Review: Day by Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne

Day by Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne
Day by Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne

Day by Day Armageddon
J. L. Bourne
Permuted Press, 2007 (now available through Pocket Books as of 2009, linked at left)

Day by Day Armageddon was one of the earliest title released by Permuted Press, an independent publisher specializing in apocalyptic fiction (and especially zombie fiction), and was recently re-released as part of 5 book co-publishing deal with Simon and Schuster.  Much like the fantastic World War Z, Day by Day Armageddon purports itself to be a true-to-life diary of man surviving a zombie apocalypse.  The edition I read is complete with the occasional blood splatter, circled text, infrequent handwritten margin notes, and black and white photographs.  The diary, of an unnamed navy pilot, details his attempts to simply survive.

Day by Day Armageddon employs a very straightforward tone that tends to obscure the character of the narrator.  The matter-of-factness in which he casually decides to save a family trapped by a zombie horde, his rescue of a woman trapped in a car, the subtle way in which he safeguards the childhood of the young girl in the family all sketch a very compassionate man willing to stick his neck out for his fellows even if it risks his own life.  Since the reader gets these facts from the man himself there is no one around to remark upon his character traits.  We never see him through any eyes other than his own and can only draw a conclusion on his character based on action alone.    On the other hand that same straightforward narrative voice feels a bit devoid of character.  The narrator is a capable and compassionate leader but we get very little sense of who he is absent his role as survivor.   I suspect that is a deliberate choice by Bourne.  Everything goes to hell before we can really know much about the narrator himself and, as the apocalypse of undead strips away the trappings of modern life which we might use to get a better understanding of who our narrator is outside his military training.  Of course, part of the issue here is also the narrative device.  We never really get any dialogue ; our experience is always limited to the inside of our narrator’s head.

The zombies of Day by Day Armageddon of the classic Romero variety.  Slow moving and unintelligent.  However, both those elements are changed by particular events in the novel and it is one of the better explanations I’ve seen for zombie variants in any form of fiction.  Like many other zombie stories the best way to kill them is the head shot though Day by Day Armageddon covers the trouble of  head shots that don’t destroy the brain; a thought that never really occurred to me.  Though I must say, poor China (the source of the outbreak in this novel as well as World War Z) are there no other nations that might instigate the spread of a zombie plague?  There is little in depth attention given the villains of the novel.  We know that bites or scratches can cause infection, we know that they are attracted by sound but as to where the zombie virus (if it is even a virus) came from (beyond simply China) there is nothing said.  I did think the unintentional psychological warfare tactics of the zombie moan where nicely pulled off and an often overlooked aspect in zombie fiction (the sound design of Left 4 Dead carries this same trait off quite nicely.)

Unfortunately Day by Day Armageddon also ends on a cliffhanger.  The sequel Beyond Exile is due out in July, which is an amazingly long wait for readers who picked up the original release back in 2007.  Day by Day Armageddon is by no means a perfect novel and the edition I have has several typos and the printing quality doesn’t really help with couple of pictures scattered throughout the novel.  However, and I can’t confirm this, it is possible some of this was corrected via the Pocket Books release back in September.  While I would have certainly enjoyed a bit more character injected into the novel, for both our narrator and his fellow survivors, this is still an exciting bit of zombie fiction that caries the tradition of George Romero (early George Romero not Land of the Dead George Romero) into the realm of the printed word.  If you like zombies I have a strong inkling that you will most definitely like Day by Day Armageddon.

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