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|Book 2 of 5 in Ex-Heroes|
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Praise for Ex-Heroes:
“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.”
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I was in my private lab, gathering the notes for my one-thirty lecture. My teaching assistant, Mary, was dividing her time between searching for the flash drive that contained my PowerPoint slides and organizing a pile of correspondence and journals that had spilled onto the floor from my desk. To her credit, she'd let the papers fall and grabbed the photos of my wife and daughter.
My beard was scratching against my collar. I'd wanted to have it trimmed before the start of the semester and lost track of time. Now I was heading off to my fourth lecture and it still was a shaggy mess of too-much-silver hair. Eva hates it when my beard gets too long. It was short when we met in grad school. I needed to stop by the campus barber before I ended up looking any more like Walt Whitman.
I heard the door open behind me as I packed my briefcase, but thought nothing of it until I heard my name.
"Dr. Emil Sorensen?"
The speaker was a young man I didn't recognize. He wore a well-tailored suit he looked uncomfortable in. A double-Windsor-knotted tie. Tight, cropped hair above sharp eyes.
I'd seen this ploy many times. Every professor sees it at least once or twice a semester. There are a few different names for it, but here the faculty calls it the VIP Play. An undergrad tries to look or sound important to put themselves on equal footing with their instructor. Then they explain the extenuating circumstances behind a certain grade or exam result. They drop the names of people who would be disappointed because of it. Which all leads, of course, to the suggestion that they should be allowed to resubmit a paper, retake a test, or--in some bold cases--simply have their grade changed to something acceptable.
I was running late and it was too early in the semester for such schemes. "You have ninety seconds," I said. "Can I help you with something?"
Even as I spoke, two more men stepped in behind the first. They were larger and more solid than him. One carried an attaché case. All their suits matched.
Mary stopped looking for the flash drive. Her gaze shifted from me to the trio of men.
"John Smith," said the man. "I know it sounds like a joke, but that's really my name. I'd like to speak with you for a few moments, if I could." He had a broad smile I knew from fundraisers and alumni dinners. A practiced smile, but not a well-practiced one.
"This really isn't the best time. I have a lecture in about ten minutes on the other side of campus, and--"
"I hope you'll forgive me," said Smith, "but I took the liberty of canceling your lecture."
It took a moment for the words to sink in. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
"John Smith," he repeated. The smile faltered as his hand fumbled with a leather wallet. He opened it to reveal a golden badge and a set of credentials with his photo. He was smiling in the photo. "Agent Smith, technically. I'm with the Department of Homeland Security, seconded to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Could we speak alone, sir?"
He said the last with a nod to Mary. She looked at me with wide eyes. We all spoke a bit too freely at times, and on a college campus paranoia and rumors about the Patriot Act ran like wildfire. "Doctor?"
I tried what I hoped was a reassuring smile. "Why don't you go see if there are any stragglers at Bartlett Hall," I told her. "Let them know this delay doesn't mean they're off the hook for next week's test."
She gathered her own papers and paused to make sure I saw the flash drive she'd uncovered. The smile graced Smith's face the entire time. He gave Mary a polite wave as she slipped out between the two larger men. They closed the door behind her.
"So what's this all about?"
Smith's face relaxed. As the smile faded, he gained several years. Not a young man, but cursed with the face of one. One of the other biochem professors had the same problem. A young face in a college town meant always being carded at the liquor store and never being taken as seriously as your colleagues.
"You're a very impressive man, Dr. Sorensen," he said. "You've got more doctorate degrees than I've got years of education. Physiology. Neurology. Biochemistry. A forerunner in molecular nanotechnology and--"
"I know my own credentials."
"From what I've read, you got cheated out of the Nobel Prize last year."
"It's not about winning prizes," I said. "Besides, the gene modification techniques Evans and the others developed are brilliant. They even helped my own work."
"Of course," Smith agreed with a polite nod. "You've received several grants from DARPA over the past twenty years. If I read the file right, your contract's been renewed a record-breaking seven times. In fact"--he gave a forced chuckle--"you started working for the government just before my eighth birthday."
"Can you please get to the point, Mr. Smith?"
The smile faltered again. "Well, doctor, the fact is they want to bring you on full-time and put you in charge of--"
His face dropped. "You don't even know which project I was going to say."
"It doesn't matter," I said. "I'm comfortable with my arrangement the way it is."
"Are you sure?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
Smith reached out to the side. The man with the attaché case opened it and placed a file folder in the waiting hand. "You've seen some of the headlines, I'm guessing?" He walked past me to the table and spread out some clippings and printed articles.
THE MIGHTY DRAGON PATROLS LOS ANGELES
"APE MAN" STOPS ROBBERY
SHADOWY FIGURE HUNTS RAMPART DISTRICT CRIMINALS
I'd seen most of them before. A few of my grad students had been saving news stories and images for me since the Mighty Dragon had first appeared in June. I guessed we had twice as many articles as Smith did. Copies were on the flash drive, which reminded me to pick it up and drop it in my pocket. "Have you seen the ones about the electrical man up in Boston?" I asked him.
His eyes lit up like a child. "I have. What do you think of them?"
"I'm intrigued, of course, but until I see more concrete proof than a headline in the Post or some grainy photos on a blog, it's not going to occupy a lot of my time."
"But you've had your students saving news stories for you." His smile came back.
"What are you getting at, Mr. Smith?"
He avoided my eyes and looked around the lab. "I hate to sound suspicious, Professor Sorensen, but . . . well, some folks at DARPA have been wondering if you've had some success with your human enhancement research that you haven't told us about."
I felt a twinge of panic. Maybe Mary's paranoia wasn't that misplaced after all. "You think I had something to do with these people?"
Smith shrugged. "To be honest," he said, "I think they'd be thrilled if you had. It'd put the United States far ahead in the superpowers race."
"They're not just here, doctor," he said. "People with superhuman abilities are appearing all over the world. Did you see Vladimir Putin on the cover of Time last month?" Smith shook his head.
"I saw the picture," I said with a nod. They'd titled it "Superman of the Year." Putin had been bare-chested in front of the Kremlin, holding a car one-handed over his head. "I thought it was Photoshop propaganda."
"Most people did. Thank the CIA for that. But superhumans are popping up everywhere." Smith slid some more photos from the file folder. "England's got the Green Knight and the Scarecrow. Japan's got a whole team of super-samurais. There're two guys in Iran calling themselves Gilgamesh and Marduk. Hell, we got satellite footage of a dragon flying over Baghdad this morning. Wings, horns, tail, everything."
He shrugged. "Some of the agency folks think it might be some kind of metamorphosis or something." His tongue tripped over the word. "That something, maybe someone, changed into--"
"I know what metamorphosis means."
"Right, sorry. Anyway, don't you see, professor? That's why we need to get you back on Project Krypton. No more consults, no more outside evaluations. We want you working full-time with us on this. And you don't want to miss out on a chance like this, do you?"
"No," I found myself saying. I knew Smith was right. Eva and Madelyn were going to be angry with me. I'd promised them I wouldn't take on extra projects this year. "I thought Krypton was done for good?"
"The secretary of defense likes it. He brought it back two years ago, but it's been kept pretty quiet. The Future Force Warrior project gets most of the headlines on Wired, anyway."
"Then why bring back Krypton?"
"Well, Future Force is doing well," he said, "and they're also hoping to have that new exoskeleton project in the public eye in the next seven or eight months. But when it comes down to it, the vice president, the secretary, and the Joint Chiefs want to see the real deal in our corner and they think you're the man to do it."
I furrowed my brow. It's a bad habit. Eva says it's giving me wrinkles. "Our corner? I'm not sure I understand."
He gestured at the papers and images on the table. "All these other superhumans are answering to their country's government," he explained. "Almost every one of them. Some are even on payroll. I mean, think about it, doctor. There's no point in having superheroes in the United States if the government doesn't control them."
There were at least three dozen more people in the shop than needed to be. A rumble of conversation echoed through the warehouse-sized room. The rolling tables and racks had been wheeled away. In their place, a single chair sat centered under the cleanest skylight.
St. George sat in the chair. His leather jacket had been tossed aside on one of the tables, revealing the cherry-red tank top that still made summer in Los Angeles feel too hot. He looked at the crowd, then at the handful of people who stood around his chair.
Jarvis tucked a sturdy hacksaw under his arm and clapped his hands. "All y'all, quiet down," he said. "No reason to turn this into more of a circus than it already is." He paused to scratch his chin beneath his salt-and-pepper beard. "We all know this ain't a one-person job. We drew lots last week and each of the winners is going to get a chance at him."
To St. George's left, Andy held a pair of well-worn bolt cutters, and by his shoulder a woman clutched a pair of bright blue tin snips. Billie Carter stood on the other side of the chair with a pair of wire cutters. Mike Turner had another set of bolt cutters. Right in front was a little Latina girl, Andrea, with a black set of wire cutters. She was bouncing up and down. St. George smiled at her and she blushed.
Jarvis turned to the hero in the chair. "Last chance to back out, chief."
The hero smiled. "I'm good," he said. "This is long overdue."
The older man shook his head and let his own hair settle past his shoulders. "Personally, I think it makes you look distinguished."
"Maybe," said St. George, "but it's too damned hot in the summer."
"You let it grow any longer we'd all start calling you St. Fabio," said Mike.
"St. Hippie is more like it," said Billie. She squeezed her wire cutters a few times for emphasis and a round of chuckles echoed in the room. She still wore her hair cropped military short.
Andy stepped forward and held up the bolt cutters. He moved behind St. George and began to gather the golden hair into a ponytail.
"Et tu, Andy?" St. George said with a grin.
"How could I pass up the chance to cut the hair off a legendary strongman?" Andy said with a smile. "If I ever get ordained, I could tell that story every Sunday to a rapt congregation." He settled the ponytail into the mouth of the bolt cutters, took a deep breath, and levered the handles together.
The hair resisted. Andy took another breath, threw his weight into it, and there was a crackle of sharp pops, like breaking spaghetti. It echoed through the shop and the ponytail dropped to the floor. The crowd hollered and applauded. Andy looked at the gouged blades of his bolt cutters and shook his head.
Mike wobbled forward. It had been eight months since an ex had tried to bite through his shoe and cracked half the bones in his foot. Dr. Connolly still wasn't sure if he'd ever walk without a limp. "Little off the top, boss?" he said with a wicked grin.
Over the course of the hour, they sawed and clipped and chopped at the hero's hair. In the end the tools were chipped and pitted, but the floor was covered with hair. There was a final burst of applause from the crowd as St. George looked at himself with a hand mirror.
"Reminds me of a haircut I got in college once." He set down the mirror. "Hope everyone had fun," he said, and gave Andrea a wink. "Time to get back to work. The day's wasting."
The crowd funneled away as he shrugged into the jacket. A few moments later he was alone with Billie and Jarvis. "We ready?" he asked.
She gave him a sharp nod. "Luke's got the extra fuel tanks loaded in Road Warrior. We've got overnight gear if we need it. Stealth's even letting us take three extra cases of ammunition. One nine millimeter, two of .30-08." She glanced at her watch. "Team assembles in thirty-nine minutes."
The hero glanced at Jarvis. "What's the armor situation? Did Rocky get those last three sets of sleeves done?"
"He did not," said the bearded man. "He says it's an art and it takes as long as it takes. I told him y'all wouldn't be pleased."
"Crap. What's that give us, thirteen full suits?"
"Not a great number," said Billie.
"No," agreed the hero.
"Half the folks just want to wear their leathers anyway," said Jarvis. "This whole armor idea still ain't going over that well."
"It's too damned hot for leather," said Billie. "Either people don't wear it or get heat exhaustion from it."
"Tell Rocky he gets chicken for dinner tonight if he can finish one more set before we leave," said St. George. "He's got my word on it." --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- Publication Date : September 4, 2011
- File Size : 2434 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 312 pages
- Publisher : Broadway Books (September 4, 2011)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B00AKJFEPM
- Lending : Not Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Page Numbers Source ISBN : 1934861871
- Best Sellers Rank: #330,929 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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1. Ex-Patriots, unlike Ex-Heros, has a solid interesting plot behind it. Ex-Heros was just superhumans beating up zombies...and nothing deep until the last quarter of the book. But the entirety of this book had a solid plot with unpredictable twists and turns.
2. This book introduces characters that are almost as interesting as the Heroes with various complex personalities and moral compasses...just like the heroes.
3. It's nice to see the Heroes struggle a bit....sure it's cool to see Superman kicking butt but it's also cool to see him face an obstacle that takes everything he has in him to defeat it. We get to see that a bit more in this book.
1. The book makes the same mistake an anime I watched recently (one punch man 2) makes. It focuses on the new characters a tad bit too much, particularly when it comes to the various flashbacks presented in this book. ANd since like with ex-heroes flashbacks make almost half the book...that in itself was enough for me not to give this book a full-on 5-star rating.
1A. the other problem I had with this approach is that there are still a lot of questions that have yet to be answered about the current heroes in the book, and the heroes that died off. Moreover, the flashbacks from book 1 that focused on the various heroes allowed us to see the flaws, history, and experiences that shaped who each of the heroes became. Maybe this is addressed in the third book....but we will see.
2. If I was older....maybe I would appreciate the various pop-culture reference jokes....but since I'm young I couldn't enjoy them as much. I didn't deduct points for this though cause it's subjective but yeah just a con for me.
With communication established with a U.S. Army, it would seem it's time for the superheroes to hang up their coats and let them take over as the guardians of Los Angeles's survivors, yet appearances can be deceiving. The creation of super-soldiers is merely the beginning, what's really going on at Project Krypton? Can the United States Army be trusted? And are they the real enemy?
A personal criticism I had for Ex-Heroes was its run-of-the-mill storyline. It found its own identity towards the latter half, but for the most part Ex-Heroes was a very strong character driven story instead of a plot-driven one. Ex-Patriots on the other hand doesn't suffer from a typical zombie apocalypse plot that you've probably already seen a million times already. The story this time is definitely strong enough to stand on its own without the added awesome factor of superheroes fighting zombies. That being said, there's a bizarre story-arc that's completely dropped without giving any further exposition or closure. The book's synopsis describes the inhabitants of the Mount growing irrationally dissatisfied with living under the heroes' leadership. There are a mere two scenes that correlate with this plot-thread, then it's unceremoniously dropped, making the whole thing amount to nothing. Why this was on the book's synopsis, let alone in the book is beyond me.
An opportunity that I felt Clines didn't quite nail in the last book was showing the decline of moral codes in the individual heroes. It's a characteristic from the zombie genre that would have had an interesting effect on superheroes. It would have tied the two genres ever closer and given the title Ex-Heroes a deeper meaning. In Ex-Patriots, Clines instead uses the U.S. Army to demonstrate a collapse in proper ethics. Despite several satirical diatribes made about the cliché nature of the plot, it does eventually divert its course in an interesting new direction that I doubt anyone will see coming.
The key aspects which made Ex-Heroes so incredible was its insane premise and its believably flawed characters. Each individual superhero was so well characterized that it easily saved the book from an average storyline. Ex-Patriots seems to be the opposite from its predecessor, forgoing the incredibly strong characterization for a better plot. It's an interesting gamble that I don't think was for the better. Each of the heroes was previously characterized in a very peculiar fashion, through personal flashback "THEN" chapters from the viewpoint of their first-person perspectives. It was a unique method of storytelling that worked beautifully. It really fleshed out each of the superheroes' personas, origins, and experiences as crime fighters. By the end, each hero was well characterized and really melded together as a team. The format returns for Ex-Patriots but it isn't as well utilized this time. The various super-soldiers and military personal in which the flashbacks elaborate upon simply aren't very interesting. St. George and the other heroes stole the show in the last book, these other characters simply pale in comparison. Their personalities range from bratty, rude, to insufferably annoying; a certain flashback probably broke a record for the most dropped F-Bombs and use of vulgar insults at female promiscuity.
The problem with the flashbacks focusing on the military personal is that the original superheroes feel less developed than in the first book. They each feel like caricatures for superhero archetypes rather than the flawed human beings which Clines did an excellent job illustrating. This doesn't mean they're any less interesting, I still tipped my hat at St. George's honor, held my sides laughing at Zzzap's pop-culture references, and marveled at Stealth's cunning superhuman sense of analysis. Danielle a.k.a Cerberus was the only character to undergo any development or retain her original flawed nature. Clines also needs to seriously reconsider how he implements minor characters into his narrative. Offering nothing more than an anonymous group of names isn't giving the reader characterization or any reason to be concerned for their safety. I couldn't even tell that the character Billy was a woman at first.
A few new hero characters are introduced, though one of them works better than the others. The first is The Driver; a wily kid from the disbanded Seventeens simply looking to do some good with his powers. He's a welcome addition, though his introduction is a very obvious set up for a deus ex machina. The second new addition is Captain Freedom, whose characterization is absolutely all over the place and frankly isn't very interesting. One moment he's a no-holds brawler who punches first and asks questions later, then he's an honorable pacifist who only uses force when necessary. Like the rest of the super-soldiers he's very generic and pales in comparison to the other superheroes. I can see him becoming more interesting in the third novel if the ending is any indication, but for the majority of the book I didn't care much for him.
My critiques may give off the impression that I dislike this book but that simply isn't the case, this is a book that absolutely needs to be read. Like Ex-Heroes, there simply isn't anything quite like it. I'll say it again, Peter Clines is an artist who defies nearly all contemporary guidelines in order to find his own unique style. We need to reward daring people like this who are passionate about following their own direction, even if it may or may not catch on. He didn't dumb-down his vision for a wider audience, he stuck to his guns and has earned my respect for it.
Oh lest we forget Peter Clines's delightfully dark sense of humor. He's created a very interesting balancing act between illustrating an entertaining story with large stakes, while at the same time not taking itself completely seriously, even going as far as to parody its own ludicrous premise. The infamous "dead celebrity" running gag from Ex-Heroes returns, along with cynical jabs at overused cliches, and several pop-culture references. A particular Transformers joke had me cracking up with laughter. It lightens the mood considerably from what would otherwise have been a very downtrodden and morose atmosphere. It's the sign of an author who truly has fun as a writer.
Ex-Patriots isn't quite as good as Ex-Heroes, but it's still a one of kind experience that can't be found anywhere else. The flashbacks weren't as compelling this time due to their focus on less interesting characters, I would have preferred more attention being paid to the original characters while seamlessly implementing the new ones. But this misstep doesn't stop Ex-Patriots from being something truly special. It's a uniquely realized homage to zombies, superheroes, mad science, and pop-culture all wrapped up with a deviously twisted sense of humor. How could you go wrong with that?
Top reviews from other countries
A military base, with some scientifically engineered Heroes. Of course, there might be some misinformation and some controls when they leave behind closed doors... or a gated/fenced in installation. Are they friend or foe?
At 400 pages, it's longer than the first novel, so you do get a chance to have a deeper look at the characters. There is a stronger focus on the heroes as opposed to the community members simply because much of the action takes place at the military base (that has a few "super" soldiers of its own). As before the book's chapters are divided between "now" and "then" moments, the latter being used to illuminate the origins of new super heroes (or villains). The writing is still crisp and engaging, the action is still fast, and the book still meets the criteria of being a very fun read. If zombies and super heroes are your thing, this is a five star book. I just couldn't quite take it seriously enough to give it five stars myself, but I wouldn't have a problem if someone else did (I'd probably go 4.5 stars myself). Overall then, I strongly recommend this as a light but very fun way to pass the time if zombies, super heroes, and the apocalypse sound interesting to you.
I read the first one and really enjoyed it and this book is longer and a great return to Peters post apocalyptic world.
Two big thumbs up, I really hope he writes another one. They introduced some new and immediately enjoyable characters with the Driver and Captain Freedom.