end is one of the best shock/relief moments of the series as well.

261025-1For my money, one of the most underrated movies is Land of the Dead. It made money at the time, riding the wave of growing zombie mania, and most critics liked it, but no one talks about it like the previous films. The focus on rich vs. poor in the undead landscape is just as depressing as the zombies themselves. And Dennis Hopper’s character, ruling over the high tower, might have been too ahead of it’s time. If this movie was released today, it would be considered a political attack on the current administration. Luckily, the themes are relatively timeless. And it has some of the most impressive zombie carnage the series has to offer.

Romero would go own to make more zombie movies, such as Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead and he has a whole career of non-zombie films that are worth checking out. But what I find so fascinating with the man is that he created a genre of film, of storytelling, and then used it to make the movies he wanted to create. Others might have decided to focus on the lore of these new worlds or made them into action films, like World War Z or the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. But not Romero.

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Romero wanted to tell stories about people, politics, race, consumerism and classism. So he told those stories, tricking viewers with zombie horror and gore. Creating a brand new genre wasn’t enough for him, he had to perfect it and show how many layers could be found within it. Heck, Night of the Living Dead could be done as a stage play and it wouldn’t lose anything in scale and would be just as compelling as Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Because of that, Romero made movies that will outlive him and remain watchable and timely. Because, while zombies may someday fall out of fashion, the ideas that fill his films will always be relevant. They’ll continue to inspire hopeful directors, writers and viewers. And they’ll continue to scare those who think age has weakened their potency.

On Bookcases, Comics and Board Games

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Use the reference puppy to scale the room.

It’s amazing what twenty dollars will do.

A week or so ago, I was in a very productive mood. I had my wife’s car tuned up, got my haircut, when grocery shopping and had earned some points on Shopkick. I also stopped at Target and bought a bookcase for twenty dollars. But that changed everything!

See, I wanted to move my six long boxes of comic books out of our dinning area. They were just sitting there; old, white dirty boxes filled with comics that never get read. But to move them, I had to buy a bookcase because we were using the boxes as shelf space. But, in order to fit all the boxes in my bedroom, I had to shrink the number down.

Anyway, moving the boxes out and putting the new shelves in meant more room in the dinning area, so we moved to the guinea pigs to the corner of that area and moved a bookcase from there to that now free space, spun the table around… Look, how we did it doesn’t matter. The point is, both the living and dinning rooms feel like they have more space.

Shrinking the comic boxes was not easy. I have a lot of single issues in them and I’ve promised myself to never willingly get rid of any X-Men comics, which make up about half of them. I was able, however, to get rid of a box and half, which meant they fit along my side of the bedroom now. Not as many as I wanted to go, but I’ll take what I can get.

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Still in there, but not so much in the way.

Actually, what I can get is some pretty hefty store credit. I took the comics to the Friendly Local Gaming Store we have in town and because of certain series, I got more money back than I expected. And paying bills was the last thing I would want to do with the money I got from selling those single issue pieces of my soul. I get it, it wasn’t very responsible. I’ve moved on, so let us do so here.

Now we talk about board games.

So, the past year I’ve been reading/watching everything on Shut Up and Sit Down and they’ve really turned me on to the modern board game scene. I’m not sure how I missed the beginnings of this (it’s probably due to the fact that when it was starting, I was playing lots of video games and Dungeons and Dragons, and then starting college), but now that I know it’s a thing, I want in. I always thought that Risk was the pinnacle of board games and that Settlers of Catan was the last great new game.

Color me surprised (which I would think is a shade of red) when I find out there are great new games coming out every month. For me, it started when I was at Barnes and Noble, doing some holiday shopping and I wandered over to the board game section of the store. Normally, the prices and my lack of familiarity kept me from staying long, but something caught my eye. It was called Forbidden Island, it came in a tin and it had some gorgeous art of the cover. It was also only fifteen dollars. When I brought it home, Kendra and I had a really fun time playing, it being my first cooperative game as well.

Later, I grabbed the ten dollar game, Love Letter, which has been a hit with us as well. Now, I want them all (I can’t have them all). But I have begun my (our) collection. Kendra and I both agreed to buy the Firefly board game a while back and it was fun, if also long, but I think we’ll have a better time when we play again knowing the rules. After I finished writing my book, we celebrated by buy a new game, this time it was Castles of Burgundy. Two things about that game, besides it being fun. First, it was in Barnes and Noble’s discount section for eighteen dollars, which made it a steal. Second, neither Kendra or I can call it anything but Castles of Ron Burgundy. We just can’t.

I got some birthday money a few months ago, which I used to buy Zombies!!! and Dixit. We haven’t played Dixit yet, since it needs at least three people, but I can’t wait. Coming up with creative descriptions for weird art? Yes, please. Kendra doesn’t want to play Zombies with me, because she’s afraid of the undead. And losing! I also found Carcassonne on sale and that’s a lot of fun.

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Store credit!

Back to the store credit. So, I used my comic book earnings to get some of the higher end and pricey games I’ve been wanting for a while. I picked up Ticket to Ride, which I like and Kendra’s been wanting it for a while. It’s definitely a good introduction game for people who just want to stick with Monopoly or Sorry. I got 7 Wonders, which I can’t wait to try with a full seven people someday, but also because I love building civilization that come with beautiful artwork.

I also bought Letters from Whitechapel, which is a game where when player is Jack the Ripper and the rest of are inspectors trying to catch his secret movements. The other bigger game was Eldritch Horror and even though I don’t love Lovecraft, the game hits a mark for me. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a cooperative game that you usually lose at, or the fact that you’re paranormal investigator’s traveling the world. Maybe it’s the fact that I want to like Lovecraft and this game does that without making me read dry stories that don’t always work. Maybe it’s because the components are so pretty. We may never know.

The last two game I want to mention are microgames. The first is One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which is a hidden roles game like Mafia, but smarter, quicker and with Werewolves. The second is The Resistance: Avalon, which is a Camalot-themed game of hidden roles and mission, where you’re trying to figure out who’s on which team, and who might be Merlin, and who might know who Merlin is but is a spy… it’s great. Both games are three to ten players, so you can guess what I’m bringing to holiday get-togethers now.

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Goodbye closet space!

I’m not buying anymore for a while, or at least until Christmas, but I will be slowing down with them anyway. For one thing, they take up a lot of closet space, which is why I had to rearrange the closet! Also, just because I have the game, that doesn’t mean I have the people to play them. I’ve been using Meetup to find gaming groups, and I’ve been to some and they are fun. Kendra’s going to actually come to one next week. It also showed me where there is swing dancing in Jacksonville, so that’s another thing we’ll be doing soon.

The thing I’m trying to do, by prayer and sheer force of will, is meet people with similar interest. It’s one thing to meet someone and make an acquaintance, it’s another to meet someone who wants to play a game like Eldritch Horror, or watch a Mystery Science Theater episode, or roleplay or anything like that. For a while, I thought it was selfish to want that, since I should be happy with being able to talk to anybody. But I need to game. It’s in my blood. I need to have fun in these specific ways or I start to get bored and depressed. I know life isn’t about fun and games all the time, but I need it regularly or I start to get like Jack Nicholson.

So, hopefully, I’ll know people by name at these game meetups soon. Hopefully, I’ll have people over for game and movie nights, that don’t involve Apples to Apples and Sandra Bullock.

Anyway, the point of the blog is that twenty dollars is a great price for a bookcase.

Gary the Awkwardly Adolescent Zombie

An animation project of mine.