Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Zombies vs. Unicorns (Round Four)


Story Reviews for Peterfreund and Westerfeld
from Zombies Vs. Unicorns Anthology 


The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn
by Diana Peterfreund 

Remember that clich√© saying about not judging a book by its cover? It’s a good advice, proven time and again, but I suggest we add another word at the end: ‘don’t judge a book by its cover and title’.
That’s basically what I stamped in my head after reading Diana Peterfreund’s short story “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn”. I automatically rolled my eyes when I read the title, expecting lots of cloying fluff and cutesy goodness that only girls with unicorn fetish will like. The impression lasted for only a few paragraphs into the story, because when the plot finally leaps from the springboard that Peterfreund set, it didn’t offer a warning or even a reader’s “harness” of any sort—and it soared high.

“The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn” is not as lighthearted as it sounds; in fact I felt like there was a little tinge of Final Destination in the beginning, what with the group of young friends frolicking around a place where they could possibly meet death, plus a psychic heroine on the forefront.

The main plothole comes right under your nose—when exactly did the story take place? Obviously it’s a modern society but one where unicorns exist and are feared. Unless it’s an imaginary timeline it isn’t really believable. Be that as it may, it seems like it’s indeed a made-up timeline, so when the readers accept that fact they can easily go on without so much ranting about it.

The character development of Wen, the protagonist, is the main reason I’m taking my hat off to Peterfreund. Wen is full of doubts and fears, still a neophyte when it comes to using her supernatural abilities, pressured by her parents’ expectations, and traumatized by an event in the past that messes with her present. She’s practically this balled up negativities in human shape—couple that with her sometimes-stupid thought processes and impulsiveness, and she will easily become one of the weakest antiheroines that you’ll encounter in modern literature. That never happened though, because Peterfreund knows how to play with characterization: she shows Wen’s strengths gradually, which, ironically, are sometimes accentuated by her weaknesses. The author triumphantly created a powerful picture in the end, when Wen makes up her mind and stands up for what she believes in.

This is perhaps my favorite unicorn short story in this collection.
by Scott Westerfeld 

I will try my best to not to fall into a fangirly pit at this point, but I can’t be sure if I can make that a promise. After all, we’re talking about Scott Westerfeld here—author of the Uglies series (Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras) and the Leviathan trilogy (Leviathan and Behemoth), which I both loved. There is no denying that he’s one of my favorites, and his short story contribution didn’t let me down.

“Inoculata” follows the story of the last survivors of a zombie apocalypse, zeroing in on Alison, one of the four youngest members of the bunch. Within the barbed wires surrounding the marijuana farm that keeps them safe from the hungry zombies, their lives only revolve around hopes of escape, rationed foods, zombie attack drills, and saving ammunitions. That is until Alison learns of a secret from a fellow survivor Kalyn—one that can allow them to go out into the world without fearing for their safety.

Westerfeld really has a knack for creating dystopian worlds; the bleak and hopeless setting of this story reminded me of how great he can be when it comes to world-building. There’s no way you can’t be sucked in, especially if this world’s strewn with characters that you’ll easily care about/ hate/be intrigued by in the first few pages. What makes it more appealing is that Westerfeld throws a science fiction-ish element here again, in the form of an “illness”. This propels the story into a great direction, one that is left to the readers for interpretation in the end.

In this collection, I think this is the counterpart in of Alaya Dawn Johnson's Love Will Tear Us Apart, at least when it comes to the characters. Seriously—half-zombies, and it’s because of some kind of an infection? Same-sex relationships (female to female this time)? You see the similarities and they click together. “Inoculata” is a little less personal since it doesn’t focus much on romance. Instead, the spotlight is on the characters’—and the world’s—possible future with all the zombies still roaming the world.

Unsurprisingly, this is an awesome read. My only rant is that it felt a little hanging in the end, though I suspect that Westerfeld did it in purpose.
Team Unicorns- 1
Team Zombies- 1
IT'S A TIE! :)

Total as of Round Three:
Team Unicorns- 1
Team Zombies- 4

(Round One is HERE)
(Round Two is HERE)
(Round Three is HERE)

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