Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pavlov's Dogs review

    Werewolves vs. Zombies.

    If those three words intrigue you, then this is the book for you. In the spirit of Universal's The Wolfman vs. Dracula and similar titles, Pavlov's Dogs takes the kind of question that fanboys muse about and wrote a fun little story about it. Surprisingly, the book isn't wall-to-wall werewolf versus zombie action but frequently interrupted with the kind of survival horror common to zombie stories. The book also possesses a surprising amount of black humor, almost pushing it from horror to Urban Fantasy like The Dresden Files.

    It doesn't, though.

    Pavlov's Dogs manages to stay on the side of horror-action primarily because the humor is actually only a dim cover for a surprisingly dark story. Despite the ostensible good guys of the story having access to werewolves, the fact is humanity is getting overrun as it always seems to in these stories. Worse, the danger from within isn't just incompetent short-sighted humans like in most George Romero movies but genuinely evil ones. Also, as befits a story about two monsters fighting, either way humanity loses.

    The premise of the book goes a bit deeper than "zombies appear, werewolves fight them" and does something interesting with it. It reverses the usual treatment of werewolves as a purely mystical phenomenon and the recent trend of zombies being the product of mad science. In Pavlov's Dogs, it is the werewolves who are the creation of a mad government project while the zombies inexplicably appear with no warning or explanation.

    Honestly, I think I prefer this. While one might argue mindless cannibal humans is slightly more "realistic" than werewolves, I can more readily believe the military wants to create super-fast healing shapechangers over a plague which transforms the majority of mankind into feral monsters. Sorry Umbrella Corporation, I'm going to have to go with the mad scientists of Pavlov's Dogs here.

    Curiously, the book doesn't necessarily center around the werewolves or the zombies but people's reactions to them. The majority of the book is done from the perspectives of humans Ken Bishop and the treacherous Doctor Donovan. I'm not spoiling anything by saying Donovan is the bad guy, since the guy pretty much radiates scumbag from the moment he's introduced. Ken Bishop, by contrast, is an unlucky everyman thrust into an insane situation.

    Honestly, while Ken isn't my favorite character in the novel, he win props for being a head smarter than the vast majority of zombie story protagonists. Having noticed one of the group of survivors was bit by a highly infectious cannibal plague, he neither overreacts or ignores the problem but nonviolently isolates the infected survivor from the rest of the group. Nobody dies as a result of his decision. I don't think that's ever happened before.

    Really, my favorite character in the book is undoubtedly the villainous Kaiser. The "evil werewolf" for a basic summation of his character role, Kaiser is an intriguing figure with a more developed personality than he really had to possess. Effectively, he's a human being who has  adopted the morality of a wolf only supplemented with a man's intellect. Rather than simply parrot ideals about the "law of the jungle" or other tired old phrases, the book shows his thought processes and how dangerous he truly is to those around him.

    In a post-apocalyptic situation, there's usually a change up in the rules of society. I think it's interesting to speculate on how wrong Kaiser is that humanity might have to revert to primitivism in order to survive. Certainly, if they were able to transform the majority of humans in the novel into werewolves, it might have gone a long way to establishing mankind as having a fighting chance against the zombie menace.

     Ultimately, the book isn't really interested in developing Kaiser beyond his role as a foe for Ken Bishop and the other survivors but I found myself rooting for him until the very end. Kaiser is a monster but just how bad is he when compared to the looming threat of extinction? Can we really blame him for wanting to be Alpha when his ostensibly nicer commander isn't the strongest wolf? The book lets us make our own decisions about these things.

    If there's one complaint I do have about the book it's the handling of female characters. It's not that there's not a bunch of intriguing females in the book, there are. Shanya and Summer Chan both emerge as interesting characters in the later half of the book, arguably proving more effective than the protagonists in many ways. It's just they don't really play much of a role in the narrative. I hope, in future novels, we get to see these characters expanded upon and added to.

    Pavlov's Dogs is a dark, moving, funny, action-filled story at various parts. I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy a good night of seeing werewolves do battle with zombies and humans do battle with both.



  1. After reading this article (, most zombie apocalypse things don't really make sense.

    Dead tissue just doesn't last very long in many places.

    1. Eh, dead tissue doesn't usually walk around either but I'm willing to make allowances.