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Ex-Heroes: A Novel Paperback – February 26, 2013
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Pre-order today
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Q&A with Peter Clines
Q. You grew up in Stephen King territory in Maine, yes? Did that make you into a zombie fan at an early age?
A. Well, I was at the southern edges of Mr. King’s fallout zone. It’s a little town called Cape Neddick, a little tourist place on the coast, and someone told me once that the population was ten times bigger in the summer than in the winter. And to be honest, I was terrified of everything as a kid. Land of the Lost gave me nightmares. Heck, there was an episode of Fantasy Island that gave me nightmares. I was right there when King’s career really exploded, but his books terrified me. I finally worked up my courage to read one of his short stories, “The Boogeyman,” when I was twelve or so, and to this day I can’t sleep with the closet door open. The original Ghost Rider comics were my first tentative steps into horror, and even some of those freaked me out. My love of the genre really blossomed in college.
Q. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A. Well, to quote George Carlin, not in the womb, but right after that . . . yeah. I can remember making scenes with my Star Wars figures and adjusting them all each night as their story progressed. In third grade I hand-wrote a “novel” that I called Lizard Men from the Center of the Earth, which was about . . . well, guess. Once I discovered my mom’s old Smith-Corona typewriter it was all over. I spent all my free time writing comic books and some truly awful Boba Fett fan fiction before there was such a term. I even made some early attempts at novels. One of the great tragedies of American literature is that our garage flooded in high school and all of that was destroyed. (It’s not really a tragedy . . .)
Q. It sounds like you were—no offense—kind of a comic geek when you were a kid?
A. When I was a kid, yeah. And a teenager. And a college student. To be honest, writing comic books was my big goal when I was little. My first rejection letters are from Jim Shooter—then Marvel’s editor in chief—because I would send him some of those (in retrospect) really God-awful stories every other month. With cover art. This is back when I was maybe ten or eleven. He was amazingly polite to a stupid kid. On one level, Ex-Heroes was my chance to finally write the kind of heroes I grew up with.
Q. Do you have a favorite superhero?
A. I’m a long-time Spider-Man fan. I started collecting The Amazing Spider-Man when I was about nine or ten and kept with it for years. I’ve got one of those big longboxes just filled with issues. I finally got so frustrated, though, with Marvel’s big “Civil War” promotion, and especially how they resolved it. When Spider-Man made a deal with the devil to erase half his life, including his wife and best friend . . . well, I was done.
Q. It sounds like you’re not really interested in comics now, though. What do you think about mainstream comics these days?
A. Tough question. I am a bit disillusioned with the big two comic publishers. To be clear, I don’t think there’s a problem with using the medium of comics to tell more dramatic, adult-themed stories. The Sandman, The Walking Dead, Unknown Soldier—these are all fantastic stories by great writers. My problem is when this sort of storytelling gets pushed onto characters like Spider-Man or Superman or Captain America, because “dramatic” becomes shorthand for “really messed up.” I think it detracts from these classic characters to push them into molds they weren’t meant to fill, and those stories tend to just come across as pointless melodrama. Characters have six-page soliloquies about the nature of heroism rather than just doing something heroic. I’ve seen people try to do “realistic” stories with the Hulk . . . a character who got his powers by standing next to a nuclear bomb when it went off. These elements can be a nice polish on a story, but there’s also a point where they have no business being used. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the industry has been struggling so much since this type of storytelling became the norm.
Q. When you moved to California you ended up working in the film industry for almost fifteen years. What kind of work did you do there?
A. I was a property master—the person who deals with hand props—on a lot of television shows and movies. I worked on a lot of cult things like one of the Beastmaster movies, Veronica Mars, and a bunch of lesser-known stuff. I’m actually the murderer in Psycho Beach Party for most of the movie. I prop-mastered Helen Mirren’s directorial debut, and she told me I looked like the type of person who should be sitting on the porch of a southern plantation writing novels.Also, I was writing scripts on the side. People looked at some of my feature scripts and television episodes, and I made the final round in a bunch of screenplay contests. All this industry experience led to a job writing articles for Creative Screenwriting magazine, which I did for several years. I interviewed George Romero, Kevin Smith, Sylvester Stallone, Orci & Kurtzman, and dozens and dozens of other writers and directors.
“Bound to appeal to fans of zombies and superheroes alike… If ever a book had the potential for a Hollywood blockbuster, this is it.” —SF Signal
“I was completely floored by this book’s ingenuity and charm...exemplifies the real meaning of a page-turner.” —Fantasy Book Critic
“I loved this pop culture-infused tale of shamed superheroes struggling to survive a zombie apocalypse in the ruins of Hollywood. It's The Avengers meets The Walking Dead with a large order of epic served on the side.”
—Ernest Cline, New York Times bestselling author of Ready Player One
“Zombies? Check. Superheroes? Check. Awesome? Check. Ex-Heroes has it all. You’re in for a treat!”
—Mira Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Feed
“A novel that will take you on a wild and heart-warming ride...[A] creative zombie story, with in-depth characters, and filled with humor, action, and gruesome fight scenes…the final clash made my heart race in ways seldom accomplished by a book.”
Top customer reviews
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I was not disappointed. The story centers around a world that's rapidly changing, people are suddenly so much more than just people, but with the gift of superheroes there is always a price, only this one is more than anyone wanted to pay.
The novel, while in some ways very typical of a zombie genre book, full of gore and violence and all those things, had some twists that were utterly shocking, things that caught me completely off guard. It also took the time to explain the why. As an avid reader and movie-goer, the one thing I have always hated about theme movies and books is that no one ever takes the time to ask the big question, and it's never explored. You have heroes. You have zombies. But unless it's x-men or a radioactive spider or the rare Resident Evil series, no one ever takes the time to explain not only the why but the how. This book does not fail in that regard. It offers insightful history and explanations, and does so in such a mind blowing way.
The basic premise is that an infection broke out in Los Angeles that kills people and then reanimates their bodies. The infection spreads and become global. Superheroes are relatively new to the world, and the few that exist work to at first contain the infection, then to save as many people as they could. The heroes in Los Angeles turn to Paramount Studios with its high walls, clean it out, and make it a home for a few thousand people. Going out on scavaging runs with regular human survivors, they try to find more survivors and supplies. Besides the walking dead, they also get attacked occasionally by survivors of a local gang called the South Seventeens. The drama explodes when the S.S. turn out to be more dangerous than they ever could have imagined.
Told in a combination of flashbacks and present-day action, the story flows from the first page to the very last. Imagery is vivid and characters feel real. While having super-powered people, the story never really feels like a typical comic book. While having zombies, it never feels like a typical horror book. Instead, it's a gripping piece of fiction that grabs on and doesn't let go.
I heartily recommend this book!
An army of survivors led by superheroes.
St George, the flying, fire-spitting, invulnerable law-enforcer. Zzap, the human electric current who can power a whole city and move faster than the speed of sound. Gorgon, the vampire-like hero who can suck the life out of anyone (who is still alive, that is, unfortunately). Regenerator, who can't die and who can heal anyone with a touch of his hand. Cerberus, the giant mecha piloted by a genius female scientist. Stealth, the sexiest woman alive, able to move and kill like a ninja.
ALL. IN. THE. SAME. BOOK.
Yeah, that's right. It's the kind of stuff dreams are made of. And the beauty of it is that it actually works. Because it could have failed horribly, and given a poor, childish result. When I started reading, my wife saw my face and said:
"Oh, no... Another zombie book. You've got that stupid grin again. It's a zombie book, right?"
"What? What is it? Oh, no, don't say it... Is it zombies having sex?"
Coming from someone currently reading 50 Shades, this question did not actually surprise me. But Ex Heroes is better than zombies having sex (to tell you the truth, I think anything would be better than reading about zombies having sex).
Peter Clines's style is very neat, and the novel's structure gives it more depth than one might think: the narrative is split between chapters dealing with present events and others retracing each superhero's past through flashbacks. These chapters were my favourite, because they pieced together the whole puzzle, gave rhythm to the story, and offered different viewpoints as well as different voices.
All in all, Ex Heroes is a great ride. Kind of the equivalent of a great pop-corn movie that reveals itself to be more than just another pop-corn movie because it's original and well done. Looking forward to the sequel.
Most recent customer reviews
I really wanted to like this book but I just didn't get that full enjoyment / hooked feeling that some books give you.Read more