Torch those z’s

Z by Michael Thomas FordZ by Michael Thomas Ford
Publisher: HarperTeen
Number of pages: 288
My copy: hardbound, bought from Fully Booked

The First Rule of Torching: Cleanse with fire.

Josh is by far the best zombie Torcher around—at least, he is in his virtual-reality zombie-hunting game. Josh has quickly risen through the player ranks, relying on the skill, cunning, and agility of a real Torcher.

The Second Rule of Torching: Save all humans.

But luckily for Josh, zombies exist only in the virtual world. The real zombie war is now more than fifteen years in the past, and the battle to defeat the deadly epidemic that devastated his family—and millions of others—is the stuff of history lessons.

The Third Rule of Torching: You can’t bring them back.

Charlie is the top-ranked player in the game. Since all the players are shrouded in anonymity, Josh never expects Charlie to be a girl—and he never expects the offer she makes him: to join the underground gaming league that takes the virtual-reality game off the screen and into the streets. Josh is thrilled. But the more involved he gets, the more he realizes that not everything is what it seems. Real blood is spilling, members of the team are disappearing, and the zombies in the game are acting strange. And then there’s the matter of a mysterious drug called Z. . . .

* * *

One of our favorite past times/stress busters at work is zombie killing. No, seriously. Whenever we (namely Grace and I) find ourselves extremely stressed at work, and we have some money left, we’d troop over to Timezone (the nearest arcade at work) and start hogging the House of the Dead 4 machine and start blasting zombies away. There’s something really therapeutic about gunning down zombies and killing monsters, even if we never get past the third level.

Z by Michael Thomas Ford reminds me exactly of House of the Dead 4. Not with the story, but with how the book has a general zombie video game feel. Z immediately drops us into action as we follow Josh go through what seemed to be an abandoned hospital, looking for z’s to torch and humans to rescue. It seems very realistic at first, but we are surprised later by an interruption, where we find out that Josh is really just playing a video game, and one he wasn’t supposed to play.

But of course, Josh keeps on playing, and his skills were noticed by Charlie, one of the best players in the game. Josh gets invited to a secret gaming community that brings zombie torching into another level: a face to face game with real torches with seemingly real zombies and seemingly real blood. Josh is both horrified and fascinated, but since it’s not real, there’s no harm in playing, right?

Z has a pretty interesting take into zombies, different from what I have read so far. Zombies, according to Josh’s world, are not reanimated dead but people who contracted a mutant flu strain that enlarges the R-complex, or the reptilian part of the brain, removing all sentient thoughts of the person. This virus reduced the person’s ability to feel pain and thickened the blood, making the zombies hard to kill save for setting them on fire. The human being doesn’t exactly die but their humanity does, making them pretty much dead, anyway. It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t really lessens the horror of zombies. In fact, it may make things even scarier, since the virus takes living people and turns them into the undead right in front of you.

I like how the author managed to put in the game feel in the story. The descriptions were sharp and vivid, and the zombie hunting scene carried enough tension to make me gasp in surprise whenever some z’s show up. The author was able to put some kind of “face” for the zombies by their little gory descriptions — hair and scalp pulled out, milky eyes, rotting mouth, etc. The zombies here are not just one mob of undead shuffling towards the living but individual horrifying people that used to be the characters’ friends. This is the very strong point of Z in my opinion, and it gives the book an overall gaming feel, a-la Resident Evil or House of the Dead.

However, that’s where the strength ends. I felt the plot of the book a bit lacking. While there was an element of surprise in the zombie hunts, the overall story arc is pretty typical as far as zombie novels are concerned. It’s pretty straightforward, really, and while there was one twist that was kind of unexpected, the rest were pretty predictable. I feel like there’s really nothing new that Z could offer as far as zombie stories are concerned. It’s not shallow, but it just doesn’t have the depth that other zombie novels managed to capture.

I would recommend Z as a sort of fluffy reading for zombie aficionados and gamers (be it PS3, PSP or even a wii — are there zombie games on Wii’s?). Like with other reviewers, I think this book is written more for the younger audiences, particularly boys. It’s fun, it’s gory, but it’s not really the zombie novel that changed my life.

Rating: [rating=3]

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