For those of you who haven't read it, J.L. Bourne's Day by Day Armageddon started off with a simple idea: show a zombie apocalypse through as personal a lens as possible, via the journal of a survivor. Bourne, as an active member of the armed forces, brought enough battlefield knowledge and raw, honest humanity to make for an engrossing tale. As long as you could get past the lack of story to the story, it was an entertaining addition to the zombie genre. The sequel, Beyond Exile, for good or ill, is basically more of the same thing.
Once again, we are placed in the shoes of our narrator, at the exact point the previous book left off: reeling, but still standing after an attack by some roving marauders at the underground bunker nicknamed Hotel 23. Dead people are up and walking, those they kill get up and kill, etc. You know the drill.
Everything that Bourne did right with the first book is still here: the narrator is engaging, if a tad superheroic and the journal approach is handled with style and ease. There are moments, especially in some of the notes found in derelict or destroyed locations, which shine with heartbreaking brilliance. The voice is strong and the writing is smooth as butter.
Unfortunately, everything wrong with the first one is also present here, and is more glaring the second time around. This is a story where a whole lot of things happen, but they ultimately mean nothing. The only character we get to know in any real detail is exactly the same at the end of this book as he was at the beginning of the first one: a strong, knowledgeable, skilled and driven survivor. There is never a moment of believable weakness, he has no faults whatsoever and there is never even the mildest concern for his safety.
Further, the lack of a central, overarching conflict turns the whole into a series of events that amounts to nothing. Bourne even recycled the situation of the narrator by having him crash out in the middle of nowhere, spending much of the book with him trekking back to the Hotel (with magical resupply drops, killing all possible tension there). It took me much longer to read this than it should have because I couldn't bring myself to care.
I get and appreciate the idea behind it and few people have handled the correlation between zombie fiction and the war on terror, especially from the point of view of a soldier, with the same directness. It's a situation that seems like it will never end, with no definable big touchdown victories and only the vaguest hope of making it through the next encounter. Life doesn't work like fiction; nothing gets tied up at the end with a neat little bow. But that's also part of why we read fiction.
Visit www.jlbourne.com. Buy it today.
Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.