J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon is a interesting book that tells the story of the zombie apocalypse from the point of view of a military officer who is struggling to survive it. The novel originally began as a series of blog entries by the author that gained quite an audience on the web. The book was then self published and eventually picked up by Pocket Books.
The reactions to the book are certainly polarized; people either love it or hate it. There are certain criticisms that seem to come up repeatedly regarding this book. Among them are:
People compare it to World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks: I can’t tell you how many times I have read, “I read World War Z and liked it, so I thought I’d read this one….” In this case, this is a recipe for disappointment. I think that Max Brooks’ book is absolutely brilliant, and it is certainly at the top of my zombie reading list, but the book is really atypical for the genre. Just because a person likes one doesn’t mean that they will necessarily like the other. DBDA should not be criticized for NOT being like World War Z.
People say it lacks character development: The criticism that there is no character development is also somewhat unwarranted. Because the main character’s nature is not really effusive (he’s a military man, remember?), much of what is written in the book is about events, rather than feelings. Often, the feelings about the events are not stated directly and generally do need to be inferred. Other times, the feelings are very direct and evocative, such as when the main character wonders if his parents have survived or if he could manage to get to their home to check on them. Throughout the book, the characters do act in ways that are consistent with their nature.
I think that part of the difficulty in perceiving the development stems from both the lack of a baseline and the limitations of the journal format. In the book, the narrator starts keeping the journal right as the zombie outbreak begins. We have very little material written before the outbreak which means we have little information with which to judge any level of character growth.
People say it has an extremely boring plot: I personally find criticism that the plot of this book is boring to be somewhat amusing. Rather than having a frantic paced activity level, the author (very effectively, in my opinion) uses inactivity to good effect to create tension. By using prolonged waiting to get the reader to almost a fever pitch, it heightens the suspense. Because of that, there are parts in this book that are so suspenseful, they are scary.
The journal format itself is, as others have noted, both problematic and limited and may help foster the idea of a slow moving plot. Most zombie movies and books are usually told in the present tense. A journal would of necessity be written after the events in question have already happened. A certain immediacy is lost because of this. And since DBDA is predominantly a survival story, the author is more concerned with telling a story about survival than he is with telling a story about zombies. Typically in a zombie book, there are lots of scenes of people getting eaten by zombies, and like the films, much of the emphasis is on blood and gore. In this book, the author seems to pay more attention to describing the MREs, guns and ammo than he does the zombies.
People say it is too full of typos and grammar errors: There are definitely two schools of thought on this one. Some people think that the grammar errors are deliberate; others think that they are examples of extremely poor writing/proofing/editing. I myself am torn on this one. The author’s website and Twitter entries are generally grammatically correct. However, the book contains numerous instances of poor punctuation and spelling (such as “putting on the breaks” instead of “putting on the brakes”). I have never in my life been so tempted to take a red pen to a book and would have loved to introduce the author to the proper use of the comma and the semicolon. And I read the book on a Kindle!
If these errors are deliberate, it would be extremely helpful for the author to note that in a forward to a future edition.
People say the ending is horrible: I have to agree that I do not like the ending to the book at all. Without spoiling the ending, all I can say is that it ends too abruptly and that it could have been handled in a much better way.
Despite the some of the issues with the book, this is an interesting and compelling read that is enjoyable. If you are a true fan of the zombie genre, this book is too important to miss. A sequel, Day By Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile, is currently in the works and is due to be released in July of 2010.