Review by M. Jane Letty
1200 words*3-minute read
This book arrived and sat on my desk for about a week until one night I picked it up, took it upstairs to bed with me and have dragged it around with me to read every chance I’ve had. The structure of the chapters and exceptional edit/polish for publication made that effortlessly possible, too. It’s not exactly set up with traditional chapters so much as it’s a collection of vignettes that all tie in with the story, of which the author’s role is interviewer of carefully selected survivors and their recollections of a zombie war that quickly ravages every corner of the world in 2018, leaving behind deep and indelible wounds in the psyche of the characters. The interviews take place in the year 2031, long after the shock and panic of such a catastrophic event to how they’ve learned to cope or justify their newfound—and very fortunate—existence. I found this format very clever, and it made the premise of this zombie novel all the more intriguing. Be sure to read the About the Author and :::0::: “For Those We Lost” so you’ll be better able to appreciate his impressive skill at crossing over from one genre to this one, and don’t be put off by his cheeky tone or subtle plug for his other books. I found it charming and far more generous than the writers who’ve forgotten who they write for—you, the reader. Not to mention, writers are inherently quirky, and no one sells their books better than they do. The Preface is also critical, or you’ll be lost. You don’t want to get lost in a zombie apocalypse!
The author-as-interviewer sets up the backstory upfront, providing details that pair well with the richness of every single character, which some readers may also find familiar and evocative of their actual, current roles. Depending on where one’s needle sits on the geopolitical scale, the author delicately straddles contemporary issues so as not to lean too heavily or tug too hard from either direction or bog it down, except there is a very subtle tilt the reader will recognize when they see it. Regardless, it will raise some eyebrows and question the timing and foresight of this plot, especially its casted repertoire. Some of the events are disturbingly prophetic and analogous with actual and current events that had not yet been unleashed at the time of its conception or printing, (August 2017).
From the well-travelled to the armchair-nomad reader, the author vividly imported locales and their customs to be revisited or explored, respectively, and gives an immediate sense of being transported. The balance is struck with the author giving the characters plenty of space to (re)live and breathe, telling their stories from a first-person narrative. This, I found, to be more like a mouse in his pocket than a fly on the wall. I liked that, very much. At the end of each interview, I felt both a sense of sorrow for each in their sudden thrust into a new way of being and my small, small world expanded; reminding me while everyone’s backyard is relative, in the case of a zombie apocalypse the only separation will be a barricade.
Although this is a novel about a zombie apocalypse, it is not bloated by gratuitous gore or nausea-inducing blood and guts. Even for the reader who’s never read or has refused to read a zombie novel would find this, shall we say, delicious. It was very easy to suggest to fellow readers who’ve graciously waited for my review to share their impression of this novel. Full-disclosure: I’m currently writing a zombie apocalypse novel and this title is among a few I’ve carefully chosen to use as inspiration and to appreciate the writer’s journey—theirs and mine. I can’t promise I’ll review the others, but this one was so unique and compelling to me in both the premise and the moral of the story I couldn’t resist review it to encourage you to read it.
My most likeable character was Nasreen Bahori and least likeable was James McIntyre; the one I would run to would be Officer Rafael Valenzuala and run like the devil from Charles Joseph Buckley. The locales I found the most vivid were Ha Long Bay, Vietnam and the most terrifying was a tie between Tilos, The Aegean Sea and BP Magnus Platform, North of the Shetland Islands. The saddest story was Portland, Oregon; the most pleasant was Mandore, Rajasthan, India. The pivotal, which I’ll let you decide if they give you a chill or a thrill, Cornwall, England or :::13:::.
It was difficult to choose even one story over another to mention as a favorite because they were all chilling and moving, and the copyright limits to “brief quotation for book review”. That’s okay, because you’re going to read the book and find yourself where I am—moved by all, some more than others, but moved. However, I have the privilege of having to carefully choose which ones to whet your…appetite. After gnawing on it for a day, here are the two lines that haunted me: “People are people. I don’t care where they’re from. If there’s one lesson we should take from the last decade of hell it’s that we’re all in this together.” As repulsed as I am by this misappropriated, overused term of entrapment to extend concern to some of the very people who seem to take and not reciprocate, and how disingenuous this phrase has become, it’s a cautionary reminder of what we’ve already taken for granted and/or after having had a once generously compassionate nature cruelly stripped to the bone. The other line is also cautionary, but not for the same pleading for a return to a more civil society. This one I found most chilling because it makes the zombies more palatable and deserving of mercy than those who would survive them: “They’re welcome to it as far as I’m concerned. I’ve got my tomatoes.” This one made me bristle at the realization there are those among us who truly believe the world would be better off without the rest or most of us, just so long as it’s not them and they get what they desire—which is less of us in exchange for more for them. The sooner we accept this, the better off most of us will be if only to save and share resources with those worth saving should we ever face a zombie apocalypse and have to build a new civilization, allowing the selfish and arrogant to become extinct next time. For now, the best we can do is wait them out or starve them of our attention, which they crave more than they’ll admit.
The parallel of those lines is what led me to conclude the title of this book doesn’t tell the story of how the world ends so much as how fragile we all are and vulnerable to what happens once a civilized society is divided and conquered. A very cautionary tale that was either not as widely read as it should’ve been before our current times, or it was relegated to the running theme of mutually nostalgic regret of realizing too late “we’re all in this together” means different things to different people at the end of the day…or the world as we now know it.
This is the Way the World Ends: An Oral History of The Zombie War
By Keith Taylor
Print length: 372 pages
Publication date: August 3, 2017
Thank you for reading this review! I do hope you’ll consider reading the book as a result. Please let me know what you think of the review, the book, or both in the comment section below; or if you prefer, rate or share. ~MJL