Tag: dystopian

Mar 05

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

Dystopian, E-Readers, Mystery 9

Good Morrow, Bookworms!

Raise your hand if you use your smart phone more than you’re proud of. My hand is high in the air, y’all. (I blame Trivia Crack.) I remember hearing a whole bunch of folks talking about the awesomeness that is The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon so when it popped up as available from my library’s digital services, I had to download it. Because I’m controlled by machines. They’re becoming sentient. OooOOOOOooooO.

wordexchangeEnter the world of The Word ExchangeIt’s a few years in the future and a smart-phone-like device known as a Meme has become ubiquitous. The Meme ain’t your average iPhone though. This thing pretty much predicts your thoughts and behaviors. It’s more than a little creepy. It kind of makes me wonder why everyone is all kinds of surprised when things go terribly, terribly wrong. (Of course, the characters in the novel didn’t have the advantage of reading about the whole thing at a distance. Omniscience is a gift. Gosh, I love fiction!)

Anana Johnson works for one of the world’s last remaining dictionaries. When her father goes missing, she stumbles upon a conspiracy, a secret society, and contracts a potentially deadly plague. Makes your Friday night seem uneventful, doesn’t it? A “word flu” has begun spreading that’s causing people to speak gibberish along with a nasty case of physical flu-like symptoms. I’ll give you three guesses as to what creeptastic device is behind the spread of the plague, but you’ll only need one! Anana teams up with her colleague (and secret admirer) Bart in order to track down her father and try to save the day.

The Word Exchange is a fun, weird, ride. It’s not an especially lengthy novel, but I found myself taking longer than usual to get through it. I typically get most of my reading in at night before I go to sleep, and I found my brain rebelling when I hit passages where infected folks were speaking gibberish. And by “brain rebelling,” I mean I fell asleep. I wasn’t bored, I’m just really spoiled by standardized spelling. If you’re in the mood for a fast paced, semi-dystopian mystery with a side of word nerd (and who isn’t?) The Word Exchange is your book!

Sound off, Bookworms! Do you think that we as a society have become too reliant on our smart phones? Will it bring about the end of days? (I might be watching Doomsday Preppers. I can’t be held responsible for my alarmist tone.)

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Dec 11

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Dystopian, Plague, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction 16

Good Morrow, Bookworms!

I’m feeling rather Shakespearean today, and it’s the fault of Emily St. John Mandel’s new (and awesome) novel, Station ElevenThere’s been a lot of buzz floating around about this book, but don’t believe the hype. Well, no. DO believe the hype. But believe it because I said so. (Shhhh, it makes me feel important.)

stationeleven Station Eleven explores a world twenty years after a flu pandemic knocks out 99% of the population of earth. It’s a little bit like The Stand (review), minus any supernatural elements or government conspiracies. It’s just good old fashioned viral mutation that wreaks havoc. It should freak you out a little, because it’s a totally plausible thing that could happen. (Shivers.)

When the proverbial shiznit hits the fan, it’s fascinating to see how the survivors react. Dude, 99% of the population is GONE. That’s EVERYONE you know, except maybe that weird cashier from the grocery store. So you go wandering. You’re searching for meaning, and probably company other than that weird cashier.

In Station Elevenone of the primary groups that forms is the Traveling Symphony. They wander through towns performing Shakespeare and classical music, because “survival is not enough.” Cool, right? An attempt to preserve art in the face of mass extinction? Heck yes.

Of course, not everybody goes around getting their Bard on. And some of the groups that have survived post apocalypse are less than savory. I don’t want to reveal too much because spoilers! But I will say that this book is an excellent, thought provoking read that will leave you pondering civilization, spirituality, and hand sanitizer. Go check it out!

I’m feeling deep, Bookworms. Do you feel that art helps keep civilization from self-destructing? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

 

 

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Jul 24

Just Your Typical Prototype (Prototype by MD Waters)

Contemporary Fiction, Dystopian, Women's Studies 5

Greetings, Bookworms!

If you’re not singing No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” right now based on the title of this post, please, by all means, put it on as background music. Now that I’m done foisting 90s ear worms on you, we can get down to business. Earlier this year I read and really enjoyed Archetype by MD Waters. I was overjoyed when I was offered a complimentary copy of the sequel, Prototype, by the publisher for review consideration. *The manner in which this book was received in no way influences the honesty of the following review.*

PrototypeI can’t really accurately describe much about this book without giving away at least a few spoilers for the preceding novel. I’m going to try REALLY hard to be good, but if you’re really sensitive about such things, maybe come back after you’ve read Archetype just to be on the safe side. SPOILER ALERT! You still here? Excellent. Prototype begins about a year after Archetype‘s close. During the course of Archetype our heroine Emma learns through a series of unfortunate events that she was sold into slavery as a young girl, as fertile women have become an extremely valuable commodity. Her life is not at all what’s been presented to her during her recovery from a mysterious “accident.” Emma is, in fact, not who she thinks she is at all. Well. She is. And she isn’t. It’s COMPLICATED.

Anyhow, not everyone in the world is thrilled with the idea that women be sold as breeding stock, so there’s a big underground resistance operation that occasionally raids the training camps where they keep the girls and generally work to undermine the system. SUBVERT THE PATRIARCHY. Wooo! Emma learned of her own ties to the resistance, but because of REASONS, she chooses to leave on a quest to find her parents. Parents she can’t remember. Who sold her into slavery. Because that makes sense, Emma! Fictional characters can be terribly illogical.

In any case, adventures ensue, battles commence, and love threatens to unravel everything (as love is wont to do.) I liked this book, but some of the characters who were fairly complex in the first book took a decidedly Bond villain turn in this one. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good villain, but it seemed like a bit of a ploy to wrap up some complicated emotional baggage in a neat little bow. (To be clear, I wasn’t bothered by the tidy ending, just the Bond villains. I like my bad guys with layers.) While I didn’t love Prototype as much as Archetype, I thought it was a strong sequel and wrapped up the story in a satisfying manner. If you read and enjoyed ArchetypePrototype will give you the closure you crave.

Alright Bookworms. Time to sound off. Do like neatly packaged book conclusions, or do you prefer something a bit messier and open ended?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jan 31

Idiosyncratic Lit List: What is up With all the Trilogies?

Idiosyncratic Lit List 58

Hey Bookworms,

This being my third Idiosyncratic Lit List, it seems only appropriate to talk about the excessive tripling that’s been going on lately… Can anybody explain to me WHY dystopian novels so rarely stand alone anymore? I mean, the cheese does it, why can’t a dystopian novel? That’s not to say I dislike trilogies, but they make me nervous. Having a killer first novel puts a ton of pressure on the next two books… Sometimes I think writers are only doing the trilogy thing because THAT’S WHAT YOU DO, not because the story really needs or deserves three whole books… OBVIOUSLY this calls for a list or two, don’t you think?

idiosyncraticlitlist

Dystopian Trilogies Doing it Right

1. The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood: It’s almost unfair to compare dystopian trilogies to Margaret Atwood because so many of them are YA novels. That’s not to say there’s no merit in YA novels, but the hardcore literary headiness of Atwood puts her in a different class. She’s already proven to me that she can kick butt in a stand-alone dystopia (The Handmaid’s Tale is ah-mazing), so I’m not about to throw shade on her trilogy vibe. Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam were awesome.

2. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: To be completely honest here, I think the first book in this trilogy is far and away the strongest. However, I thought there was enough going on story-wise to merit all three books. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay had me hooked from the very beginning and didn’t loosen their grip until… Wait. They still haven’t. Stop strangling my soul, books!

3. The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant: A zombie apocalypse is totally dystopian, right? Whatever, I just want to talk about how much I loved these books again. FeedDeadline, Blackout . Read them, read them now.

Dystopian Trilogies That Should Have Quit While They Were Ahead

1. The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth- Divergent and Insurgent were strong books, but O to the M to the G, what HAPPENED with Allegiant? That was just a rushed mess. I don’t need “happy” endings, but I do need endings that are well drawn. The ping ponging of points of view mingled with the bipolar pace of action was just not okay.

2. The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie- I’m not entirely sure why I read this entire series. I didn’t much care for it from the get-go, and the third book was my favorite of the bunch. Matched was kind of blah, Crossed was kind of awful, and Reached was too little too late. (Gotta give you props for the FLOWERS saving the world, though, Ms. Condie!) This may have worked out better as two books, cutting out the middle man. It just didn’t work as a three-for.

3. The Maze Runner Trilogy by James Dashner- Technically this is a trilogy plus a prequel, but I wanted to put it on my list, so pretend with me. I was completely hooked by The Maze Runner, but as the books went on, my interest waned. The Scorch Trials got a bit manic, and The Death Cure pulled a Lost and didn’t answer all my questions. I think this is a case of a book that would have done better as a single story with a nice meaty epilogue.

Talk to me, Bookworms. Any of you have a love/hate relationship with trilogies? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Nov 08

Here Comes the Son: Son by Lois Lowry

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Family, Fantasy, Women's Studies, Young Adult Fiction 18

Hidey Ho, Bookworms!

We have reached the final leg of our Giver journey! Who’s excited? I can practically hear you hooting and hollering through the internet. Love the enthusiasm!

Son is the fourth and final offering in Lois Lowry’s Giver quartet. Son starts off with a bang by returning us to the scene of the crime- the original community! We’re back in the land of overscheduled, colorless, emotionless lives. But the bicycles are especially jaunty, you have to give them that.

We are introduced to a new character, Claire. Claire is a 14-year-old birthmother. Remember birthmothers? The girls in the community who weren’t fit for other occupation? Yeah. Those birthmothers. Claire is one of them. She’s 14. And pregnant! Oh, community, seriously?! You can fix the weather but you can’t figure out that young girls’ bodies, while capable of producing a healthy child, are not mature enough to do so reliably? I don’t remember what the ideal childbearing age is biologically speaking, but it sure as sugar snap peas isn’t 14!

Claire is busy chilling in the birthmother dorm hanging around the other birthmothers reflecting that it was kind of weird that she had no idea how human reproduction worked, what with the swelling of bellies and all. Then she goes into labor. She’s wheeled into a room and put into a leather mask (that sounds like nothing so much as accoutrements of Fifty Shades’ Red Room of Pain.) Unfortunately something goes wrong (I mean, it’s not like she’s a 14-year-old girl giving birth or anything!) and Claire has to have a c-section to release the “product.” Claire is given some time to recover and is then re-assigned to work in the fish hatchery. The community doesn’t like c-sections, apparently, so she’s kicked out of birthmother-ing.

The powers that be made two mistakes. First, someone mentioned to Claire that her “product” was a male and gives her his birth number. Second, the community is so dang flustered at their screw up with Claire’s assignment that they forget to give her the pills! (The PILLS! The ones that make you sterile and steal your emotions. Egads, the girl has FEELINGS now!)

It’s a party mix! Saddest thing about the pills? Even if they were fun colors, nobody in the community could see them. Sad trombone.

In case you hadn’t guessed this already, Claire’s baby is Gabe. While Gabe is spending his nights with Jonas and his family, Claire is volunteering at the nursery to spend time with her baby boy. She begins to get attached (not allowed) and is devastated to hear from Jonas’s father that Gabe isn’t bound to be assigned, but released. (Released=Euthanasia, remember?) Claire is distraught and desperate to save her baby. Later that night alarms sound, because Jonas has escaped with Gabe. Claire hops onto a supply ship hoping to track them down…And then she’s shipwrecked!

Dun dun dun! Claire washes up on the shore of yet another society. This village is hemmed in by cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, so it’s completely isolated. It’s not entirely unpleasant though. Actually, it’s the most normal of the places we’ve seen in this series of novels. It’s pretty much what you’d expect out of an isolated town, like 150 years ago. They don’t abandon their sick and injured to die in fields… Claire starts out with amnesia but soon remembers Gabe and her quest. She meets a disabled shepherd who is willing to train her on how to scale the cliff of doom (I added the “of doom” part. Creative license. Sue me.)

After an irrationally long (sorry Ms. Lowry, it was a bit drawn out…) sequence describing Claire’s physical training regime and her highly detailed climb, Claire escapes the village. But who awaits her at the top? Her Mr. Miyagi Shepherd buddy warned her about (dun dun duuuuuuun!) the Trademaster! Yes! The wicked fellow ruining lives in Jonas’s village is waiting for Claire! He demands a trade, and Claire knows she must accept, otherwise he’ll cut off half her feet the way he did Miyagi (jerk.) So. The Trademaster tells Claire he’ll get her to Gabe… In exchange for her youth. (Are you sensing more fantasy coming on?) Claire is turned from a young woman into a hunched, old, arthritic geezer. Sad! But, she is taken into Jonas’s village and gets to watch Gabe grow up from afar.

Cliff climbing. Like so. Only without the rope thingie and all the safety precautions. I may or may not have had a mild bout of vertigo reading this section…

Sidebar- Jonas and Kira totally get married and have babies, so yay for them. Unfortunately, Gabe is being a moody teenager and wants to find his “real” family. Claire is prematurely super old and is on her deathbed before she reveals her secret to Jonas. Gabe has a little bit of superpower about him and is able to pop into people’s heads and feel their feelings and stuff. It’s kind of vague, but somehow he is able to track down the Trademaster, get inside his head and destroy him. Then Claire is magically young again and they all live happily ever after. Yay?

When I look at this series as a whole, I’ve got to admit that for me nothing really lived up to The Giver. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy each of the books in their own way, I just felt that the messages in The Giver resonated with me in a way the others didn’t. Honestly, I would have preferred to hear about how the original community evolved after Jonas’s departure than have the story branch out into so many other little societies, but alas, wasn’t in the cards. I also wasn’t thrilled with the turn the series took into full on fantasy either… I mean, fantasy is great, I just prefer it to carry it all throughout a series than to have it presented halfway through. I found Son a little bit predictable, too. But! I’m not a complete sourpuss! Overall, this series is a great example of young adult fiction. There are all sorts of good lessons to learn, and I appreciate a happy ending, no matter how it comes about. Give it a shot and decide for yourself!

Have any of you Bookworms made it all the way through the series? Are you pleased with the way Lowry wrapped up the story? Do you still have unanswered questions? Let’s talk about it!

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Oct 29

Books That Scare Me: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Dystopian 24

Muahahahaha Bookworms! (Did you enjoy my maniacal monster laugh?!)  Today is the official beginning of Hallo-Week, so I’m going to celebrate by discussing some of the books that scare the crap out of me. I have probably mentioned this before, but I’m not a huge fan of ghost stories, demonic possessions, and the usual frightful fare. I’m sort of a chicken and I don’t like having nightmares. Just because I don’t dig the traditional supernatural horror stories, doesn’t mean I haven’t read anything horrifying… Stephen King I may have to take in measured doses, but I have some terrifying tales to share with you! First on the list of books that scare the boogers out of me: The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

The Road is the story of a man and his young son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. I read dystopias all the time… So why is this one so flim-flamming scary? This book paints the absolute BLEAKEST apocalypse scenario I’ve ever read.

The cover is bleak and terrifying too!

Some unexplained catastrophe has wiped out most of human life on earth. It’s also decimated the plant life, sea life, and animal life. There are a few humans left rattling around the planet, but it’s not pretty. Most of the survivors belong to cannibalistic gangs. Growing food isn’t even an option! Somehow whatever happened (meteor strike maybe?) has put the planet in a hazy fog and the lack of sunlight has killed all the vegetation. It’s horrifying. The survivors who don’t feast on the flesh of their fellow men or barbecue babies scavenge for canned goods and hiding places.

The man and his young boy are never named, but they’re each other’s entire worlds. They carry around a gun containing two bullets, just in case. Better to die swiftly than be captured and harvested for meat. This book follows the man and boy on their journey across the desolate landscape looking for a safe place to call home.

A side effect of the cataclysm is a permanently tainted air supply. The boy and his father constantly wear masks to try and filter the ash, but the pollution has taken its toll on the man. What do you do for a chronic lung ailment when there are no doctors and no medicine? I won’t give away everything, but I will tell you there’s no happily ever after to lull you to sleep at night.

This book disturbed me on many levels. First, it’s always a shock to remember just how quickly “society” could fall by the wayside in the event of a catastrophe. Second, there is just no hope. They can’t escape to a nice little farm somewhere and make a life and refuge for themselves, because nothing will grow. There is no sun. The soil is depleted. Trees are toppling over at the roots. Even if they can survive the marauding packs of cannibals, where are they going to go? What are they going to do? There is absolutely no escape and it scares me silly. Heebie jeebies all over the place.

What’s the most frightening book you’ve ever read? Was it scary in a traditional sense or more of a I’m-about-to-have-a-panic-attack-thinking-about-this way?

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Oct 12

Confession Friday: I Don't Finish Reading Everything I Start

Book Club, Classics, Dystopian, E-Readers 32

Welcome to the Confessional, Bookworms! Let’s talk about my secret shames, shall we? Ordinarily, I am a stubborn book finisher. There have been occasions where I power through a book where I hate the characters, hate the situations, and sometimes talk back to characters… Loudly. It makes me feel powerful to “not let the book win.” The books that have won haunt me. Let’s talk about them!

I started reading The Fifth Book of Peace by Maxine Hong Kingston because I had read her book The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of Girlhood Among Ghosts in college and really liked it. Woman Warrior was all about Chinese girls growing up in America and the cultural mish-mash they encountered. So, when I was in Barnes & Noble with my graduation gift cards burning a hole in my pocket, I saw The Fifth Book of Peace on the clearance rack and bought it excitedly. Unfortunately, I made it halfway through the novel and gave up. It starts off with Kingston lamenting the loss of one of her books and her home to wildfire. (Terribly sad for her, I’d absolutely lament too.) Then she started reconstructing what she remembered of the original novel. A Chinese American artist, his wife, and their son run off to Hawaii during the Vietnam era to avoid the draft. They lived off the grid in a squatters village and… I have no idea because I stopped reading. Reading this felt like a chore, and there are so many FUN things out there. I took a break from it, put it on a shelf, and never went back to it. To this day, it taunts me from the bookshelf…

Stop judging me, book!

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence is next in my little walk of shame. I really liked Lady Chatterley’s Lover, so I figured another Lawrence tome was a safe bet. Back in the days before I had a Kindle, I carried handbags of epic proportions. I went to visit my Slaw (short for sister in law, for those of you who aren’t up on my lingo. Jenny smells nothing like cabbage and I actually hate coleslaw, but my brain does stupid things with letters and this is what it spit out) in Chicago one weekend and had perhaps one adult beverage too many. At this point, I started hunting for my lip balm, thus scattering the contents of my ginormous handbag on a table in a bar. Photographic evidence below… I should really stop using that bookmark. That’s the one I was using on The Fifth Book of Peace too. Maybe it’s cursed. I read a little bit more of it on the train back home, but that was the end of that. I was expecting some Lady Chatterley flowery smut and I got a carnival and some weird dating stories. Then I fell asleep. Narcolepsy, I guess. Or a mild hangover. Tomato, toMAHto.

Of course there were cameras that night! Of course there were.

Our last stop on the walk of shame is 1Q84. Oh boy. So I’ve mentioned that I only speak English right?  The title of this book apparently means something funny in Japanese, but something is lost in translation. The number nine and the letter Q? Yeah. Not funny. How I came to be reading this in the first place is an embarassing story. I’m apparently an accidental cultural bigot. My book club (Wine and Whining) read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and I loved it. Yay dystopian clones! One day, I was hunting through the books available for Kindle from my local library. I saw 1Q84 by Hakuri Murakami and I thought “oh! I liked his book about the clones!” Because if you’re me, those two completely different Japanese names are the same?! You are welcome to judge me harshly for this- I deserve it.

Murakami is more the sort of novelist that fancy people pretend to like- nothing about clones (sad face.) The problem with Kindle books is that you can’t see the, uh, girth of the novel. I’m also lazy and I never look at the approximate page numbers when choosing books, so I didn’t realize that trying to read a 928 page novel on alternate worlds set in Japan wouldn’t be possible in the span of my two week lending period. The book went back to the library (no late fees = digital lending perk) and I never checked it out again. Woops.

Maybe one day I’ll get back to it. Maybe.

There you have it, Bookworms. Katie’s walk of shame- books I didn’t finish. Happy weekend!

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Aug 27

Zombie Apocalypse

Dystopian 25

Dystopian fiction is one of my favorite genres. Nothing makes me feel better about my life than reading about some completely jacked up alternate future. What better way to celebrate my dedication to the dark side than to turn the spotlight on the apocalypse scenario of the moment: ZOMBIES!

Full disclosure- I generally don’t like horror movies, books, or television shows. Psycho killers, demons, and ghosts frighten me more than zombies. I suppose I can just look at a zombie apocalypse as a far fetched scenario. I mean, even the crazy people on the Doomsday Preppers show never admit to be prepping for a zombie apocalypse. It’s always something more urbane, like a financial collapse or nuclear war. Plus, psycho killers are REAL. And demons MIGHT be real. And ghosts are PROBABLY real in some form or another. I don’t like the idea of dead people, demons, or interloping psycho killers watching me shower, so I try to avoid reading about them.

It seems like zombies are everywhere these days, and I am not immune to their festering charms! The Walking Dead on AMC is absolutely addictive. Sadly, the show runs in short seasons- what’s a girl to do when the zombie show goes on hiatus? Read zombie novels, of course! (I have not read the graphic novels the Walking Dead TV series is based on. I haven’t taken the leap into graphic novels… Yet.)

Zombie Katie! Zombieme.com allows you to upload your face and zombie it up. I suck at photoshop type things, so this is what I made. Why am I still undead? I have a head wound!

World War Z by Max Brooks was my first foray into the zombie-lore in book form and it was infectious! The book is presented as a series of articles written by a journalist after the worst of the zombie attacks are over. The stories are poignant, concise, and super creepy! They begin with the first reports of zombies, and continue through the entire “war.”

We see the military’s failures, the learning curve that comes with fighting an unknown threat. The way the public reacts is very realistic. At first people are disbelieving- I mean who would believe the dead have risen and are trying to devour humanity? Then they panic, because, HOLY CRAP! THE DEAD HAVE RISEN AND ARE TRYING TO DEVOUR HUMANITY!

Luckily, Max Brooks’s zombies have some weaknesses. They can’t climb, for one thing. Also, they freeze solid in the winter. The military eventually develops body armor that can protect against bites, and if you’re a good enough shot and have  a ton of ammo, you can climb a tree and pick them off, brain by zombiefied brain.

World War Z added so many scenarios I hadn’t thought of. It explored the psychological implications of surviving such an event. Some people would actually go all catatonic, THINK they were zombies, and join the hoard. Post apocalyptic depression can be pretty crippling, too. How does one come to terms with having to see their loved ones eaten alive? Or having to exterminate the zombie versions of their families? It was a great, well rounded look at a topic that can be super campy and cheesy.

A lot of zombie movies end with the island scenario. The rag tag band of survivors go in search of an island where the zombies won’t be able to reach them. This book blew a hole in that theory. Think about it. If zombies are dead, the don’t need to breathe. What’s to keep them from shuffling their way across the bottom of the ocean to eat the survivors on the islands? Do you feel claustrophobic yet? There is nowhere to hide!

This monkey terrified me as a child, and it now lives on my bookcase. You can’t hide from him either! And he looks sort of like a Zombie cymbal monkey. So it’s appropriate!

For the truly insatiable, check out this post on real life Zombie Apocalypse scenarios. I will warn you that the images are not for the faint of heart, but it’s definitely a cool piece. (*Sponsored by Qwer.com*)

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