Sunday, January 17, 2016

Undead L.A. review

    Devan Sagliani is the grandmaster of independent zombie fiction. In a genre which has produced thousands of (largely sub-par) works in the past decade, Devan has managed to produce some of the most consistently entertaining works in an over-saturated market. His Zombies Attack! Young Adult novels are my favorite of his works but, certainly not his only ones. Indeed, I was greatly looking forward to his Undead L.A. series and am sorry I didn't get to read them earlier.

    The premise of the book isn't particularly original: zombies appear in Los Angeles and we follow a group of individuals as they cope with the tragedy but the success of the novel is in the execution. Devan paints a picture of a Los Angeles full of people who are rich, poor, stupid, smart, good, and evil before analyzing how they react when the world goes to hell.

    Written along the lines of World War Z, Undead L.A. follows the adventures of several Los Angeles residents who are trying to survive a single day before the military bombs the hell out of the city. I confess, I was surprised to realize that would be the running theme as I'm used to the military completely screwing up in containing the zombie-virus.

    A collection format is generally a good idea because it allows the stories to be short, sweet, and often end on a depressing note. Only a few of the protagonists are rescued or manage to escape and that adds a somber but realistic note to the storyline. The cast of characters is also fairly diverse with an airline pilot, an inner city gangbanger's girlfriend, a dying schoolteacher, a migrant worker, and a cop who doesn't play by the rules. I confess, I felt the last one was a bit of a stereotype but once I thought of him as Al Pachino's character from Heat, I had to say his story rocketed up to the top of my favorites.

    Los Angeles has always been a setting for Noir fiction, ironically because it's the exact opposite of the dark and rainy cities the genre was created in. Los Angeles is a beautiful city on the outside but home to countless stories of sex, crime, corruption, and abuse. Devan Sagliani draws from this genre for many of his stories and quite a few are more than halfway over before the zombies show up.

    For those who want to watch people struggling through zombie-infested hell, this book is probably not for them as the zombies are more of a coda that brings an end to the stories rather than the driving force. It may not be for everyone but I think this nicely differentiates the collection from others in the genre. The zombies here are the inevitability of death and while one story deals with survival, it's a bait-and-switch since survival is an illusion because we know the city is going to be reduced to rubble soon.

    Of the stories within the book, I'd have to say I probably enjoyed the police officer's tale the most. Detective Gary Wendell is a archetypal cop chasing after a serial killer who is eluding the cops thanks to his high priced lawyers and a lack of evidence. The end of the world should mean more than this but it's also an opportunity for justice: but does that accomplish anything and can it really be justice if killing a monster prevents Gary from helping others? Lots of interesting questions there and while there were a few contrived coincidences in the story, I still think it was great.

    I also enjoyed the story of Edgar Renyolds the Airline Pilot, who is a complete ass and one who probably deserves to be eaten by zombies but you have to admire the tenacity of. I found the story of Kathleen the school teacher also effecting as she doesn't have much time left but deserves to spend it better than in this hell. Not all of the stories were 100% to my tastes and some of the endings made me mad but, overall, I very much enjoyed this novel and recommend it to all zombie fans.


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