Morbidly fascinating, even in its deadpan style; likely to become a staple in zombie collections.

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Bulletin of ZOMBIE Research

VOLUME 1

Leppanen’s sci-fi debut is a collection of scientific reports on how best to control and manage the worldwide spread of Zooanthroponotic Occult MetaBiomimetic Infectious Encephalitis—zombies!

The Society of Zombie Research and Management conducts studies on zombies, who have been a serious concern for about 50 years—long enough that undead test subjects can be selected from a containment facility in Minnesota. The research involves people in various stages, such as asymptomatic humans who have tested positive for ZOMBI Encephalitis or those in the more advanced stages, typically demarcated by the consumption of human flesh. Experiments range from the effect zombies have on monarch butterflies, which seem to prefer them as hosts for feeding and pupating, to the public’s association of baldness or thinning hair with infected humans. Leppanen commits completely to her book, abandoning a standard narrative and writing in the cold voice of a scientific study, including graphs, tables and selected literature (both genuine and fictional) at the end of each study. But hidden within the technological jargon is the story of a world surviving a devastating epidemic. Aside from the Convention on Global ZOMBIE Safety, there’s mention of humans killing other humans based on the mere probability that individuals with different colored eyes could be infected. There are also instances of utter creepiness: In one experiment, humans are dosed with aminopyralid, an herbicide, in an effort to combat the problem resulting from weeds growing at a faster rate in zombie tissue; and expectant mothers should be wary of the study involving infected pregnant women (hint: “cannibalistic offspring”). But it’s Leppanen’s academic approach to ZOMBI Encephalitis that resonates loudest. Zombies are unmistakably the norm, and the research nonchalantly takes into account a few horrifying issues—e.g., an inability to determine a test subject’s time of death, since he or she may appear alive, and in a study on zombie communication, speculation that zombies are frustrated because there’s no one to eat. The studies do become progressively more intense (one dealing with infected cancer patients surviving longer than uninfected ones), but the eight experiments, presented as separate sections, could be ingested in any order.

Morbidly fascinating, even in its deadpan style; likely to become a staple in zombie collections.

Pub Date: June 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499576757

Page Count: 184

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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