Customer Review

44 of 59 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An epic scope undermined by a lack of details, imagination or skill, March 25, 2008
This review is from: Plague of the Dead (The Morningstar Strain) (Paperback)
To me, Z.A. Recht's Plague of the Dead has the distinction of being the most ambitious, epic and inventive of Permuted Press's somewhat lethargic and pedestrian line, however extremely poor characterization, a pervasive disregard for fact checking or character and world details and a rushed, surprisingly timid style completely buries any creative surprises that might be found within.

I won't deny Mr. Recht his props. In some ways, he really deserves them. Most of all because I think he might have done what many considered to be impossible, he came up with a new way to present the zombie plague and he did it by simply combining the age old with the new in a way that works really surprisingly well. Its so inventive and fun in fact, that I wouldn't be surprised to see the idea of sprinting, rage filled and infected living that when killed then rise again as the shambling, shuffling dead start to catch on and appear in the more "main stream" zombie stuff. It was a creative bend on existing ideas and it worked. Kudos, Mr. Recht, well done. He also has not only obviously put together some thoughts and a little bit of research on his plague, its biology and its origin, but also on his greater story itself, as this is just the first part of a proposed trilogy. I can respect the effort evidenced, at the very least, if not the execution.

Because, quite frankly, this is where Plague of the Dead stumbles, falters and then fails. The characters are so one dimensional that calling them paper thin would be a compliment. Their motives and speech patterns are completely and totally interchangeable. If you had a page of dialogue without qualifiers, you wouldn't be able to even guess gender, let alone the character identity. At their core all the characters can all be boiled down to simple, one word descriptions: General. Girl. Scientist. Loner. Black guy (admittedly that's two words... sue me.) but even then they get confusing: Soldier, soldier, soldier, young soldier? To top it all off, half the names are so similar that at a glance, many could be mistaken for each other.

And speaking of "at a glance", the worst mistake of the book is so huge, that it simply can NOT be ignored. CAN NOT! Now, lets ignore the fact that he obviously did not even look at a picture of the Suez Canal, lets ignore the fact that he obviously has no idea as to the Suez Canal's purpose, lets ignore the fact that there is no way in the world that if a dangerous plague was threatening to jump from Africa, from Egypt and over the canal, that the entire opposite bank wouldn't be lined with the entire Israeli armed forces, not to mention a huge chunk of America's, lets EVEN ignore the somewhat silly idea that we would even TRY to quarantine Africa, alright? Barring all those little flubs, which, come on now, when listed together suddenly don't seem so little (and this is by no means an even close to complete list of all the inaccuracies, mistakes and things that don't make sense) barring all those things, there is one mistake that towers over everything, that destroys, DESTROYS, any credibility the author or his book might have had, a mistake so god awful dumb that... I can't even quantify it, man...

You'll read some reviews that will refer to it as a "simple" geography mistake, but let me assure you, it is not. Look... Africa is to the WEST of the Suez Canal, THE WEST! You don't even need a detailed map in order to see this. A child's globe, even an inflatable globe beach ball where you'd find a big yellow blob labeled simply as: Africa, would tell you this at a glance! AT A GLANCE! Africa = west of the Suez! Africa only connects to Asia at one point! ONE POINT! COME ON, MAN! Who was the editor on this book? They should be fired, just fired out right. A typo, a mistake... that's one thing, but for an entire chapter he gets this wrong and that only makes it obvious that the Editor DID NOT do his/her job. Doesn't this upset Permuted Press? Is this what they want to present to the world? How very, very professional.

So what else? Really, at this point, after that, is it worth going into all the little aggravating mistakes, technical inaccuracies and poorly conceived and choreographed moments? I could go into the fact that a hundred or two more pages or so were needed and that the story was crippled by be confined to so few. I can go on about the lack of character development and the hesitancy displayed when faced with an emotional character moment but not when it came to gore, but what's the point? I mean, if you can get it wrong that Africa is to the west of the Suez canal, does anything else really need to be said?

Overall, this is a very poorly done book, but it is one that feels like a very early first draft, as Mr. Recht shows an inventiveness and a sense of action and story lay out that could be nurtured into something much better, if only given some time, even if the end result would most likely be somewhat clichéd and surface. And while, yes, the blame for this does lay firmly on Mr. Recht's shoulders, a healthy portion also falls on Permuted Press whose editorial staff did the man a massive disservice with their ludicrously poorly performed job.

This is a cheap, paper thin, clichéd, one dimensional child's adventure, but there is a sparkle of imagination contained within that might someday outshine the myriad of mistakes and mis-steps... maybe.

My recommendation: Anyone with even low-medium standards need not apply.
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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 29, 2008 2:57:18 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 2, 2008 10:02:57 AM PDT
Z. A. Recht says:
Thanks for the review! I'm sorry you didn't enjoy the book.

I must interject that I am well aware that Africa is to the West of the canal. There was one (1) typo in my manuscript to that effect, but (I'm looking at a hard copy now to check) all the other east/west reference have apparently been completely reversed. My geographical knowledge isn't THAT bad. =)

And I apologize that you were not able to identify with the characters. I've found that writers tend to characterize through one of three means: they'll either show personality via exposition ("He was 5'8" tall, middleweight, with a slight paunch..." and so on), or they might show personality through action ("Annie couldn't decide which way to run. She looked back and forth with apprehension etched on her face."), or through dialogue, which is the method I use the most. Most of the personalities of the characters (and they are there) can be found by listening to what they say, how they say it, and the clues derived from what is said. It can be very disconnecting to a reader who is used to methods 1 or 2 to develop any kind of pathos with the characters.

I am not knocking any of those methods--far from it--they are all very effective. Like I said, though, I apologize if my choice of characterization didn't jive with your personal reading style.

And once again, thank you for the review. A good negative review helps an author learn where they can improve.

PS - Thanks for the props! I was hoping to create a semi-original zombie and if they managed to impress even a one-starred reviewer, then I at least did THAT job well. =)

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 3, 2008 12:45:46 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2008 11:36:03 AM PDT
shenjanno says:
It wasn't the way you choose to express your characterization that failed for me, and it wasn't my not hearing what the characters said either, it was the LACK of what they SHOULD HAVE SAID that ruined it. Personal moments, character moments, life details, all the things that make real people... people. These things were missing and these are the things that make characters 3-D. Who are these people? Where are they going and why... and I don't mean in reference to the plot either. Do they feel any of this inside? Do they hurt? Where's the internal stress or discord within the group? Wheres the anger? Just making sure that every character gets a chance to say something in each scene does not give insight into who they are, thats just ticking names off a grocery list, man. This is something you do in your latest as well, by the way. Its more important to ensure that when each character DOES say something, that it has a point. Banter just rings untrue when there aren't any good solid character moments or motivations to spring off of. Don't force the joke or the moment, if its forced, it'll read untrue. Let it happen. When your characters are real, they'll make the moment happen themselves.

Regardless, I'm glad to see that you're cool. My review isn't personal, you seem like a nice guy. Congrats on the new book and good luck in the future.

Don't forget: If YOU stumble while reading it, then your reader will stumble too. Also, listen to your characters, don't be a slave to your outline and most importantly... Kill your darlings and don't look back.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2008 6:53:20 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 5, 2008 6:54:03 PM PDT
Z. A. Recht says:
I see what you're saying. For example, revealing someone's, say, traumatic childhood through a dialogue reference and then having it affect a decision later on--or some such thing--is that what you mean? I get it, though, and thanks for the pointers. I'll try to add more moments like that in future efforts.

Some folks found it easy to identify with the characters, others, not so much. Most people loved Hal, and I think it was exactly what you're driving at: he had a LOT of quirks, which made him seem more like an individual than a carbon copy.

I appreciate the congratulations and hope my future efforts meet with higher approval from you. =) In the meantime, I'll try to offer what meager entertainment I can. Heh. Again, thanks for the feedback. Like I said, while a good review makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, a constructive negative one can help you step back and notice the cracks in the veneer of your work. You, sir (or ma'am, excuse me), have offered a truly constructive negative one, and I thank you for that.

Oh, and don't worry--I'm not afraid to kill my darlings. There's a reason I want to call the third book "Survivors." Those who make it through to the end will be worthy of being title characters. My unusually wide list of dramatis personae will not be so long once I'm through with them. There's a little hint for anyone who reads these comments. =)

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2008 2:55:37 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 12, 2008 3:00:36 PM PDT
shenjanno says:
Well, I did order your second book, so you obviously have a lot of fun stuff in your stories. I do enjoy the books. None of its bad-bad, its just frustrating. I mean, you're good, in my opinion, you run rings around Keene and the Monster Island guy (they suck). It seems like, for the most part, the editing is where you're suffering the most. My main question with the second book is: How many drafts do you do? Do you actually rewrite and cut things or do you just insert fixes? Do you have any outside readers or are they all friends and family? I see a lot of good stuff in your books, but they seem to get buried under a thicket of repeated words/phrases/themes that could be cut and streamlined.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2008 10:23:05 AM PDT
Z. A. Recht says:
There were three drafts for Thunder and Ashes. One I started online but once I got a few chapters in, I kept running the timeline and couldn't make it work properly, so I had to start over. I saved some of what happened, though. Part of it has become a short story and the other part made it into the book. The second draft was the rough copy. The rough copy was then gone over--there was some debate over airplane fuel and fair use--and we arrived at a third draft.

As to the third question, are you a friend or family member? =) There you have it. Yes, actually, most are outside readers, for which I am very thankful. Can you imagine your grandmother reading a zombie book you'd written? I sure can't.

I will say this about Thunder and Ashes--my action improved. You'll notice that. I'm confident on that point. But your quibbles with characterization will remain. Of that I am also fairly confident.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 16, 2008 3:02:09 PM PDT
shenjanno says:
Ha... I meant: Outside readers besides friends and family that check the draft for you, a third party, someone without bias.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 19, 2008 2:45:09 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 29, 2009 10:47:13 AM PDT
Z. A. Recht says:
Ah! I see. Yes. Two people, both at Permuted. One is just a cursory reading, the other, *name snipped as a preventative measure* does some physical edits.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2008 6:08:02 AM PDT
shenjanno says:
well... you need someone better.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2008 4:41:24 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 29, 2009 10:47:53 AM PDT
Z. A. Recht says:
**comment extolling the virtues of a peer snipped at the behest of the subject it concerned.**

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 23, 2008 6:46:05 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 23, 2008 11:59:34 AM PDT
shenjanno says:
It is a very rough job, but dude... The Suez canal to the west of Africa typo? Thats a big one to miss. I'm sure hes a good guy, but I think he rushed the job on you. He either rushed it or he has too much on his plate or he just isn't as thorough as you'd want. Either way, the rule goes like this: Outside opinions are good things. The more the better. Pass it to lots of different people. You'll get all sorts of useful insights. Join a writer's group or check on-line or look around your area for a writers community or continuing ed type thing. You'll use some of the advice and you won't use others, but at the very least, what you won't have is Africa to the east of the Suez Canal.
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