This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books
Book: The Vegan Revolution… with Zombies
Author: David Agranoff
Type of Book: Fiction, horror, zombies
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s published by an Eraserhead imprint and while not odd in the vein of complete bizarro, there are enough odd elements in this book that I likely would have discussed it here whether or not Zombie Week happened.
Availability: Published by Deadite Press in 2010, it’s available but wait about a month or so to get a copy, and I will explain the reason for this recommendation.
Comments: Okay, let me get site business out of the way. I am giving away a copy of all five books I am discussing for Zombie Week and one lucky reader will get a chance to win all five of them. All you have to do to enter the drawing to win all five books is to leave me a comment on any of the five Zombie Week discussions. If you want to increase your chances of winning, leave a comment on all five entries. And while only one comment per day per entry will count as an entry to win the books, please leave more comments if the spirit moves you. I rather have enjoyed the comments and conversations that have taken place over the course of Zombie Week.
Now that the site business is out of the way, let me get two unpleasant points out of the way as well. First, this book discusses veganism. It discusses it earnestly while having the social, ethical and emotional honesty to poke fun at and satirize elements of vegan beliefs. But it has been my experience that there are a certain subset of people in this world who read the word vegan, remember That One Time a Vegan Yelled at Me For Eating a Hamburger, and start frothing at the mouth, typing in all caps, posting pics of mutilated animals and behaving like a complete asshat. As a failed vegan whose failure is not the diet but rather that I am a complete headcase, there is nothing anyone can say that I haven’t heard before nor is there any abuse anyone can hurl that won’t already be familiar. I will say that should such behavior start, I will let words stand (no pictures and if you post any you are a terrible person and even your dog knows it). If you are particularly egregious, I will be tempted to post your IP address so a couple of my more paranoid readers can track you down so the rest of us can send you tofu and vegan hotdogs via e-mail. We might slut shame your goldfish. We might even laugh at your socks. None of that seems threatening? No shit, Sherlock, and neither will any attempts to mock vegans. It’s all so dumb, so rise above, okay?
Second, the reason I did not link to the book and recommend waiting a month to get a copy is because this was one of the worst edited books I have ever read. Hands down, it wins the prize, and the problems so abundant and at times over-the-top that if I even attempt to discuss them, readers would think I was either engaging in hyperbole or assholish behavior. I contacted the publishers to ask them a generic, “What the hell, OMG?” and I have it on very good authority that the book is going to undergo a pretty substantial edit and that it should be complete in a few weeks. The editing issues are so bad I would not recommend anyone buy this book until Deadite gives the all clear that it has been cleaned up. Be sure to check back because when that happens, I will update with a link to buy it.
That also means that the person who wins this contest will get four books sent immediately and one book to follow – the contest winner will definitely get a clean copy when it is ready.
Now for the book. Aside from the editing problems, it was clear to me that Agranoff is still a green writer. He has a great ear for dialogue but has a tendency to make all his characters laugh a lot, even when it seems inappropriate. Worse, there’s a lot of giggling going on (am I the only one who thinks a sober, male character who giggles is probably a serial killer, or do others just not find the concept of giggling as creepy and annoying as I do). His characters also point and shake their heads a lot. Not sure what that was about – probably just one of those writer-crutches that a good editor shines a light on and makes disappear. I mention all of this now because with the editing issues that will soon be fixed, that’s all I have to criticize about this book.
Seriously. It’s been a while since I read a book that, editing issues aside, got every damn thing right. Agranoff’s book is clever, satirical, gross, touching, sad, and filled with more pop cultural references than you can shake a stick at. Music, movies, hipsters, Juggalos, books, vegan culture, non-vegan culture. This book is a near perfect example of the saying that sarcasm is the body’s natural defense against stupid, or, in the case of one character, mindless regurgitation of useless pop culture trivia is the best defense against awkward situations.
This book also employs the most traditional use of zombies of all the story-oriented books I will discuss this week. The agent that causes zombie-ism makes people die and come back from the dead. The transition from life to death is slow but the living are sick, and then the next moment, they are zombies. They are brainless, driven only by the impulse to attack non-zombie humans. They tend to arrive in packs but they are not organized – they don’t have the mental capacity for it. These zombies are driven so exclusively by impulse that they no longer know how to climb, how to open doors, how to escape from the buildings many of them died inside. These are creatures that can also eventually starve to death if they don’t have access to fresh humans. The way these zombies came to exist precludes the already dead rising from the grave – if you weren’t alive when the agent struck, you won’t come back.
I had an interesting conversation with the guy over at Bitterly Books in an e-mail exchange. He made an intriguing point – that the zombie tale is essentially one of exile, of a person being isolated from their own society. In the abstract, I think that’s a good way to look at this book – people who were self-exiled in the normal world find themselves the last people on Earth, and even then, some were still isolated and exiled as the world struggled to redefine itself. There are times when I wonder if I am reading too much into books, especially books from branches of the bizarro tree, but then I generally think I am on track, and I feel pretty strongly that this book is quite layered, telling a specific story and relating a specific message even while it entertains us with zombies.
Here’s a plot synopsis: Dani works for Fulci House Press, where she is editing Of Mice and Men… and Zombies. Despite the fact that her zombie-fanatic boyfriend Magik pulled strings to help her get the job, she is sick of zombies within days of starting work, even though Magik plays her his favorite zombie movies in an attempt to draw her in. At a hipster “Bacon Night” at a Portland club, Dani has an awakening and decides to become vegan and Magik joins her, just in time because Stress-Free Meat is being introduced to the country, debuting in Portland first. Animals bred so that they don’t feel pain, stress, boredom or unhappiness enter the market and consuming those meats cause people to grow more and more sick, feeling flu-ey, turning purplish, growing more and more lethargic until they die and almost immediately reanimate as zombies. The vegans who survived this food armageddon descend upon a vegan mall in Portland and together they squabble, kill zombies, and try to keep their ideals in perspective as they rebuild the world. And oh yeah, they do their best to find the best soundtrack to blast while blowing away zombies.
I very nearly stopped reading this book because of the editing issues and I am so glad I kept on because the errors were repetitive enough that I could get used to them and enjoy the story anyway. And there was much to enjoy. Agranoff has a way with dialogue that reminded me of earlier Stephen King works. He is a dedicated vegan in real life but is acutely aware of and clearly sees the the humor in the various factions that make up the vegan community. He also is immersed in all sorts of elements of pop culture, cleverly lampooning the …with Zombies series of books, fans of Insane Clown Posse, and the more negative elements of hipster culture.
I think some of my appreciation for Agranoff’s skills as a writer come from his characterization of Dani. In order to poke fun at vegans and hipsters and Juggalos, those characters must be painted with a broader brush. There isn’t going to be a lot of truth in the obese, chain-smoking Juggalo mom or the stinking, trash-digging freegan who will eat anything he finds in a dumpster, or the strident animal-liberation vegan who feels that shooting zombies is unethical. But there is some truth to be had in Dani.
Dani is an interesting character. I both liked her and was irritated by her. I understood all too well the nausea that comes when one is surrounded by bacon (and I don’t really mind that hipsters dig bacon so much – I have my own theories about hipsters and why they like bacon but that has little to do with this review so I will just shut up about that topic). Having grown up in the South, there were times I could smell bacon in my hair and clothes after a family breakfast and there is no force that will ever make me eat pig again. It’s a visceral reaction when that happens, when a food you have eaten your entire life suddenly disgusts you, and Agranoff very neatly set up this visceral disgust before animal rights veganism is really a plot point in the book. This read as utterly true to me.
Dani hates her job. Yes, most of us would be very happy to be an editor at a press, even one that is as jaded culturally as many consider the press that brought the …with Zombies franchise into the literary landscape. I think we’ve all had that experience – a friend with an enviable job who finds their work day tiresome. Her co-workers are for the most part disgusting or annoying and Dani hates them all. But even as they irritate the everloving hell out of her, Dani is not a nasty person. She loathes her hipster and freegan coworkers, but when one of them seems like she is in jeopardy, she reacts with alarm. Sally eats McDonalds every day, sometimes twice a day, and she’s become slower in speech and movement until she is… wait for it… practically a zombie. Perhaps no one else noticed how sick Sally was because they were all ill themselves. But Dani notices and tries to help reason with Sally that maybe her fast food diet is having a negative effect, all to no avail.
And while I wonder how much this element of the book will resonate with non-foodies or omnivores, I especially appreciated the satirical spears Agranoff throws at Michael Pollan, Pete Singer, Ingrid Newkirk and Gary Francione… I mean Professor Francione. With the exception of Singer (whom I just always found a little… I don’t know… uninspiring?), the rest of these people are not wholly bad, but each comes with a set of problems that have made reflecting one’s political beliefs through food choices and activism difficult. Pollan’s message is ultimately elitist and shows a false concern for animals that will ultimately be killed and eaten, Newkirk has been discredited by the insane and often offensive PETA ads, and I have to suspect that every person who hates vegans loathes them because they tangled with one of Professor Francione’s fanatical acolytes. That Agranoff is willing to dissect veganism and show it, warts and all, means a lot where his sincerity is concerned. That most of it is funny helps and that “Sanger,” Agranoff’s pseudonym for Pete Singer, is one of the first to become a zombie, was one of the best parts of the book.
I was torn over some of the dialogue in some places but then I had to just remember that half the people I know would likely sound the same. Take this exchange, which I hope does not give away too much of the plot:
“Today is a good day to die.”
“Stop it,” Dani shook her head. “We don’t know that yet.”
Bru-Dawg whispered to Mark, “Dude. Who quotes Klingons when they’re dying?”
“It’s an old Native American saying,” Mark whispered back.
“No, I was quoting Klingons,” Magik said.
“See,” Bru-Dawg shook his head. “Nerd.”
I live with a nerd-geek hybrid who shares a birthday with Leonard Nimoy. We will have this conversation, I suspect, when the zombie apocalypse finally comes.
Here’s another section, that seems sort of glib but on second thought is pretty hilarious to me. The worst has happened and the zombie apocalypse has begun and a group of people are at a vegan supermarket in a vegan strip mall. But not all who are in the store are actually vegans. There are a handful of raw foodists, who drank raw milk from Stress-Free cows, and some freegans, including Dani’s gross coworker. One of the store owners shoots Freddy the Freegan in the head, a smart move as Freddy had just turned. But Freddy’s friend remains.
Dani turned her eyes toward Freddy’s other freegan friend. He stood now and walked toward them with his mouth open. Mark pointed his Glock at the freegan zombie. Samantha appeared in the doorway. Emily blocked her from coming in the back room.
“You don’t want to see this, Sam,” Emily pleaded with her as she held her back.
“Stop. Violence doesn’t solve anything!” Samantha screamed.
“I disagree.” Mark pointed the Glock at Freddy’s mostly headless body. “I think it solves the Freegan problem quite nicely.”
And though this is funny to me (and hopefully to others), it also sets up the final struggle, which is not with the zombies, but how the surviving vegans will organize themselves and find a way to live in the world they always wanted and that they finally now have, though none of them would have seen the price the world had paid in human death to be worth it. The last 20 pages of the book are both heartbreaking and inspiring.
But let me tell you this. As much as I found Agranoff’s characterization spot-on, his insight into zombie, hipster, and pop culture to be trenchant and hilarious, and as interesting as the struggle with the zombies was, the best parts of this book were the tests at the end of each chapter. Here are a couple of examples:
Mike Poland would eat a human baby if:
A) It was locally produced.
B) It had not been given growth hormones.
C) A prayer was said thanking the baby for its sacrifice.
D) All of the above.
I guess you sort of have to dislike Michael Pollan for that to seem funny but to me, it was quite amusing.
Or take this one:
The only reason a cow would be on a desert island would be:
A) Some idiot human put him/her there.
B) To prove without a shadow of a doubt that humans being vegetarian is impossible.
C) To film an episode of Lost.
D) To get away from humans.
Okay, indulge me, but here’s one more:
At this point Sally should:
A) Eat her breakfast.
B) Get some rest.
C) Have a drink.
D) Be shot in the head immediately.
These tests are a litmus test of a sort. If, like me, you are enough of a dork that you think this was all very funny, you need to read this book.
So, what we have here is a novel in which traditional zombies do traditional things, like mindlessly attack the living for sustenance and then get shot in their heads. We have a couple of well-developed characters who contrast nicely with some humorous social stereotypes. We have a funny novel with lots of nasty gore of people slowly dying, zombies both undead and finally dead, and the horror of animal husbandry. We have the gut pleasure of watching the apocalypse from the sidelines as the worst happens, people get their guns, establish control and assert their morality as best they can. But we also have a novel that is just a nightmare in terms of editing, and take my word – do not buy a copy until it has been updated, but again, I have it on very good authority that it will be fixed up sooner rather than later. But once that happens, I think the mass of the zombie fans who have showed up here would enjoy the hell out of this book, and I think my regular readers would find this odd and off-beat enough to be worth reading. I also hope some of you zombie fans become regular readers, too. The conversations here and the book recommendations I have received have made me very happy I decided to soldier ahead with Zombie Week.
Now comment so you can enter to win the five books I am giving away, and be sure to come back tomorrow. I will be discussing a book wherein the zombies are probably berzerkers, but there’s a good reason I didn’t review this author’s awesome book that is both indisputably about zombies and awesome. Luckily, this book is also awesome, even though it wanders off the path of true zombies, so don’t miss out.