May 01 2010

Zombie football: sign me up!

Published by at 2:02 pm under Book Review

For a story ostensibly about zombie football, Play Dead has hardly any football and the zombies first appear in chapter 15. Also, unlike most other zombie stories, it’s not an us-vs.-them fight for survival.  These zombies have to win a football game to save their souls.

There are 15 chapters of setup to the zombies, but only twenty pages of football (a single game). Those chapters mainly establish the two main characters (a smartass quarterback and a student journalist desperately in search of a story) and their relationship. The characters were well fleshed-out (besides the antagonists) and the plot was very easy to follow, even if you know nothing about football. I finished the book in one sitting, so I’d say it’s very easy to read.

That said, I had some issues with it…

–The cover, although very interesting, is misleading. It’s not about zombies or football. It’s a revenge story about characters that happen to be football players. Secondarily, I’d say it’s a high school romance without the cattiness.

–The antagonists. Oh God, the antagonists. Even if you buy into the stereotype that football players are stupid, these guys are implausibly dumb. The main antagonist brags about ~40 manslaughters to the two protagonists and is caught on tape. The villainous scheme was the demented child of steroids, weed and breathtaking stupidity. The antagonists set up an industrial-strength tripwire on a bridge to cut through the team bus and are astonished when the car goes crazy and careens into the river, killing everybody inside except one. (What were they HOPING would happen? Merely get 40 counts of aggravated assault instead?) The chief antagonist pretty much lets everything slip in a police interview after refusing to take a lawyer (even after the cop recommended he get one!). After getting broken out of prison (by the heroes!), they agree to play a game of football across town rather than just running or mauling the heroes. Because they love football that much, I guess.  (*rolls eyes*)

–The antagonists’ rationale for sabotaging the bus is absolutely inane. They want to prevent the good guys from playing a third team for the right to play the antagonists in the finals. Even if their plan had gone 100% to plan, the bad guys would still have played a really competitive team. This would have been less of an idiot plot if the story mentioned how much better the good guys were than the neutral team. But it would have been a lot smarter to sabotage the good guys AFTER they were locked in for the final match. The only reason to have the neutral team in the book at all is to introduce uncertainty about which team sabotaged the good guys, but (spoiler) even the police solve the case in the first third of the book. Which brings me to my next point…

— (spoiler: continued) The police have the bad guys in prison about a third through the book. This is definitely a departure from most revenge stories, where the police are useless and/or an obstacle for the hero. If the bad guys are in prison for murder, why does the zombie football matter? I don’t think the story came up with a good explanation for that. To release the zombies’ souls from limbo (because that was the dying wish of the voodoo sorceress or something), I think. But the zombies’ souls are only in limbo because they got involved in voodoo magic anyway and they got involved in voodoo magic for a pretty flimsy reason (because the protagonists didn’t think that imprisonment was sufficient punishment?)

–There are minor continuity problems with which spells work and which don’t. For example, the spell to resurrect the football players backfires because it was based on revenge. But the outcome is almost identical to when she resurrected her cat, which almost certainly wasn’t revenge. In both cases, the targets gradually degenerated into carnivorous freaks. Why did the cat’s resurrection go awry?  (Or, if that was the intended effect, why would she inflict that on a cat she loves?) Also, she gives someone shingles, and that spell works fine despite being clearly done for revenge.

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