Friday, June 19, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith)

I have never been this excited to write a book review in my life. Actually, strike that. I have never been this excited to write ANYTHING in my life. I don't even know what else to say, I have to just get right into it.


The synopsis is as straightforward as it gets. The book is Pride and Prejudice... and Zombies. It follows the story of the Bennet family of Hertfordshire, England, and their five unmarried daughters, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia, and what happens to them when a rich, eligible bachelor moves into a nearby estate. And there are zombies. Jane falls in love with Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth, Lydia falls in love with everybody. And there are zombies. For once, the blurb on the back cover of the book got it absolutely right:

Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read.

It's Pride and Prejudice! And Zombies! Okay, I admit, I was a little skeptical going into this reading. There's no way this book can be as good as it sounds, right? WRONG! Seth Grahame-Smith is apparently some kind of genius. He left 90% of the original Jane Austen story, language and drama intact, and just added a plague of undeath that has been the bane of all England for a few decades. He even flavors it up by making the Bennet sisters trained in the "deadly arts," having spent years studying hand-to-hand combat under a Master Liu in China (the rich people send their kids to Kyoto, of course). You would think the random Asian influences and the hordes of walking dead interrupting trips to town and glamorous balls would throw the story out of whack, but somehow it really doesn't at all. It's scary how seamless the entire notion of a zombie-ridden countryside is actually worked into the narrative. Grahame-Smith maintains the voice and mannerisms of the pre-Victorian era even when discussing the proper way to decapitate "unmentionables." There are honestly times when I wasn't altogether sure whether a certain line was written in as a smooth transition into a zombie moment, or if it had actually been a preexisting line that Grahame-Smith utilized as a perfect jumping off point.

One of the very best pats of the book comes at the very end, however, after the actual story is finished. Grahame-Smith includes a "Reader's Discussion Guide," similar to one you might find in a summer reading book, except hilarious. Examples include:

1. Many critics have addressed the dual nature of Elizabeth's personality. On one hand, she can be a savage, remorseless killer, as we see in her vanquishing of Lady Catherine's ninjas. On the other hand, she can be tender and merciful, as in her relationships with Jane, Charlotte, and the young bucks that roam her family's estate. In your opinion, which of these "halves" best represents the real Elizabeth at the beginning—and end of the novel?

3. The strange plague has been the scourge of Englad for "five-and-fifty years." Why do the English stay and fight, rather than retreat to the safety of eastern Europe or Africa?

7. Does Mrs. Bennet have a single redeeming quality?

10. Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sale. Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen's plot and social commentary. What do you think? Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?

Genius. The rest of the book is just as hilarious, if not more so. I don't think I have ever recommended a book to anyone as strongly as I recommend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It's absolutely fantastic, everyone needs to read this book.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I can't think of any other time I've had this much fun with a novel. I hope there are more like this to come.

It's hilarious, and the zombie parts and original parts are seamless interwoven. I can't think of any book that more successfully lived up to its premise.

READ THIS BOOK! It's absolutely incredible. There's something for everyone.


It's going to be very difficult for anything to get a higher Daily Genoshan rating than 9.22. This may not be my absolute favorite book of all time, but I would definitely argue that it's the most well executed (or beheaded, or devoured, or slowly zombified via a bite to the leg). Go read this book, Genoshans.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 (David Petersen)

I'm reviewing a comic this week, but only because I'm reading the GREATEST book right now and won't be done with it for a few more days. That and I'm starting to enjoy reviewing comic books, so deal with it.


Remember that movie from when you were little, The Secret of NIMH? It came from a book, actually, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Weren't those mice great? And An American Tail, and its sequel,—in my opinion one of the greatest sequels of all time—An American Tail: Fievel Goes West? Remember those? Didn't they make you respect rodents so much more, thinking that it was possible that they led these interesting lives with their own little cultures and battles? And Ralph from The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Weren't they so cool? Yeah, the mice of Mouse Guard would kick the crap out of all of them.

Life in 1152 was hard enough for people, just think about all the stuff mice would've had to deal with back then. There were no massive concrete cities for them to hide in, these mice were out in the wild with nowhere to go. Cats, snakes, weasels, the Mouse Guard was formed to protect the lives of ordinary mouse citizens from these terrors, as well as keep the peace among the different mouse communities themselves. In the first chapter three guardsmice gut a rattlesnake and discover a traitorous plot. In the second two other guardsmice fight off an attacking group of crabs from their shoreline outpost. These mice don't screw around. The main story revolves around those first three mice, Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon, trying to figure out who has turned their back on the Mouse Guard and how they're going to be able to stop them in time. It's a simple concept, but it's written and drawn incredibly well. Petersen gives us just enough backstory to know that this is an entire universe waiting to be explored, without bogging it down with superfluous detail. It isn't the most groundbreaking idea that's ever existed by any means, but it's a solid piece of writing, with beautifully detailed art to match. I'm definitely looking forward to picking up the sequel, Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, when it comes out this summer.


Mouse Guard: Fall 1152
by David Petersen

Again, it isn't the most original idea ever, but Petersen executes well, and that's what really counts with this one.

It's a medieval action comic about mice, and it's drawn well. That's basically all you need to know, you'll either like it or you won't.

The whole thing comes together nicely. It's not overly complex, but it's also not just a book for little kids. I say check it out.


Make sure you tune in next week, Genoshans, because I can tell you that the book I'll be reviewing kicks ass. You're gonna want to know about this one.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Martian Tales Trilogy (Edgar Rice Burroughs)

Ok, for real this time. Let's get back to some good old fashioned criticism.


In 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs was basically a loser. He was over 40 years old and had done next to nothing with his life. Without really anything to lose, he decided to become a writer. Somehow that idea actually worked. The three books collected in The Martian Tales Trilogy are A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars, which came out in 1912, 1913 and 1914, respectively. 1912 was also the year Burroughs published the first Tarzan novel, Tarzan of the Apes, so this guy just came out of nowhere and basically became a huge international hit.

These first three books in what would eventually be an 11-book series, all center around the adventures of one character, John Carter. Even though it's technically three novels, the first two both end in cliffhangers that pick up directly in the next book, so it makes sense to read all three as one big book. In that way—and only that way—it might be considered a precursor to The Lord of the Rings trilogy (although to be fair, LOTR is actually broken up into six books, but that's a conversation for another time). Anyway, John Carter is actually a Virginian, and fought in the Civil War, but for some reason seems to have special powers that never get explained. The first chapter of the first book starts out:

I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possible I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty.

So it's weird right off the bat. Fairly early on in that first book, John Carter apparently dies, but somehow leaves his body and travels to Mars (although this is never truly explained either, at least not in these three installments). Upon reaching Mars, he discovers that his Earthling physiology gives him much greater proportionate strength than he did at home, so he is able to jump extremely far and hit people really hard. He is found by a group of monstrous Green Martians—not to be confused with the more human-looking Red Martians, Black Martians, or White Martians that are introduced later—and meets Tars Tarkas, who ultimately becomes his best friend on Mars, and Dejah Thoris, a Red Martian princess of the Martian city-state Helium, whom he immediately falls in love with. From then on it's pretty much 700 pages of swashbuckling sword fights, strange Martian technology, narrow escapes and damsels in distress. No, seriously. That's all it is. And you know what? It's actually pretty awesome.

Burroughs was one of the great early writers of pulp and science fiction novels, so there isn't a whole lot of great literary discourse going on in these books, but they are so entertaining. Every chapter ends in the midst of some kind of conflict, it's riveting. And each time you think things are going to calm down for a second, or that John and Dejah Thoris are finally going to be together, something screws it up. A lot of the writing can get repetitive, and sometimes I was sitting there going "Really? Really John Carter? You haven't slept or eaten in three days, have been stabbed eighteen times, just went on for three pages about how there is no possible physical way to get out of this situation, and are now successfully fighting off three hundred trained swordsman (swordsmartians?), who at the beginning of the book were noted as being the best in existence? Really?" So maybe it's a tad unrealistic at time. Oh yeah, and it's incredibly sexist. Every woman John Carter meets immediately falls in love with him, subsequently gets kidnapped and must be rescued (they're all naked, by the way, Martians don't wear clothes for some reason). But I think I'm ok with all of that. Sometimes it's fun not to have to think too much, and to enjoy the three hundred thousand Martians bearing down on you with only six minutes left to save your beloved princess from being locked away in a revolving tower with no food for a full year while the palace you're in burns down around you. It's so extreme, all the time, it never lets up. And I mean, come on, it takes place on Mars in the early 1900s, and the guy is writing about technology and scientific principles that hadn't even been conceived of yet. He goes into depth about an oxygenation system for the entire planet, cheap and reliable air transport, all kinds of stuff. And then later in the year goes the complete opposite direction and writes Tarzan. It's not something I would put up for the Nobel Prize or anything, but I'm gonna give the guy some credit.


The Martian Tales Trilogy
by Edgar Rice Burroughs

It may not seem as original now, but for the time it was written this was groundbreaking stuff. Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke both cite Burroughs as heavy influences in their work.

If you don't like cheesy pulp/sci-fi stories, these may not be for you. For what it is, though, it's some of the best that's ever been written.

These books are a lot of fun, and sometimes that's all that really matters. They keep you on the edge of your seat as John Carter pulls solutions out of nowhere and saves the woman he loves time and time again.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

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