Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Rise Again

By Ben Tripp

Review by Dread Socket

It was when I caught myself uttering the words "Ben Tripp can kiss my ass!" after he killed off a character I was really beginning to like that I realized I was in for the long haul. Seriously in. He crafted this person against all expectation and then the bastard killed him. Bad Ben, bad!

Ben Tripp's little bit of Deadlit nirvana, Rise Again, is an easy book for me to recommend. It harkens back to 2007, the Original Summer of Zed Love, when it wasn't unusual to have 2-3 books going at once while juggling Z films and comics. There were rare occasions when works rose to the top of the pile, distinguishing themselves from the horde and surprised the Hell out of me for being damn near exactly what I'd want in a Deadlit book. Not just pulp entertainment, but nearly perfect without feeling like I was settling (those fans who've waded through umpteenth zed variations to get to the type they prefer, you know exactly what I mean). To my surprise, Rise Again quickly became one of those rare finds.

I was initially put off by the publisher's description and assumed, yet again, we had another by-the-numbers-touchy feely-find-the-loved-one and try-not-to-get-eaten book. In this case, there was the added “edginess” of a female lead in what is usually a male role. It's been my (frequent) experience that when a book makes gender/orientation/(insert non-dominate group) switches from the “norm” it calls attention to itself, as if the mere fact it exists in the narrative isn't compelling enough. Usually the guilty party is a scribe who has no obvious affiliation with whatever group they're depicting and probably has no business attempting to speak with any authority for or about them, especially while using them as a plot device. [Editor’s note: Dread has enough soapboxes stored in his bunker to last until doomsday.]

In this case, Tripp was speaking from the place of an empowered ex-military woman struggling with community/civilian re-integration, functional alcoholism, and combat-related PTSD. That's a mighty steep cliff to climb, with an even more perilous fall if Tripp failed in his characterization. He didn’t. As it ended up, I could probably write a behavioral assessment and modification plan for Tripp's lead Danny. Her psyche profile, in all its intense shades, is revealed with so much depth that she becomes less a character and more an extension of the reader, faults and all. We empathize with her because we do in fact see her drive in us. We also see that her faulty thinking isn't that of the other person, but stuff we could possibly find ourselves contemplating if we were honest about it.

With Danny, Tripp gives us a highly flawed, yet sympathetic “heroine” (however reluctant). We want to curse her under our breath, as we would a friend for making certain decisions and sigh with relief when she escapes a crisis. Tripp holds her, as well as the rest of the characters, accountable for their actions which means there are no miracle saves for any of them adding authenticity and tension to their zed universe. Danny gets the shit kicked out of her more than once and she clearly acts like a dumbass at times. Hell, even the book's catalyst, Danny's search for her sister, is painted as a fool's errand almost from the start. Sentiment doesn’t bode well in their world. We zombie fans are notorious for complaining about not getting enough gritty, realistic zombie action. Tripp’s world cruel and unforgiving, so I must shut up and suck up the consequences (but he can still kiss my ass).

THE STORY: Danielle “Danny” Adelman is an Iraq combat veteran who's returned home and charged not only with continuing care for her younger sister, Kelley, but she’s also sheriff of the sleepy southern California town of Forest Peak. None of this works out particularly well for her. On the day she is to be honored and receive the key to the town, surrounded by throngs of gathered tourists and townsfolk, all Hell breaks loose.

The least of her immediate problems is that Kelley ran away leaving behind a cryptic farewell note. The worst is nearby Los Angeles, overrun by a mysterious infection that turns its victims into mindless, screaming banshees that literally run until they drop dead. The reach of this mysterious infection is expanding beyond the big cities and starting to touch the outlying townships. Freeways clog as people drop dead in their cars while oceans of humanity engulf the streets. The runners eventually trickle into Forest Peak and as the town succumbs, Danny and a group of other survivors band together to find a way out. They soon realize  that those who've fallen will rise again (and we have a title! YAY!). And let me tell you, there’s some pretty creepy stuff going on here. The “spatula/cafe scene” comes to mind as one of the few narrative setups in any novel that genuinely grossed me out.

Danny’s group escapes to the desert in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants exit that very well could've climaxed the book right there. Tripp handles action sequences skillfully enough that after its excitement, the desert sequence threatens to screech things to a halt. Luckily, Tripp takes the time to continue building his characters during this lull. Danny eventually sets off to find Kelly. Along the way the scope of this contagion is revealed, as are clues to her sister's whereabouts. Danny's journey takes her up the California coast and eventually lands her in the ashen city of San Francisco, with the realization that looking for her sister may not be the best idea after all.

I'm tempted to offer more insight into Tripp's handling of Danny's journey, but it would lead to even more spoilers. I'll leave potential readers to discover the varied twists and developments on their own. I wasn’t even sure what I thought of it all as it was developing, but its handling is one of the book’s strengths and reasons to read it. Another point that I am typically unyielding about is zombie types. Again, no spoilers, but with Tripp's crucial placement, I was willing to accept the touch he added.

Are there moments that threaten to get out of control? Ehh.... yea, probably depending on your suspension of disbelief and maybe even life experience, but I found it acceptable. There were a couple of points in the development of the desert survivors’ predicament that I found a little forced. That felt a little clumsy in the pacing when compared to Tripp’s thoroughness elsewhere. Otherwise, I was willing to roll with almost anything he did after the escape from Forest Peak. You certainly won’t see some hot babe on a motorcycle come crashing through a stained glass church window, perfectly timed to save a group that’s being attacked by mutated monsters (*ahem*RE2*cough*rolls eyes). Instead, Tripp confidently juggles all elements of zombie lore like a veteran and creates an immersive zombie experience that you'll want to revisit again… after you’ve caught your breath.

384 pages
Publisher: Gallery (Simon and Schuster)
Pub Date: October 26, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1439165164

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