I picked this up on a lark. It was at a book sale benefitting the library. It cost a buck. I thought maybe it would be cute. Well, lemme tell you, that was a dollar well spent, because this book turned out to be so, so much fun.
The premise is pretty simple. Jim Pike did two tours in Afghanistan before someone back to the US. He works in a hotel that is hosting a Star Trek convention. The hotel is over-run with zombies. Jim has to try to save himself and his sister, Rayna. He teams up with Princess Leia (how Leia ended up at a Star Trek convention is a long and very funny story) and various other people as they try to escape from the hotel.
This book is a parody, but it’s also smart. One thing I love about it is that Jim points out that everyone in the story is playing things out according to the rules they learned from fiction – but Star Trek rules and zombie movie rules don’t match up:
Star Trek is all about applying the Federation’s high-minded ideals to difficult situations. No matter how bad things get, you’re supposed to play by the don’t-shoot-first, don’t mess with pre-warp cultures, don’t alter-the-timeline rules. But in the zombie universe, it’s all about jettisoning everything – morality, sentimentality, weaklings – that might keep you from seeing the next sunrise. Because no matter how impeccably you behave, you’ll never bring the other side alive to your way of thinking. The don’t think. They just kill.”
However, while the Star Trek people depend on Jim’s survival skills (he claims that clearing a street or a house in Afghanistan is not unlike clearing a hotel stairwell) they have something Jim does not have – optimism. They need a leader and while Jim does not want to be that leader they refuse to let him curl up and die. Whether it’s Leia bawling him out in an elevator swarmed by zombies or Jim giving an inspiring speech to a Klingon in actual Klingon, watching the characters balance each other and play off each other is deeply satisfying.
In a lot of ways, this book does a good job with female characters, but I would say that it’s already dated in it’s portrayal of women at conventions. It does much better than I feared. It passes the Bechdel test, there are multiple main female characters and some supporting characters, all the women are easily as well-versed in science fiction as the men, if not more so, and Leia saves the day over and over again. My only quibble is that the women are very concerned about physical appearance. Leia is a model (but a truly geeky one), and Rayna and T’Poc talk about staying in shape so they can look good in their costumes. The fact that the men vary in appearance but the three main female characters are gorgeous bugged me. I’ve been to a lot of conventions and seen a lot of beautiful women, but I’ve also seen women with an abundance of curves who aren’t afraid to cosplay anyway (including my very short, rather overweight self). It would have been nice to have one or more of the women not be shaped like a supermodel (without any commentary about it beyond basic description. Women cosplay because we like to. We aren’t there for decor (well, technically Leia is there for decor). On the other hand, Leia is a delightful character. All of the characters are pretty sketchy, but the Jim and Leia show never gets old.
Above all, this book is funny. I mean stay-up-until-1AM-can’t put-it-down-laughing-so-hard funny. I don’t want to spoil any of the funny bits by quoting them. There’s funny dialog, there are funny situations, I believe I mentioned the dialogue. Willy the Redshirt, Leia searching the hotel for a pair of shoes, “They did it in Dawn of the Dead!” I just…you just really have to read it. The character development is scanty and it’s written for fun, not lyrical language or deep thought, but if I gave out grades on this blog I’d try to stop laughing long enough to type an A+. Best of all, it’s not condescending to fans or their shows. Jim claims to have “outgrown” Star Trek, but only Star Trek can save him. It makes me want to quit this writing gig and watch every episode of the Original Series and Next Generation back to back.
This book came out in 2010, before Redshirts, by John Scalzi. It shares some meta aspects with Redshirts, although it deals with them in a straightforward, fun way whereas Redshirts is still fun but more experimental and intellectual. It also came out before Mira Grant’s novella, Last Stand of the California Brownouts, which tells of a zombie outbreak on preview night at San Diego Comic-Con. Last Stand is beautifully written and terribly, terribly sad. The three books are all completely different and independent, but they make a nice trio if you want some theme reading.