Book Review: Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?, Max Brallier (2011)

October 31st, 2014 12:31 pm by Kelly Garbato

Needs More Fedoras

two out of five stars

It’s Monday morning, and you’re suffering through yet another Dilbert-esque meeting while also nursing an epic hangover. Suddenly, Angela the receptionist bursts into the conference room and turns on the tv. Before you are scenes of your home – New York City; specifically, Manhattan – as you’re never seen it: overrun by the walking dead. A supposed riot at Mount Sinai soon gives way to a massacre as zombies swarm out of the building, attacking doctors, nurses, reporters, pedestrians – anyone and everyone in their path.

Do you: a) take a taxi out of the city; b) jog twelve blocks to the subway; or c) head home to your shoebox of an apartment?

Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? is a lot like those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that were popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s (see also: “Which Way Books,” “Plot-Your-Own-Adventure Stories,” “Solve It Yourself,” etc.; I am still particularly fond of my A-TEAM and MAGNUM, P.I. mysteries) – but with more f-bombs. Written for the now-grown fans of these books, Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? features more adult situations and language – yet the writing remains painfully juvenile.

Brallier promises the reader: “No longer do you get to sit back idle as a bunch of fools make all the wrong moves. All hell is about to break loose – and this time you have a say in humanity’s survival.” Yet you – or rather the character you’re forced to play – frequently acts like a fool, making all sorts of doltish decisions over which you have little control. You know, the many decisions crammed into the narrative between the multiple choice options. For example: you get to decide whether or not to answer a call from your mom, but have no say in whether you accept her $500 offer to head on out to Staten Island. (Because cash is so useful during the apocalypse!) You stay behind in a warehouse and somehow manage to lock your silly ass in a meat freezer. You pound beer like it’s water, smoke a small dispensary’s worth of pot, and try to get laid even as the walking dead are scratching at your door.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for bizarre plot twists; but whatever path you choose, your character ends up doing all sorts of stupid, nonsensical shit.

As if that’s not bad enough, your character is the worst: a dudebro. Ostensibly white, young (twenty-five), solidly middle class, with an overpriced apartment in Manhattan and a vaguely corporate job that you don’t like and probably don’t deserve. You’re all about getting wasted and getting laid. You refer to the older woman upstairs as “that rent control bitch” after she complains about your rude, late-night parties, and enjoy shooting at pigeons over zombies because at least they react with pain. You think porn is a smart choice when scavenging for supplies. Needless to say, I don’t relate to this character AT ALL. Relate? Heck, I don’t even like him! I can’t say I was all that disappointed to watch him die time and again.

There really isn’t any race or gender diversity here; people of color and women primarily appear as zombies (or soon-to-be zombies) and objects of conquest and desire; set pieces and love interests. Choosing a straight, middle-class white dude as a narrator might seem like a neutral choice, but that’s only if you accept all these characteristics as the default. I don’t.

In one especially egregious example, your character winds up in a strip club for extra exploitation potential. A sex worker of vaguely Asian descent comes to the rescue with – you guessed it! – samurai swords, which she conveniently wields with ease. Cue scenes of Yakuma slicing topless zombie chicks into pieces. As if this isn’t bad enough, the accompanying artwork shows a nearly-naked Yakuma taking to the stripper pole, eviscerating zombies as she spins round and round. The only problem? By this point in the narrative, Yakuma has traded in her g-string and pasties for street clothes, so the illustration isn’t even accurate. Sexual objectification much?

Brallier has another one of these books in the works (Highway to Hell); I can only hope he goes with a nonwhite or female narrator the next time around. If the cover art is any indication, I’m not getting my hopes up.

I was ready to give this book a solid three stars for the nostalgia factor alone – until I reached the strip club scene, that is. That made me want to choose the path where I throw my Kindle in a wood chipper and buy a brand-new one, one that hasn’t yet been sullied by the heterosexism and white male privilege of Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?.

On the plus side, the Kindle has a leg up over printed books when it comes to this genre: since each choice contains a hyperlink, it’s super-easy to navigate forward, and you can jump back a choice or two using the back arrow. No more flipping pages back and forth until your fingers bleed.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Not much. People of color and women primarily appear as zombies (or soon-to-be zombies) and objects of conquest and desire; set pieces and love interests. One plot line involves a sex worker of vaguely Asian descent named Yakuma, who’s sexually objectified, particularly in the accompanying illustrations. See the review for details.

 

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