Saturday, January 28, 2012

THIS IS NOT A TEST by Courtney Summers

Coming June 19th, 2012 from St. Martin’s Press

I’ve never been the biggest zombie fan. {My gf just told me that’s because I suck.} Maybe, but I’m actually more a fan of real old school mind controlled zombies. {She just rolled her eyes at me for saying that. She loves “Zombies”}

But I’m not here to debate what is and isn’t a zombie. I just brought that up to state that going into any modern zombie story it has to really be good to make any sort of impact with me because I usually don’t go in expecting much.

The only zombie stories I list among my favorite books and movies is the original Night Of The Living Dead, Shaun Of The Dead, and the early stories of The Walking Dead.

This Is Not A Test sits right there with them to me but I’m also a fan of all of the books written by Courtney Summers. She is one of the few writers who I will buy anything she writes. Right there with Paul Cornell, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Nova Ren Suma, and Gail Simone. I’ll check out anything they are involved in.
I will confess right away that even though I’m staking my lifes writing in the digital book field, this was the first full length e-book I have ever read. One for this is I don’t own an e-reader and two I don’t have the best eyes and after writing for a good deal of the day, the last thing I really want to do is stare at a screen even more, but this book got a hold of me and said READ ME YOU HALF WITTED, CLOSE TO GOING BLIND BASTARD.

When I heard that Courtney Summers was going to write a zombie book I brain exploded. Having been a fan of her blog for years I knew she really knew what it takes to make a good zombie and horror story. This extra long paragraph could be the whole review in one but I’m too long winded to do that. At first thought upon hearing about her doing a zombie book I wondered would she tackle the tropes of zombie and horror stories? Would she explore and hint or homage the great films she has said in the past she is a fan of? Just how epic would the epicitude of this book be? What she did was the job of what a writer does? She wrote a great story, a very good book.

This is a book that doesn’t hold back its blows, then again from reading previous books by the author, she doesn’t hold back much and that skill {and it’s a skill} and daring to go where many would not go, the fearless path of this writer continues with This Is Not A Test.

My first thoughts after finishing this book was how much I enjoy a writer who doesn’t care if you want to like their characters. I love a writer who looks at the reader and basically says you want this person to stand out, sorry no. You want this to happen, no. Happy endings your thing, I don’t care. This story is this story. I respect a writer who will make you uncomfortable and it isn’t in the shock for shocks sake method but through a submersion into the human condition of suffering.

What some really good writers do is they make you uncomfortable to the point it stays with you a bit. That’s storytelling at its core. They can do that with things that happen within a story or with a slurping into your brain on how much you may be like a character, even if that makes you really uncomfortable.

Basically what I’m saying is, uncomfortable is the job of a writer if they can do it without it being a stunt. Courtney Summers does it with talent and what seems like sometimes to be a key into your spirit and soul.
This has happen to me with each book Courtney Summers has written. Each one has had something in it that made me uncomfortable. That hit home. That hurt. Here it happens with the character of Cary. I won’t say how his actions make me think this, that would be spoilers, but the uncomfortable comes in how I would react in the same situations. I will say that it unnerved me a bit and I applaud the writer for that.

This story contains a very strong cast of characters and even though you have the lead character who let you into her thoughts as the story is told, it is truly a strong assembly of human beings with full builds with each character. No character is wasted. No moment written without purpose.

There are many HOLY SHIT moments in this story and each one hit at just the right moment.
Eating away at you when you read most zombie stories are that the writers are doing everything they can to avoid the subject of zombies or you have writers consumed with the subject so much they forget about working on the non walking dead characters. This Is Not A Test is a very nice balance. The zombies are a major part of the story but not to the point where the living characters end up doing stupid thing after stupid thing to “Get back to the zombie fun.”

If all zombie stories were this well crafted I could wolf down one after the other but I guess you could say that about any story. My main problem with zombie stories in the past hasn’t been that the subject isn’t interesting but that the subject by nature calls on writers to really write strong dramatic characters without fear of the actions their characters might want to take. Most writers fail at this and that’s why I find a lot of zombie stories boring. What this writer does is something I was told a long time ago by a teacher, “Don’t be afraid to let your characters live their steps in life.”

Another thing I took from this story was the devouring sibling relationships that exist within the story. Yes, I said devouring. I didn’t misspell that or use the wrong word. The last book I read with such a strong sibling relationship was Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma and that was my favorite book of 2011.

I don’t like these types of stories to be a war or for them to be a slaughter. I want them to be a day in and day out suffering of breathing in and out until the people find peace and then get butchered in different ways for their happiness. I found joy in how that is accomplished with this book.

Most zombie stories I think are an experiment in how much a writer knows about writing real studies of humanity. Or they could just be about political shit. Or played for laughs. The problem when something becomes popular be it vampires, angels, or zombies is that sometimes writers forget to just write a good story. Courtney Summers wrote one hell of a story.

In the end this story gets the highest rating I give because it does what all writers should strive to do with their stories. This story is the story it should be. It’s brave, HOLY SHIT, hardcore, and worth it to fans of zombies or fans of good storytelling in general.

5 out of 5 stars for
This Is Not A Test
Coming June 19th, 2012 from St. Martin’s Press