Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Hollowland" collab review

My first genuine Apology to John Keats, a review of Amanda Hocking’s “Hollowland.” But wait, there’s more! My first ever collab, with Kris from over at Catacomb’s Bookshelf!

So, let’s get started with Kris’s take:

"Hey folks, this is Kris of the Catacomb’s Bookshelf. A while ago, AJ read through Hollowland and she hated it. Curious, I downloaded the book for free on my Kindle Fire and I hate it too. It’s amazing how much a free book by a best-selling ebook author can turn me from a hopeful indie-authors-kick-ass reader to a how-the-hell-did-this-get-uploaded reader. How much do I hate it?

Hollowland is like eating a medium rare burger gone stale. It has all the ingredients, flavors, and condiments of a zombie book, novel, and film. But the main problem is that the meat is too damn rare and all the ingredients, flavors, and condiments are horrible.

The novel's biggest problem is its plausibility: for example, keeping beds by windows is a BAD IDEA when zombies could break in and GRAB someone from it and pull the poor sap through the window where the zombie and its hungry friends will bloodily devour with ease. I mean, the beginning was good (Even with the random guy’s gun seemingly going off by itself) but then it goes straight downhill from here into zombie cliches, Redbull-induced headaching idiocy in logic and annoying, one-dimensional characters of whom you wished would just get eaten, all written with a plot and prose structure that would best suit a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic.

The characters are very, very irritating to say the least. In one scene where a really annoying character, Harlow, was taken by zombies, I was screaming to the zombies "EAT! EAT! EEEEAAAAATTT!!!" while silently cheering for two really minor, stupid characters to perish. Sad, I know, but then they are characters that appear very briefly, show no purpose in hanging around the main characters, and die two gruesome and awesome deaths. But the characters whine and complain too much about the current situation and a few key characters just don't know how to survive. Even one character is abandoned because zombie blood might have gotten into her system, and the effect of sadness falls flat on its face because we never got to know the character before she is abandoned.

The only character not annoying is the main narrator and heroine, Remy King, only she's pretty much the generic female warrior who can somehow somersault while on the floor and has the personality of a fembot found in the Resident Evil movies. Amanda Hocking, have you never taken a physics class? Or taken an anatomy class to understand that no one can somersault from the floor? That was a huge “What-the-fuck-that-is-so-blatantly-lame” moment that took me out of the paper-thin plot. Does she have some redeeming qualities? She has more good qualities than the other characters at least. She's worried about her brother and that's pretty much it. Her narration is tolerable because she has zero personality and that makes it easy to not want her get the crap kicked out of.

I could have done without the warrior lion who in REAL LIFE WOULD HAVE EATEN REMY AND HER PARTY ALIVE. The lion pretty much ruined any plausibility of the story and even if this story was written as a satire of the zombie novel genre, which it isn’t, it is still stupid because the lion hangs around as a walking deux ex machina device. The rock star Laszlo did not do much for me as he served as the stupid love interest and eye candy for female and gay readers. Blue the medic, although promising, barely makes a blip on the radar in most scenes. It's like Hocking forgot about him entirely while trying to make a forced, unconvincing romance between Remy and Laszlo and making stupid reasons for both of them to fuck each other. Speaking of fucking, there is a scene like that and it makes the reader question if this is appropriate for Hocking’s target audience, which is teenage girls. With all the blood and guts flying, I forgot this was a young adult book.

The thing that really kills me is that there is not an original bone in Hollowland's body. We get the same zombie apocalypse tropes like rogue groups. But the segment that really slapped my face with stupidity was when Remy and her crew take refuge with the crazed religious cult that completely rips off David Koresh's cult and the Waco, Texas tragedy. Hocking, just because his name is "Korech" instead of "Koresh" does not make him an original figure.

In short of content, Hollowland is, well, HOLLOW. There's no originality, there's no real reason to care about the characters, and there is no real reason to read it. The only good parts are some of the gory zombie details and zombie mythology: the zombies don't just move fast like the rage-infected humans do in 28 Days Later, they also evolve and use tactics to take the humans down. And Hocking's writing style, when it does not delve into idiocies, is laden with flawed clauses and a few typos that stick out. This book needed several more levels of editing as many instances of broken clauses pop up like “I’d only made it down a few steps when the gun went off behind me, and I ducked.” It makes it hard to swallow several details presented in the book. Overall, the text structure and editing is broken and at times, confusing. For a woman who somehow became a best selling ebook author, this is inexcusable.

I'm not sure how I'm going to like Amanda Hocking, but reading through Hocking's book was like forcing myself to be a zombie: not really feeling anything as I just walk along until I'm finally shot dead by the ending. Which completely and utterly sucks to where it does not feel like an ending, but it feels like the story is going on and on. So yeah, Hollowland did not do much for me and I'm afraid it did not do much for me for wanting to check out more of Hocking's bibliography."

Now it’s my turn!

First off, I’d just like to point out the first line of “Hollowland,” that is used in her promotion of the book in many summaries I’ve seen:

"This is the way the world ends - not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door."

This is an allusion to the final lines in the (gorgeous) poem “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot,

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”(Go read it now!)

I understand this is a widely referenced quote, and Hocking was deliberate in the usage. However, I feel, after Eliot’s poem, any time the line is used, the work referencing it just feels flat and collapses, as Eddie Izzard might say, “like a flan in a cupboard.” Unfortunately it was the best line in the whole book.

And I honestly don’t know how I managed to get through this one.

Kris reflected my sentiments about the characters and the plot. (I don’t understand how all the characters manage to be under an upside down car with broken glass and not be poisoned by zombie blood which, in Hocking’s world, is just as deadly as a bite.) Having covered this, I’ll follow with some other thoughts.

I thought this book was poorly written and not just because the description was strictly action and the narration was painfully oblivious to any structure. I had a huge problem when I found out the main character was 19. When I first started reading the book I pegged the reading level to be for 12-13 year olds, maybe. Then we learn that Remy is nearly 20? What? I’ve read a lot of good books for young readers, so that’s not my problem. My problem is that apparently, even with a reading level for middle school, throwing in some curse words and a sex scene makes it edgy and young adult. (And no, Hocking isn’t the only author in the world to do this.)

That being established, Hocking uses her character’s age to put in pop culture references including Bon Jovi and Monty Python. But then she explains the jokes. And then she has the 13-year-old character not get the jokes and the older characters roll their eyes at her. I feel that this alienates potential audience, because at that reading level, she is going to have younger readers that don’t get the reference. Plus, why would a writer explain the joke if he or she is making fun of the character that doesn’t get it? Why explain a pop culture reference at all? EXPLAINING THE POP CULTURE REFERENCE DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF THE POP CULTURE REFERENCE SO STOP IT!

Moving along. Her character’s names were also annoying. Remy, Blue, Laszlo and Harlow. I guess all their parents just happened to be creative hippies. Forgivable enough.

But Kris sums up my sentiments when he states: “there are typos about and for a woman who somehow became a best selling ebook author, this is inexcusable.”

Exactly. The reason I read this book in the first place was because I felt a certain amount of given respect for an author that was successful being self-published, self-directed, pursued her ideas, and gained a loyal readership. But that respect has completely diminished after reading this book. This book doesn’t appear to be edited in any way other than a simple spell-check and misplaced words appear throughout the entire book. For an author that stresses how much she edits, I’m quite unimpressed. Maybe I’m just ravenous for a good, well-written book that other writers can aspire to, learn from, and enjoy. I did not find any of that in “Hollowland.”

I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but with this one, when I saw Barbie’s gothic sister lost in Mordor, I should never have clicked the download button.

In the end, I agree with Kris’s inkling about future Hocking books: They’re not what I’m looking for. I understand the value of a thrilling escape with accessible characters in a quick read, but Hocking’s brand does not sync with me. After reading this book, I probably won’t be reading any more of Amanda Hocking’s work.

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