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A zombie apocalypse at sea, fought by the most improbable teenage girl since Buffy.

Under a Graveyard Sky

Baen, 2013, 367 pages

Zombies are real. And we made them. Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse? The Smith family is, with the help of a few marines.

When an airborne "zombie" plague is released, bringing civilization to a grinding halt, the Smith family, Steven, Stacey, Sophia and Faith, take to the Atlantic to avoid the chaos. The plan is to find a safe haven from the anarchy of infected humanity. What they discover, instead, is a sea composed of the tears of survivors and a passion for bringing hope.

For it is up to the Smiths and a small band of Marines to somehow create the refuge that survivors seek in a world of darkness and terror. Now with every continent a holocaust and every ship an abattoir, life is lived under a graveyard sky.

John Ringo's books have never particularly appealed to me, so my only knowledge of his writing until now was the infamous Oh John Ringo no, which made me think his books might be entertaining in an OMG!Awful kind of way if I was in the mood for something one level of skeeviness up from Slave Girl of Gor.

Then this new series came out. Zombie apocalypse? Okay, I have to admit, zombie apocalypses are like brain candy to me, like a red-headed stepchild of space opera, another genre I love even though it's so often so very stupid. And the main characters are crazy prepper gun-nuts who are actually ready for a zombie apocalypse. Since I've also been reading a bunch of survivalist novels lately, I figured "Okay, sure, let's give it a go."

Under a Graveyard Sky does not waste any time getting to the action. In chapter one, our fearless protag gets a cryptic message from his brother using a prearranged code that tells him to grab the wife and kids and bug out. (The homage to Alas, Babylon is explicitly mentioned.) Their doomsday plan is to get on a yacht and head out to sea, where they will wait out whatever the apocalypse might be.

The Smiths are almost a parody of a Heinleinian troupe:

The rest of the codes were the problem. Stacey and Tom were the crypto geeks. Of course, calling Tom a geek was a stretch. Nearly two meters tall and a former Australian SAS commando, the "General Manager for Security and Emergency Response" for the Bank of the Americas might have a background in crypto and enjoy the occasional alternative clubbing night. Geek was still a stretch.

Steve Smith, Tom's brother, is also a 6'1" ex-commando badass, but when I said he is our fearless protag, I kind of lied, because the real protagonist of the novel is Steve's thirteen-year-old daughter, Faith. (Yes, her name is Faith, and yes, someone in the book actually asks Steve if she was named after the Buffy character. She wasn't.)

See that cover up there? The busty, heavily-armed blonde chick? Yeah, she's thirteen.

"Hooch, you’re a Marine," Faith said, tightening the strap on her helmet. She was wearing what had become her standard "extreme zombie fighting" kit. Tactical boots and tacticals. Firefighting bunker gear. Nomex head cover tucked under the collar of the bunker gear. Full face respirator. Helmet with integrated visor. Body armor with integral MOLLE. Knee, elbow and shin guards. Nitrile gloves. Tactical gloves. Rubber gloves. Assault pack with hydration unit. Saiga shotgun on friction strap rig. A .45 USP in tactical fast-draw holster. Two .45 USP in chest holsters. Fourteen Saiga ten-round 12-gauge magazines plus one in the weapon. Nine pistol magazines in holster plus three in weapons. Kukri in waist sheath. Machete in over-shoulder sheath, right. Halligan tool in over-shoulder sheath, left. Tactical knife in chest sheath. Tactical knife in waist sheath. Bowie knife in thigh sheath. Calf tactical knife times two. A few clasp knives dangling in various places.

The plot of the book is basically: zombie virus ends civilization, the Smiths go rescue survivors trapped aboard various ships at sea, accumulating the rag-tag fleet which they will lead in the next book. There is more zombie-hacking action than in a first-person shooter, most of it done by Faith. At one point she is mobbed by zombies, repeatedly dragged down, and keeps rising up like an Amazonian goddess.

Oh, by the way, Faith's fifteen-year-old sister Sophie is the smart one. She gets command of her own ship.

Under a Graveyard Sky is almost non-stop action. The action can get repetitive after a while, but Ringo is definitely appealing to the grognard gun-loving geek crowd, and one suspects he's trolling them a bit with his super-hot super-soldier jailbait heroine.

The writing is, well, very gonzo and cinematic (with many, many fannish in-jokes... Ringo references everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Schlock Mercenary to Dungeons & Dragons to establish his geek cred), and definitely not aimed at readers who appreciate artful prose, subtlety, or rich character development. But the cover kind of tells you that. I didn't mind the lack of style, but the increasingly rapid-fire one- and two-paragraph sections from random POVs, sometimes inserted only to get off another "Wow, Faith is awesome and too bad she's not legal yet" joke, did start to make this book read a bit like fan fiction. But entertaining fan fiction.

There seems to be something about survivalist novels that attracts conservative authors, and John Ringo is no exception. The hammer with which he bashes liberals is not as heavy as the one wielded by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle or "A. American", but he can't resist a few cracks about gun control.

Which, fair enough, if a zombie apocalypse happens, you will really wish you had guns.

I mean, that's why I have guns.

Coffee table ready for zombies

In case of TEOTWAWKI, I'm going to need something to read, right?

.... What? <..<

Poll #1965209 Under a Graveyard Sky

Have you read Under a Graveyard Sky?

Yes, and I liked it.
Yes, and I didn't like it.
No, but no I want to.
No, and I'm not interested.

Have you read any other books by John Ringo?

Yes, and I liked them.
Yes, and I didn't like them.

Verdict: Under a Graveyard Sky is not high literature, it's an author gleefully catching the zombie wave, with shameless service for fans of zombie apocalypses, AD&D, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, guns, and underage girlsStrong Female Protagonists. The authorial soapboxing is relatively mild, the prose is readable if not exactly award-winning, and while it hasn't elevated my opinion of John Ringo, I'll probably read the next book, if only to see just how much more incredible his Kukri-wielding thirteen-year-old Amazon becomes.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 20th, 2014 09:04 pm (UTC)
Is.... is that a paragraph from a book or a shoppinglist...? Is it even possible to wear all that??
Apr. 20th, 2014 10:52 pm (UTC)
For some reason, writers of prepper novels love writing out long lists of weapons and gear.
Apr. 21st, 2014 04:55 am (UTC)
I just gotta shake my head. I mean, I'm not a preper. I have a mild military interest. most of that paragraph WHOOSHED over my head and I was left mostly with the impression that she's somehow wearing 3 pairs of gloves and has about a dozen knives on her.
Apr. 20th, 2014 11:19 pm (UTC)
I follow Ringo on FB. This trilogy (possibly more) came out of his rant on how stupid zombie novels are. He said "If you wanted to it right, you'd . . . " and the Muse had him in her grip for about 300k words or so.

I've actively avoided reading the "Oh, John Ringo No!" series (Ghost/Paladin of Shadows), and actually exchanged LJ comments with Ringo on the original post explaining why I'd avoided and him endorsing this.

That said, I recommend sampling There Will Be Dragons (Singularity-level society collapses in civil war, leading to survivalism among high fantasy tropes) and Live Free or Die (Spin-off from Schlock Mercenary backstory, aliens invade and entrepreneur fights them off on human race's behalf).
May. 6th, 2014 04:34 am (UTC)
Huh, interesting
So, if I read your review right, this is a non-YA/children's novel that stars a thirteen year old protagonist? That's fairly rare.

I have to admit it interests me partially for that reason, as it's something rare to see. 'Ender's Game' wasn't originally YA, but it was published before YA was so much of a "thing" and recently I've seen it shelved in the YA section.

'The Talisman' by Stephen King has a 12 year old protagonist IIRC, and a lot of 'It' features the protagonists in their preteen years. But examples are few and far between.

Know of any other examples off-hand? I guess 'A Song of Ice and Fire" has at least a third of its POVs starting with kids 14 or younger (Jon and Robb were 14 at the start of the series) but I don't really count that one, as a larger bulk of the POVs were from adults.
May. 7th, 2014 01:53 am (UTC)
Re: Huh, interesting
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, also by Stephen King, features a 9-year-old girl as the protagonist, but it's not YA either.

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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