Other Genres – October 2008

October 31, 2008

Last month I posted about some good, creepy books, but for October I thought I’d recommend some horror that’s a little more intense.

  • World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks
    This book is a future history of humanity’s struggle with a worldwide zombie outbreak. It’s not so much a comprehensive account of the zombie uprising as a collection of personal stories supposedly told to the author by survivors from all over the world.

    A South American doctor’s story suggests an idea for how the contagion spread so widely. A party bunker full of celebrities is endangered by their own egotism and sense of safety. A Chinese submarine crew escapes with their families rather than follow the increasingly erratic orders of their government. Other stories are about controversial military tactics, the crew of the international space station, and the ways that average people tried to survive.

    What makes this book stand out is the world-building. The situation may be unreal, but it’s easy for most of us to see the people, communities, and governments we know reacting similarly to their fictional counterparts. The journalistic style distances the reader a little from the action. That lessens any sense of hopeless, post-apocalyptic doom, because we know that, at the time that these stories were collected, circumstances have improved. But it also made the book feel more realistic, which meant it was more chilling.

  • Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami
    As part of an annual government program, a group of young teenagers (who think they’re going on a class trip) are gassed and taken to a remote island. The class is told that they are expected to fight to the death, and the seriousness of their situation is demonstrated in a shocking way. Each student gets a pack that contains a map, a compass, a flashlight, food, water, and an extra item. Some get guns or knives, others get more subtle weapons, and some people get random, seemingly useless, items. The program lasts for three days, and there can be only one survivor. Metal collars around their necks will monitor the members of the group. These collars are booby trapped and will detonate if the student tries to escape, breaks the rules, or is inside one of the ever-growing number of announced danger zones. Working together is not against the rules, but if more than one of the group is alive at the end of the third day then all of their collars will explode.

    Most of these kids have known each other for years, though there are a few extra teens who volunteered for the program. It’s interesting to see their reactions. Some begin targeting their classmates in a panic, while others try to ignore the whole situation. Some are trusting, some are paranoid, and a few take to murder with a level of enthusiasm that’s probably the most shocking aspect of the story.

    This is not a comfortable book to read, but it’s a good one. The film version is done well but it may seem even more brutal because you’re seeing things unfold. The movie’s sequel should be avoided.

  • The Ruins, by Scott Smith
    A group of young tourists visiting Mexico decide to go with a new friend to an active archeological site that he was told about. When they arrive, they get trapped in events that they can’t understand or control. It’s hard to say much more about the plot without spoiling it, but The Ruins is a smart, gory book that I really enjoyed despite my jaded view of most recent horror novels.

    The characters are put in a horrific situation, and as the tension builds they react differently than you may expect. By the time the climax arrives, you’re completely expecting it. You know what’s going to happen. It’s not a surprise. And yet the scene still manages to be as terrifying.

  • The Shining, by Stephen King
    Jack Torrence is a troubled, alcoholic writer who takes a job as the off season caretaker of a resort hotel that will be practically cut of from the outside world once the mountain passes fill with snow. He moves in with his wife Wendy and son Danny, planning to use the long winter hours to work on his novel. But young Danny Torrence has the Shining, a unique psychic ability that threatens to stir up the Overlook Hotel’s malevolent ghosts. The Overlook works on Jack, playing on his weaknesses and driving him towards madness.

    Even if you’ve seen the Kubrick movie, you’ll still find enough surprises to hold your interest because the film made quite a few changes. If you’ve never tried King before, The Shining is a great place to start.

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