Neeta Lyffe: Dual Review

Today will be a dual review.  Why? Because it’s hard to review one book without reflecting on the other.

In zombie films, zombies are generally NOT the main bad guys. They set the scene, they act as cannon fodder (for an action franchise like Resident Evil, where the real villains are the Evil Corporation du jour), but most zombie movies are more about the people in the Zombie Apocalypse du jour rather than about the zombies. The zombies are window dressing.

Enter Karina Fabian’s Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator.

Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator, takes place in the 2040s, several decades after the zombie outbreaks started. However, there is no zombie apocalypse here.  It never happened. but the undead can be annoying, so exterminators with chainsaws have to be called in.
Neeta Lyffe, a second-generation exterminator (motto: “I want to be buried like my mother, with my head cradled in my arms”) is sued after an extermination call went into property damage. Now, in order to generate income, she’s agreed to do the most terrifying thing in her life….. host a reality show.

Yes, you read that right. The reality show Zombie Death Extreme, where Neeta is stuck with a handful of exterminator wannabes, training them to re-kill the occasional nests of undead that threaten LA (though, if parts of LA were turned into shambling mindless hordes, would anyone notice?). Also included: re-grief training … for when you have to mourn for loved ones a second time, when they come back; and flash cards to tell the difference between a stroke victim, a drunk, and a zombie.

You can probably guess, this has a sense of humor, unlike most zombie media (“We throw the grenades on the count of 3. 1, 2, 3.”  Second person shouts “Five,” and throws the grenade … sorry, Monty Python joke.).

Karina. With Chainsaw

The cast looks like it should be stocked with the standard cliches: a farm boy with a stutter, an African-American woman from an urban environment, an ex-marine, an Afghan emigre who’s first language isn’t English (he speaks it perfectly, but the producers want him so sound like Hasan in a Bugs Bunny Cartoon). The producer is the standard two-dimension cardboard cutout, which means he’s drawn very accurately — however, he’s never had to negotiate with someone who carries a chainsaw on a daily basis, including the occasional brainstorming session for the show.

All of the characters are vivid and brightly drawn … and heavily mocked, in some cases. Everything you have ever hated about reality television is skewered ruthlessly, and wonderfully.

Possibly one of the best parts of this book (and there are plenty to choose from), use the running excerpts from a documentary on the rise of zombies, detailing a somewhat funny look on the matter, down to and including Darwin Award winners who tried to play tag with a zombie. That was fun.

In short, it’s one part satire, one part action, and all parts fun.

5/5 stars.  Best zombie book ever. Period.  Buy it now.

And now, time for I Left My Brains in San Francisco.

Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator returns in Neeta Lyffe 2:  I Left My Brains In San Francisco.

After hosting Zombie Death Extreme (which has spun off more copies of the franchise than anyone in the book can count), Neeta is back to her day job.  However, in this book, she’s off to a conference in San Francisco. There will be scientists, government researchers, fellow re-killing experts, as well as enough vendors to outfit a small armory.

Also tagging along is her business partner and sort-of/maybe boyfriend Ted, who had been a cameraman on Zombie Death Extreme, and has joined her as an exterminator with a penchant for setting things on fire.

But there’s something out in the dark waters of the bay that is restless, cold, and dark, and hungry.  And Neeta is about to have a busman’s holiday from hell….

No, that’s not the summary from the back of the book, that’s the short version of my own summary.

Now, let’s start with all of the good things about this book.

The details put into this world is impressive, and even reminds of me of early Laurell K. Hamilton (back when the books about world building, not porn).  The global politics are well put together, the various legal systems regarding zombies, etc (and, sadly, I can see some idiot passing a “no eco-profiling” act). The shots at Occupy movement were fun, and creating degrees in professional protesting, and, once the book gets started, they have a solid, amusing running gag involving a group of eco-terrorists.

There is also a ton of details and thought put into the development of anti-zombie weapons systems, from monofilament swords (models like “the Buffy,” “The Highlander”, or the “Inigo Montoya”), to specialized squirtguns, and flamethrowers.  There is a talking GPS named Majel, and a whole bunch of little moments that make this book quite enjoyable.

To be honest, this book will be tough to get into. In the first 20 pages, we’re split four different ways.  There is Neeta — her convention, her vacation plans, and her relationship with her business partner/maybe-boyfriend.  Along the way, we also have excerpts about an eco-terrorist group called TREE (Terrorism for Radical Environmental Enhancement), and dropping TREE’s founder down a watery grave.  We also trip over a professional protester wandering around the Bay area. What unites them? No idea for most of the book. It’s a little like reading a Tom Clancy novel — you have several things going on at once, but you don’t know how they interact until page 100 …. or whatever the case is here in the audio equivalent (at this point, I haven’t listened to the WHOLE THING.  But I’ve read it.)

It takes a while, but there is a plot here. Honest. It’s devious and kinda brilliant in concept.

I like making fun of San Francisco. I do it often. However, when I’m reading a book, I want to have a story, character, and plot. Then go on for pages at a time having fun at a city’s expense. By page 25, the book is so wrapped up with making fun of the strangeness that is San Francisco, I had problems caring.  The jokes were funny — mostly because I’ve been there — but the travelogue poking fun of the Left Coast could have been saved for later, when the story, characters and plot were better established.  This was one novel that refused to get out of its own way.
In the previous novel, script excerpts from a proposed documentary were used for world building, filling in the history of how zombies work in this world. Karina uses this model to explain the history of TREE.  While this worked to great effect in the first novel, that was because the relevance of zombies were established on the first page.  Here, we have no idea EXACTLY what impact TREE will have on the plot until page 167 of 229, while the documentary snippets explain the history of TREE back on page 15. Early Terry Pratchett novels barely got away with similar methods of dropping in “huh?” elements early in the book (showing you things that you have no idea the significance of just yet), but he usually saved the explanations until you knew what the heck was going on.  This novel has put Descartes before the horse.
CHARACTER

In book one, Neeta was witty, and smart, and tough. But for book two, Neeta is dragged from one event to another with little to no say in the matter.

Also, Neeta’s thoughts continually go to an apprentice she lost on page one of the first book.  Which is odd, because she dwells more on the loss of that particular idiot (he died because he eschewed his body armor in order to show off his abs for the audience) in this book than she did at the time he died. It was jarring and inconsistent with her previous behavior. There are even moments when it looked like said dead apprentice would become relevant in some way, but it goes nowhere.

There are brief, fleeting mentions of pills, and a psychologist, but it’s not PTSD, even though no other explanation is given. And one scene with Ted makes all of her behavior seem like a result of inborn neuroses.

In short, this book doesn’t begin to get interesting until we actually get to a convention, and reconnect with several characters from the previous novel.
After that, the book only gets slow when Neeta is no longer on the page — okay, a scene where a zombie horde runs into a survivalist store was just awesome. It doesn’t end well for the zombies.
SPOILER ALERT

By the end of the book, Ted proposes to Neeta. But for most of the book, Neeta is wondering what her relationship is with Ted.

Now, I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer when if comes to social cues, and things like that.  However, the idea that Ted is going to propose to Neeta when she’s not even sure if they’re dating takes being thick to a whole new level of brain dead. In one interview with Karina, she explains that Ted is a flake. Then why is he more on the ball than Neeta?

END SPOILER

In the case of the audio reading, I liked it. It was very much like an old-fashioned radio play, with one reader, but sound effect and even atmospheric music at points. It worked.

Again, I did have fun with this book.  At the end of the day, I think most people will enjoy it, especially if you have faith that, eventually, everything will tie together.  Because it does.  However, if you read book two back to back with book one, you’re going to have to just go with it. You’ll probably enjoy it more if you don’t argue with the narration, and turn your brain off.  Treating this like a murder mystery, where you try to solve the riddle of what’s going on here, will not work.

If there is a book three, I will read it. I would assume that many of the little things that were “off” about this book were one-offs.

Call this a 3.5, maybe 4-star book.

If you want to hedge your bets, buy Neeta first, then go for this. You won’t be disappointed.  But I suggest you just buy them both and go with it.

About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, nominated for Best Horror in the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, an attempt to take Dan Brown to the woodshed in his own medium -- soon to be republished by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and it's follow-up, "Codename: Winterborn." And "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set To Kill" are murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
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One Response to Neeta Lyffe: Dual Review

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Catholic Books to Give this Christmas | The Catholic Geeks

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