“Day By Day Armageddon”
Permuted Press/Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books
Writer: J.L. Bourne
First-person narratives have a distinct rule: Find a voice and stick with it.
While I did enjoy J.L. Bourne’s first foray into the undead, I could not help but find myself taken in and out of the book by the lack of a distinct voice.
The book is meant to be a first-person journal written by a Texas Navy pilot (test pilot? Ensign?) who decides to stay barricaded in his home as news of a growing undead apocalypse unfolds. He goes through the steps any wise hunkered-down survivalist would go through: he steals MREs (meals ready-to-eat) from his Naval base, ensures plenty of clean water, ammo, and weaponry is in his basement, along with loads of batteries, etc. He luckily has a stone wall built around his home, allowing for a natural perimeter from the undead. He knows enough about military and CB radio communication to allow him to listen in as events unfold — the dead are coming back to life, the police are unable to dispatch the menace, and the government has now stepped in to manage the threat. As the impending military response looms, our unnamed narrator learns a neighbor across the way — who, luckily, happens to be an engineer — is still alive. After several days of communicating news back and forth (with Morse code and low-rent walkie-talkies, of course), the neighbor, John, and the narrator decide to haul arse to an airfield, abscond with a small plane, fill it with as much supplies and equipment as it will hold, and head to a less populated area, just in time to avoid a nuclear bomb drop.
The journal skips from day to day as the narrator and his new found friend (and a dog) head from location to location, in search of a place to escape the apocalypse, including an island. Along their way, they encounter a family — father, mother and daughter — and a lone young woman, all of whom the narrator decides to rescue from a horde of zombies, risking his life, and increasing his responsibility. The survivors eventually make their way to an underground bunker, where, finally, the story really begins to move. And, sadly, abruptly ends.
As mentioned above, the challenge with telling a story from a first-person perspective is the difficulty in finding a voice. A writer who decides to use this device must have a solid grasp on how his/her character conveys the story. A writer cannot go from commenting on how bad a writer they are (as the narrator admits a few entries into the journal) to describing events in very, very vivid detail — detail that could be only described as “overwriting” in some cases (if I was writing a journal describing my zombie-killing quests, I would not vividly describe killing one zombie on one page and simply say ‘I got rid of them’ on another), and an incestual connection to the source material in others (Bourne almost made me understand the start-up/pre-flight procedure of a Cessna at one point; he also gave a hell of a lot of detail in military protocol in dealing with a disaster scenario).
Romero Rules Followed: The undead here follow all the rules. No runners, but some seem to move a little faster than others, an insinuation that the nuclear fallout may have preserved the recently undead. The only way to dispatch them is to destroy the brain, or set them aflame.
Gore factor: Yeah, again, here is where the description becomes too much. Based on the journal-writer’s description, there is gore-aplenty.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Fine
Additional comments: Bourne’s writings were recommended to me by a man I interviewed, a one Chad Dukes, a man I highly respect when it comes to modern zombie lore, so, I sought out Mr. Bourne’s works. Dukes cited Bourne’s attention to real-world military detail. Bourne’s attention to detail in this aspect is something I can’t turn a blind eye to, even though I wouldn’t have a clue if he was accurate. I have to take the man at his prose (he does work in Washington, D.C., with the Department of Homeland Security, so he has a big leg up on me). While I have been fairly critical of Bourne’s first outing, I fully acknowledge I know “Armageddon” began as a blog and became a novel, a novel with sequential follow-ups. I plan to delve into the sequels, and they may appear here.
Hopefully Bourne’s narrator will find an identity.