Zombie Zeitgeist, by J Cornell Michel (1:15)

IOD score cardToday we see that starting in the middle of the action shouldn’t mean chopping off the start of events.

What I gleaned about the stories: Dave put the book of visceral zombie horror down, starting to write the report before posting it.

Find this book on Amazon.

Note: This is a short story collection, so the rules are slightly different from standard Immerse or Die: instead of reading on every time I lose immersion, I stop reading that story and move on to the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

Kudo #1: Good opening line

Analysis: The first story opens with: I met the love of my life exactly thirty-three minutes before she died. Those were the best moments of my life. This did two things: first, it made me wonder what was going to happen in those thirty-three minutes and why it was such a precise number; second, it made me wonder how half-an-hour of zombie apocalypse could be the high spot of the protagonist’s life.

Curious, I raced onward.

WTF #1: Overcomplex sentence

Analysis: Nearly a page into the first story, the protagonist relates how he sees his love surrounded by four zombies. Then I encountered: She raised her katana above her head, and she let out a loud cry as she brought the weapon down on the head of an obese zombie that was clad in a bloodstained bathrobe. I noticed the comma as I hit it, but had enough trust that it didn’t jolt me out of my reading groove. However, the rest of the sentence filled my mental image buffer to overflowing: I thought She was the focus of the scene, surrounded by four interchangeable mooks to be hacked down; however, the usual rule in parsing fiction is that more important things receive more description. The detailed description of the zombie while the woman is still a cipher left me not sure which bits of the image I should prioritise: was this zombie’s dress and weight important? Was where she hit it important?

This stumble moved me far enough back from the image that the editing part of my mind chimed in that breaking the sentence into two (so a sentence described the obese zombie in a bathrobe lunging, then another described her cleaving its noggin) would be easier to digest and create a moment of tension.

Realising I’d fully surfaced, I moved on.

WTF #2: Odd description

Analysis: The second story opens with: Matt Brenner kicked the young blonde woman’s naked corpse, zipping up his fly before walking away. The lack of a subject in the second clause made the two halves seem more intimately connected, so my mind instinctively parsed them as parts of the same action; this produced an image of Matt tucking his leg into his fly then zipping it up.

Immediately after, I replaced this with the image of him kicking her and then tucking his penis away. However, that still seemed an odd image: why had he paused between urinating and tucking himself away to kick her? Dodging a sudden threat while partially dressed could be a powerful image; however, while I haven’t done a study, I suspect most men see unzipping to zipping as a single process rather than a sequence of separate tasks that can be stopped and restarted on a whim. So the lack of any stated reason to shift activities made Matt feel slightly implausible.

Then I wondered if he’d been abusing the corpse rather than urinating beside it. This triggered a brief consideration of whether that would explain the failure to tuck promptly; again, I have no data but it didn’t feel like the kicking would be urgent enough to leave a step hanging.

While a good opening hooks the reader with a question, the only questions I had here were ‘what’s the description supposed to show?’ and ‘does anyone actually behave like that?’ – neither of which are questions that suggest the rest of the description and characterisation will be seamless.

After purging my image buffer, I moved on.

WTF #3: Clumped lines

Analysis: The space between lines of text is like the heat of porridge: for the ideal experience, it needs to be neither too much nor to little. This collection started with a pleasing space between lines (I haven’t measured, but I’d estimate in the region of 130% spaced), then at the start of the third story shifted to single-spaced. This caused the reading equivalent of finding a lump in my porridge.

While my ereader allows alteration of line-spacing, doing so of necessity involves abandoning immersion. In addition, the sudden reduction in reading experience raised the spectre of other formatting niggles in the forthcoming pages.

My faith that the reading experience would be fluid damaged, I pulled the plug.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

God and the Saber-Toothed Tiger and other stories, by Ed Weiss (1:21)
Broken Wizards, by Jeffrey Bardwell (4:55)

About the author

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction.

He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.