85 of 96 people found the following review helpful
Jonah Caine is stuck in a living hell. The world has collapsed around him. Alone, he travels in the darkness of the world, the living dead his only company. He wanders and hopes for genuine companionship; someone to share in what little is left for humanity.
He stumbles upon a group hiding out in a museum in a medium-small city. The group has staked their claim on their little part of the world and have lived, for a year, in relative safety. The group is led by Jack, who was one of the military personnel that fought against the living dead and helped discover this hideaway, and Milton, who has a special and unique gift, along with a tremendous desire to not only rebuild a better civilization but a passion for learning from humanity's greatest weaknesses and strengths.
This book, much more so than many other works in this genre, really explores the meanings behind both the good and evil embedded in humankind. Much like the novel "Every Sigh, The End" the author here desires to examine the human condition and does not assume that the living dead are the worst beings out there by a long shot. And how much can those who are "good" tolerate? How much do they want to not only to survive, but to live?
Don't let this staid description fool you, Kim does a bang up job keeping the action here moving along at a strong pace, with very few lulls. The story is told from Jonah's perspective, who was formerly a College English Professor, so his thoughts conjure up a great deal of references from a variety of literature sources and western civilizations rather vivid images of hell.
I guess for me, this book was so entertaining because the author seems so intrigued at the meaning behind both the mind numbing destruction wrought by the living dead as well as the much more horrifying and unspeakable terror brought forth by our own human brethren and how God could allow such things to happen.
While I like to read zombie stories to get a jolt of excitement and terror I also love these stories because to me zombies are so incredibly fascinating. Not just for what they are or what they represent, but what they seem to be able to elicit in their human counterparts that are trapped in the same dying and desperate world as they are-what do we become when everything around us is drenched in death and despair?
I feel that Kim Paffenroth did an excellent job of examining the boundaries of humanity, both good and evil, and for that I highly recommend this book.
52 of 65 people found the following review helpful
We're witnessing a veritable zombie renaissance in the horror genre, thanks in no small part to the good folks at Permuted Press and promising new authors such as Kim Paffenroth. As I've said elsewhere, this horror fan had never been that interested in zombie fiction in the past. In and of themselves, zombies are pretty darn boring creatures, just stumbling and moaning around all the time with no real sense of purpose; they're not even evil per se because they have absolutely no higher cognitive functions. Zombies themselves, with their extremely limited capabilities, really haven't changed much, so what explains my enthusiasm over zombie novels such as Dying to Live? It is the authors' newfound focus on the survivors themselves. There's plenty of kill-or-be-killed action in Dying to Live, but the book's strength is its exploration of the human condition. Questions of morality, good and evil, and theology are woven adeptly into the story, thereby earning this zombie novel the distinction of being named "a thinking man's horror novel" (one critic even called it a zombie novel for philosophers).
You have a lot of time to think when you're, as far as you know, the only living survivor of a zombie apocalypse. For months, Jonah Caine has wandered from place to place, struggling to survive on his own. Zombies are seemingly everywhere, leaving him no choice but to kill or be killed on many an occasion - but each kill rests somewhat on his conscience, for he can't forget the humans who once inhabited the horrible walking corpses. Eventually, though, Jonah discovers a group of survivors and joins their society, finding at least a measure of safety behind their museum-turned-compound's walls. There is much variety in the makeup of his new friends and allies, particularly in terms of their feelings for the zombies. Some of them could care less whether the whole thing is the result of an experiment gone wrong, divine retribution, or dumb luck; they just want to kill zombies. There are more practical warriors such as Jack, the group's de facto leader, who brings a military mind to the organized struggle for survival. There is even a somewhat spiritual figure in the form of Milton, a deep and unusual thinker who holds a unique sway over the undead.
As the next few months pass and Jonah becomes more and more a part of the society, sharing many a stimulating conversation with Milton on the theological and cultural implications of the zombie infestation, a true spirit of optimism over the future of both man and his humanity begins to emerge for the first time. Unfortunately for all concerned, however, a new threat suddenly emerges, one far more horrible and cruel than the even the worst of zombies - a second group of survivors who epitomize evil and the complete breakdown of human society.
Clearly, it is author Kim Paffenroth's background that makes for his unique, somewhat philosophical approach to this zombie-infested world. I would be willing to bet that Paffenroth is the only zombie novelist to hold a position of associate professor of religious studies. While he credits George Romero for basically defining the meaning and cultural importance of zombies in mainstream society, Paffenroth draws perhaps even more influence from the writings of St. Augustine, which explains why questions of good and evil in the human mind and soul serve as the true foundation of this impressive novel.
Just because there are all these intellectual ideas floating around, though, you don't have to worry that there won't be much action or a minimum of blood and gore. Fighting zombies and human monsters is pretty bloody work, and Paffenroth doesn't hold anything back in that department. The inhumanity witnessed in the last few chapters is particularly disturbing, so I don't think horror fans will be disappointed in the least, especially as the action moves ahead at a brisk pace throughout. You really should sit back and reflect on some of the big picture issues Paffenroth raises in the context of everything that happens, though, for that type of intellectual interaction with the story makes for a much richer, absolutely unique zombie reading experience.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2007
Now normally, I don't -- or try not to -- say much about the writer in question. In this it's different because I think it's important to understand where this book is coming from. You see, this is Dr. Paffenroth's first foray into fiction. He's an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Iona College. He's also written a book called "Gospel of the Living Dead" which critiques and analyzes the series of George Romero films (which hold a particular soft spot for me, being that Mr. Romero's from 'round here). It's a good read if you want to take an academic look at the zombie horror genre, although those who have deeply studied the genre may or may not find something new. Dr. Paffenroth takes the challenging high road, in my opinion, by asking, "What good can we derive from these movies and this genre?"
"Dying to Live" is his follow through. It's clear that this novel is written by someone who is a fan of the genre and clearly wants to contribute. And he sticks to his guns in the writing, which is what gives it its strength. If I didn't know any better, I'd have wondered if he went through the same program I did when I started learning how to write.
It's a solid read, one that took me about 3-4 hours of time to get through (and only because I can read fast). The narrative is tight and keeps a good pace throughout the book. Action is sufficiently gory for the genre, but not done to excess. It's done to enhance the story not surpass it, and that's the sign of good horror writing. In my opinion it was a little long on the beginning and short on the end, with the character of Milton being a bit of a deus ex at the climax, but in the story at large these are minor points. Milton's solution to the situation had plenty of build to it, for one thing, so in a way it made sense.
The key point to the story is about morality, and what happens when everything goes to hell. The Zombies are two fold victims, once to the plague that made them, and once more to the humans that put them down. Indeed, while the outpost Jonah first finds isn't quite the best place on earth, it's a refreshing sight from all the despair of a dying world. We also see the ends of depravity man can fall to without morals, and much of this can be drawn from Dante's Inferno. Even the survivors can be likened to the occupants of the first circle of Hell. A more Nietzschean edge can be gleaned from the story, considering the philosopher's ominous warning about fighting monsters without becoming one in the process. We see some of that in the novel, from repentant to savage to indifferent, each character deals with the grim task in his or her own way.
Personally, I think Dr. Paffenroth is to this genre (and perhaps horror in general) as Killswitch Engage is to metal -- in fact I recommend listening to said band while reading this. The message in the work itself is uplifting if you can bring yourself to look past the surface. This is the thinking man's zombie story.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2009
I've been interested in the zombie genre for awhile, and was looking for something thoughtful and well written as my second choice to read in the genre ("World War Z" being the first, and quite good).
I read the various comments about this novel being more philosophical, and showing more of the nature of humanity, as juxtaposed with zombies.
Right from the beginning, it felt obvious that the writer wasn't going to create any truly deep philosophical arguments, as most of the 'good vs evil' in how people behaved in the aftermath of the outbreak was very superficial. Perhaps the most interesting element in this regard was the main character's treatment of those zombies that he killed, when he was able to. I couldn't help but feel that this element was sadly under-explored, primarily due to it occurring in a large city where the chance of running across a friend/coworker/etc who'd been 'turned' was pretty minimal.
There was also an apparent attempt to bring religion into it which felt half baked and rushed at the end (more on this below).
Also near the end was the obligatory "Humanity is capable of far more evil than the zombies are..." Well, yeah... zombies are mindless.. there's no evil intent behind their actions. This 'commentary on humanity' was hardly thought provoking, merely obvious.
Ok, so the philosophical elements that seem to be the draw behind the book were lacking, as far as I was concerned. What about the overall story and writing?
The first half was actually average to good. It started very along the lines of "I Am Legend", until the main character found a community that had managed to eke out an existence. Generally this section was decently, if not spectacularly, written, and the gore and interesting back stories that would be expected in such a novel didn't disappoint. There was one interesting character that seemed to provide a potential way to 'defeat' the zombies, but the community seemed to completely ignore the obvious things that might be done to explore this a bit more fully (I'll refrain from describing my thoughts here to avoid spoiling the character).
Where the story fell apart and almost earned a 1 star rating from me, was the second half where the main characters discover another group of survivors. Here's where the 'humanity can be more evil than zombies' element comes into play. Yup, really bad things are perpetrated on the characters by other humans. Compared to the rest of the novel, this section is poorly edited (misspelled words and badly written sentences). Worse are a couple of almost laughable moments of 'philosophy'. One example is when a character is about to bash in the head of the most evil character in the book.. in between rearing back to swing and when he actually does, there's a paragraph or two about how he tries to decide how he feels about doing so, and once he realizes how he feels, how he feels about how he feels. There are also some giant holes in logic in this section that are poorly and hastily explained after the fact.
Now.. from a zombie novel, I don't expect the same level of writing as I do from the better fantasy I read, but this novel delivered less than expected, especially when compared to such novels as "World War Z".
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2007
First things first I know a lot of jaded horror readers have long ago written off the Vampire genre as overdone and lame. Not me, as a genre I think vampires are wide open for thousands of paths but the novels do require a fresh spin. The only genre I was afraid to read before was the zombie novel. Don't get me wrong I love Romero Zombie movies, hell I loved Land of the Dead a movie that many zombie fans were let down by.
The most interesting looking zombie fictions to me in the past were the books that subverted the genre. The Rising by Brian Keene and Cell by the King are not exactly Romero rules, this statement coming from a guy who hated idea of running zombies when I heard about it. So obviously I have mixed feeling about zombie novels. I finally swallowed my pride and watched the Dawn of the Dead and found running zombies were pretty scary looking. So could I be wrong again? Are zombie novels a good thing?
After my first read I'd have to say hell yeah!
Permuted press who put out this very nice looking trade paperback has in the last few years built up a reputation for putting out so many zombie books in the last few years it reminds me of the scene in Day of the Dead when the front gate is opened to the bunker. They have done a similar thing to the independent horror fiction market.
A novel true to the Romero style could do no less and perhaps the best thing I can say about Paffenroth's first novel is that I could see it fitting in nicely with the original dead films.
The novel is a first person narrative seen through the eyes of Jonah a college professor turned zombie apocalypse survivor who finds a small community living in a museum. While I didn't really connect with the narrator I enjoyed side characters like Popcorn and Milton a lot for reasons that should not be spoiled.
Pafferoth is a professor himself in religious studies and uses his knowledge to weave deep themes without a heavy hand. Dying To Live is an intense work peppered with chilling moments - one that impressed me was Jonah stopping after braining a zombie to look through his wallet. That was perhaps my favorite moment.
While I don't think huge amounts of new ground were broken this book is a must for zombie fans. It also was good enough I intend keep checking out permuted's releases.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2011
I'll try to keep this as succint as possible. Spoilers within, be advised.
I picked this book up on a whim at Borders the other day and burned through it in about 4 hours. I was expecting a fun romp through the Zombie Apocalypse and the book largely delivered, the world itself was well conceived. It opened up well, dropping the reader right into the world of the undead in a not-unexpected, but entertaining manner. The action and scenarios were pretty fun, although I found it interesting that there were some significant similarities between this book and the Left4Dead videogame. There's a Mercy Hospital with a helicopter on the roof, there are characters named Frank and Zooey, and possibly other minor details that I just didn't catch. To the author's credit, she beat the Left4Dead release date by one year so I wonder how much influence this book had on the game.
As the story wore on it started to get a bit too preachy for my taste. Constant references to God and the "thousands of tiny miracles" that brought the survivors together started to grate heavily. About 1/3 of the way into the book I figured it was a zombie book written by a Christian. And sure enough, it was. I could forgive all the religious rhetoric, and the stilted references to Shakespeare and Milton (the writer) and the human condition in relation to Christian morality (is man more evil than the undead horde? blah, blah) but when she refers to Milton (the character) as a kind of Jesus to the Zombies I about lost it. He literally herds zombies and has some degree of control over them. It's a novel concept but the execution just isn't there. Milton is a weak Jesus allegory, made weaker by the fact that she tells us he's a Jesus allegory.
The dialogue is way too flowery at times with an over-focus on sentimentality. There are points in the story where it's helpful to sort of dwell on the humanity of the situation, but its usually overdone to no real effect. It almost feels like it was put there to up the page count.
It's not a bad story as far as zombie stories go. The "universe" of the story is fairly well-conceived and a good amount of detail is paid to the necessities of living in the zombie apocalypse. The action scenes are fun, with just enough suspense and recquisite zombie goriness to satisfy. The story falls down on the interaction between the survivors; with an overall simplistic moralist sermon that is just a bit misconceived here. I'm not against Christian fiction persay, the Left Behind series is a great example of it done right. This work, while ambitious, doesn't quite reach the same lofty heights.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2009
"I think it's time we let Smith and Wesson do the talking!"
Yes, those are the types of lines in this book. At one point I wondered if they were intentionally corny, or if there was some tongue-in-cheek humor that the characters were privy to, but decided that it was just corny.
The outright references to Paradise Lost and the Bible (Milton, Jonah) was at first amusing in a Pilgrim's Progress sort of way, but when the allusions became outright theft I stopped taking the book seriously. I appreciate some of the themes the author was trying to communicate, but it was just too preachy, too obvious (especially with long, long sections of exposition) that I got bored.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2010
Dying to Live is the first book in Kim Paffenroth's zombie trilogy. Paffenroth is a Bram Stoker Award winning author so I knew this book would be promising. I previously read History is Dead edited by Kim Paffenroth, yet I have not written a review of that book. I saw "Dying to Live" at Borders for 50% off so I quickly picked it up. That night I dove right into the mayhem.
Jonah Caine, a lone survivor of the undead infestation travels from place to place trying to find somewhere he can call home. He wonders around the town that has been decimated by the undead, in search of food and shelter. Finding only the undead around every corner, until one day his luck chances. Surrounded by the undead closing in on his location Jonah finds himself being saved by a group of survivors holding up in a near by museum.
Jack the leader of the survivors welcomes Jonah to the community with open arms. Jack, a former military man alongside with Milton, a scientist, have looked after this community as they struggle for survival. Milton has a desire to learn and understand humanity's strengths and weaknesses. Both Jack and Milton strive to build a better community for the survivors, something close to the life they had before the dead rose. Milton has a strange power over the undead that makes him a sort of a messiah to the community. Jonah, Jack and a few other survivors go in search of a strange fire burning in the distance. Once they find the source of the fire they're reminded how terrifying and monstrous humans can be.
Another group of survivors holding up in a near by prison are anything but friendly. Jonah and company are captured by these sadistic sorry excuses for people and are beaten are going to be used as sex slaves. Popcorn, one of the children survivors is also captured by the prisoners. He finds himself in a worse hell then living amongst the dead. In order to see what happens to the survivors and to understand what Milton's gift against the undead is you'll have to read the book.
I honestly enjoyed Dying to Live; it was well written and had a good story line. I loved all the characters especially Popcorn. I mean who wouldn't love a little kid that kicks ass. Milton's gift was a nice touch, out of all the zombies books I've read this is a unique idea. There is some religious talk in the book but it's what you would expect with the end of the world at hand. It was an awesome book with great action scenes.
Now I'll need to get a bit critical here. This is my opinion and it might be different for others but it seemed like Kim Paffenroth over describes everything. It's like it took him two pages to say Jonah and company ran across the street. With everything being over described there's not much left to the imagination. That's my only complaint about the book.
Overall "Dying to Live" was a great story and I do recommend it to others looking for a good zombie story. I give it 4 Undead Heads out of 5.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2007
I recently finished Kim Paffenroth's "Dying to Live" and cannot praise it enough. The story kicks off with a bang and doesn't let up. The is truly an awesome story with enough gore to keep any hardcore zombie fan's attention but it is also character driven enough to make it more than you typical zombie blood fest. You truly care what happens to Jonah and the other survivors in this book. Once you start reading this book, you won't want to put it down - I know that's cliche but in this case it is true!!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2011
To be honest, I've known the author for a while now...but it's only recently that I decided to pick up one of his books. Knowing his background, and the fact that I've heard the religious aspects of his books extolled by others...I was reluctant to jump in, afraid that I'd be reading something akin to a zombie version of the "Left Behind" series. And furthermore, as a religious person myself (though not a Christian), like most people, when reading a book, I generally prefer that all references to religion be 100% in line with my own beliefs. ;) Admit it: You feel the same way. Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc...we as a species generally prefer affirmation, rather than learning too much about those outside of our weltanschauung.
But let me assure you: This is a very cool book. A lot of religious-oriented literature has the effect of being "preached to." You can tell that there is an agenda, and it can often be quite "pushy." ...But this isn't that kind of book. In fact, it's a very thoughtful philosophical take on the zombie apocalypse genre...but it NEVER sacrifices action or gore. In fact, there were a few scenes that literally made me sick to my stomach...and I write horror stories for a living! Furthermore, I read the last third of the book in one sitting, because the action was just so intense that I had to see where it led.
So if you, like me, have been avoiding reading this book because of the Christian overtones...let me remind you that THE EXORCIST is a movie based on Christian mythology. Yeah, you didn't feel like you were being "preached to" while watching Linda Blair's head do a 360, did you?