Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: 99 Brief Scenes from the End of the World, by T.W. Grim

99  Brief Scenes From The End Of The World 3.5/5 -- MA-LSV

This book started out as a 2.5 and performed the unusual feat of raising itself to a 3.5 by the time I finished it. 99 Brief Scenes From The End Of The World  was stealthy, sneak-up-on-you-good, despite some intrinsic flaws, and I'm glad I stuck with it.

The bad news first: Right out of the box I was irritated that the structure of the book was not as implied by the title. I expected something more like David Eagleman's strange and wonderful Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, only with splatterrific zombie gore. So, when characters and locales began to make repeat appearances, I had to revise my expectation (99 unique pieces of apocalyptic flash-fiction), to reading what is better described as a novel with 99 chapters. These are not always "brief scenes," and some are a bit filler-y, not strictly necessary to the story as a whole. It seems to me that a final round of edits could have pulled this all together into a tight, suspenseful novel not reliant on the random titular number for its structure.

Now for the good news: Grim's book does have a number of things going for it; despite my initial irritation I found it impossible to put down. First and foremost, Grim -- a talented, descriptive writer -- does good character work. Once I finally got to know the core cast of survivors, I became invested their fate(s), and admired the way his craft allows their singular stories to eventually dovetail. Some of the global-picture characters (the foaming-at-the-mouth US President, or the morality-challenged leaders of a Japanese science/weapons lab) certainly might have been excised or toned down a wee bit. Though I suppose they serve to give us a window into the global situation, I found that the struggle for survival (and sanity) of the everyday citizens was more tethered in realism, and gave me more to sink my teeth into.

Speaking of which . . . absolutely key to this particular genre is the splatter, and Grim pours forth an endless stream of surprisingly innovative mayhem. The man knows his gore, and and has a million ways to spill it. in fact, a couple of unbelievably disgusting scenes really worked their way under my skin -- and I eat dinner while watching "The Walking Dead," so do the math. Grim also conceives an unusual twist on the now-standard zombie/rage virus trope (tiny spoiler: it's neither one!) which might allow a continuance of the story . . . something challenging to achieve when writing about an extinction-level event.

Because the unexpected twist piqued my interest, and because it takes a lot to actually gross me out, I not only upgraded this book to "liked a lot" status; I'll happily read any follow-up work Grim gets out there.

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