The Vegan Revolution… with Zombies by David Agranoff

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.

39 thoughts on “The Vegan Revolution… with Zombies by David Agranoff

  1. I consider myself a nerd-geek hybrid, so I’m guessing I will identify and enjoy this one. And bad editing is something I think I can tolerate.

    1. The editing is pretty bad, Al. Unless you just can’t, I really recommend holding for the re-edit. Because while I got used to the consistent errors, it took a lot longer to read than it should have. It’s like a rough draft went to press. It speaks volumes about the clever content that given my grammar police tendencies, I loved the book anyway, but wait if you can.

  2. I am confused by the economics of this stress-free meat. I can’t see how it would be less expensive than the stuff produced by corner-cutting factory farms–cheap enough that it would be widely used by McDonalds.
    I guess that the terrible secret behind its low, low prices is what ends up creating zombies, huh?

    1. Well, I didn’t think about that but it’s a good point. I think the Stress-Free meat is not more expensive because it isn’t grass-fed or free-range because after the initial research to alter the animal’s brains genetically, they can essentially raise animals in the most horrific conditions and the animals don’t mind so there is no “suffering.” Since they aren’t actually improving conditions or feeding them better, it’s not that expensive.

      And yeah, in a way that is exactly right. People paid extra money for humane meat and eggs and dairy. If “humane” means the animals no longer “suffer” from terrible conditions, that is de facto humane to people, they would get the benefit of humane meat with a much lower cost. The drive to keep food prices low is gonna bite Americans in their asses one way or another.

  3. I’m not a vegan and I don’t know anything about vegan culture, so suspect that much of the humor of this book would be lost on me. It does sound good though, and I always like a good, traditional zombie story if it’s done right.

    1. This book might actually make veganism clearer – you don’t have to be a practiced vegan to get a lot of the jokes because the book is about Dani’s voyage from meat eater to vegan so a lot gets explained. And this is definitely a fun zombie tale in some respects, with a lot of fun to be had reading it.

    1. Yep, in this book many subculture dreams are recognized – taking aim at Juggalos, yuppies, hipsters. There are many layers to this – ethics combined with the joy of killing, subcultures at war with one another. It’s a book that operates on a lot of different levels.

  4. Awesome. That is so nice of you to wait to send the prize until it is a new one. I’m glad to hear they are redoing it, I didn’t know they did that kind of thing.
    I have no problem with how anyone eats. I hunt and eat everything that I am lucky enough to kill. It is terrible that I have to worry about telling someone I hunt, for fear that they are going to have a hissy. We would not have wild turkeys in NH today if hunters hadn’t paid to have them reintroduced.
    this is one book that I already had on my reminder list. I may have to move it up a few notches. I agree with you about the giggling. I don’t know if I will like a macho male character giggling, but you never know. Thanks for the review.

    1. I think some of the newer Deadite releases are Print-on-Demand so they can do edits without costing themselves too much in the long run. I also really like how responsive Eraserhead and Deadite are to their readers because I can’t think of another publisher who cares enough to correct their mistakes.

      I come from a long line of ranchers and hunters and feel conflicted about how I was raised, how I live now and how I want to live. I think it is a mark of living in a relatively unhealthy world when we have to worry about justifying how we eat and obtain our food. But I get the feeling that while Agranoff wouldn’t like either of our diets – how could an animal-right vegan not be unhappy with meat eating – he also isn’t gonna preach at either one of us. As a person who still consumes animal products, I never felt condemned while reading this book.

      There is something very eerie about men giggling.

  5. I have a personal dislike of the self righteous vegan crowd because I despise aggressive/passive aggressive evangelicals of any kind. Also, a lot of the fake vegan substitute products are disgusting to my palate. If you aren’t going to eat cheese, don’t eat it and don’t create those monstrous fake products. Argh. Anyhow, it is because of my vegan antipathy that I think this book sounds amazing and horrifying. It seems to especially draw on those themes of alienation and separation in the crowd you mention.

    Thanks also for introducing me to the repulsive concept of the “freegan.”

    1. I don’t like any sort of self-righteous preaching but I have to say I’ve spent far more of my life being condemned by Christians and various branches from the feminism trees than I have experienced at the hands of snotty vegans.

      Daiya cheeze, fake corn dogs and texturized vegetable protein in chili and spaghetti sauce are the only substitutes I could stomach. As I work out all my food issues in therapy and begin to revamp my eating, I am going to have to rely on world cuisine rather than substitutes. There is something about packaged soy burgers and fake chicken all smell like play-doh when they cook. They repel me as much as the smell of pork cooking.

      Eh, I sort of like freegans. Most of them are not as much a filthy scavenger as Freddy the Freegan. I haven’t ever met one who would touch discarded animal products though they could make the case as to why it was not ethically unsound to do it. But all affluent societies have gleaners and scavengers. Some consider them parasites but parasites are all that keep up from being knee deep in trash.

      Man, I will totally post about my dumpster diving days soon. Clothes, cans of food, entire stacks of albums, a jar of coins… Awesome stuff if you don’t mind looking.

  6. I have to say I agree completely about the male giggling. Something just ain’t right with that. 🙂 but it sounds like a very interesting book! I also consider myself somewhat nerdy. And I am proud to admit it. I am not vegan, but my mother went through a stage when I wad young and she tried to push it on me and my siblings. So I kinda understand vegans. My problem is I just love steak! anyhow, I think I would buy this book just because of the humor, zombies, and nerdy-ness of it!

    1. I am so glad I am not alone in the male giggling. I always get creeped out when I read it. I think this book will appeal to your nerdy side pretty well. 🙂

    1. Oh, I have sympathy for hipsters. I totally need to write up my theory about hipsters. But I admit that they can be insufferable. I have never met a Juggalo. I think I live a rarified and secluded life out here in the burbs.

  7. I’d just like to say that I know lots of sober males who giggle and aren’t serial killers …. my brother is over 6 feet tall, 250 lbs and he giggles all the time.

    ..although, maybe this is a sign of insanity I’ve never looked at before, and now will have to re-examine my relationship with him 😛

    1. Well, there are exceptions to every rule. I knew a big guy who giggled but he was never sober – he was always utterly stoned. I think I need to consider the ganja/giggling connection the next time I get creeped out. 😉

  8. I hadn’t really considered the practice until your latest review brought the obvious to my attention in your discussion of Agranoff’s use of hipster trivia in THE VEGAN REVOLUTION … WITH ZOMBIES – but why is there a greater quantity of pop-culture references in “odd books” than in mainstream fiction? How many of these mass-culture name-droppings are actually going remain comprehensible in the next decade? By linking the plot so thoroughly to present-day trends might the author be giving the text a sort of built-in obsolesce?

    1. There are indeed a lot more pop culture reference in odd books and if I were to try to explain it, I think I would land on the idea that mainstream publishers do their best to ensure their books have a wide market appeal. Too much pop culture does date a book or make it somehow less universal, but odd authors don’t worry about that as much. They want to tell their tale how they want regardless of marketability.

      If I think about it further, the fact is that I suspect that if we look at older odd books, especially mainstream fiction, we see authors like Burroughs and Kerouac using what was their pop culture liberally. I think those books had a certain endurance because ultimately the way culture was disseminated as little as 30 years ago was slow and far less pervasive. Hell, even writers like Cheever and Auchincloss wrote heavily of a very specific, very exclusive culture that means nothing to modern readers. People who write now get demonized for using pop culture because it seems shallow but I would be hard pressed to separate pop culture from “real” culture because of the immediacy and democratization of the way information is shared.

      This is off the cuff and who knows if I will think this tomorrow, but I think in a lot of cases, if one is to write honestly of the time one lives in and the influences in one’s life, obsolescence is just going to happen in certain kinds of fiction.

      1. The alternate argument, of course, is that if an author were to fully understand his particular moment in time, his text would become all the more universal (think of Borges or Nabokov here). Conversely, the more confused a writer is about his own culture, the more contemporary allusions might be catalogued in the story (I won’t mention any examples here).

  9. This sounds like something I have to check out. Stress-Free Meat sounds like the perfect extrapolation of the current “ethical” meat craze (Douglas Adams was ahead of the curve). The idea of a novel actually tangling with Francione has also piqued my interest.

    1. Yes! That was exactly the first thing I thought of, too, that cow walking from table to table, talking to the diners.

      I thought of you and a couple of other people on my f-list who would get and appreciate this book but would be heartily annoyed by all the editing issues. For some reason, all the people I know interested in animal rights are all also deeply invested in the Word and how it is used. Seriously, if you decide to read this, wait until the edits.

    1. When you finish reading it, come back and let me know what you think. I always love knowing what people think of books I recommended.

  10. I am enough of a dork to think that is all very funny, and I will definitely be reading this. Can’t wait for them to re-edit this; otherwise reading this would have made me cry.

    1. Yeah, wait for the edit. When I know it is available, I will definitely update.

      I thought this book was unspeakably clever. I’m glad others have my dorky sense of humor.

  11. Great review, this is the first book that really piqued my interest this week. I love the creative fresh idea. Ok…so…how can I not buy this poorly edited version??? I’m not saying I won’t buy the cleaned up one when its ready but after all of this bad editing talk I need to see just how bad it is for myself.

    1. It’s pretty bad, but if one is entering it with that attitude, just wanting to know how bad the editing is, I can see how that would be fun. But the good thing is that aside from some baffling inconsistencies, the errors are pervasive enough that after a while your brain will bleep over them. In fact, as I quoted passages here, I edited them without realizing it because it got to the point that my eyes were just auto-correcting.

  12. “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.”

    For this alone I would buy this book .

    1. I know, right? I totally hope I can come up with a similarly amusing series of statements when I know my end is near.

  13. Astounding that we now have Star Trek references cited in a zombie book!Ster Trek has really permeated the popular culture thoroughly.

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