Review: “Bag Men,” Jackson and Traas

Pros: I like the variation in virus mutation; I also like one of the two PoV characters
Cons: Weird setup
Rating: 2 out of 5

Silas Jackson and J.R. Traas’s Bag Men is a zombie apocalypse novel that is kinda-sorta set after the virus. Really what’s happened is that the virus started out causing the typical rotting, shambling zombie, but has since mutated several times over the years and now creates “Sleepers,” or alive-looking zombies who gradually become homicidal. This book, in two parts, follows first one Bag Man (Steve) and then an Army Scout (Troy) working with a Bag Man (Morris). Sacramento has become a sanctuary for people, and they have harsh rules in place to keep the plague from spreading.

 

In the first part, we get Bag Man Steve’s take on the apocalypse, apparently written by Jackson. In the second part, apparently written by Traas, we follow the Army Scout, his partner, and Bag Man Morris. I hate to say this, but one writer (Traas) is noticeably better than the other (Jackson). Bag Man Steve is reduced to a walking lump of exposition for a goodly portion of the book. His girlfriend Abigail asks for an explanation of the virus “as if I don’t know anything.” Who the hell does that in real life? And in a book, you know what comes after that is going to be painfully stilted and boring. This wasn’t even necessary, since the author started off with a prologue that was an explanation of the virus. (Also, who finds talking nitty-gritty details of a virus to be foreplay?)

Steve of course has lots of classic books (why always the classics? Why not graphic novels, cookbooks, zombie fiction–anything other than the stereotypical ‘classics’). He has the gorgeous sexy girlfriend, etc. (I’m getting a few Mary Sue vibes here.) Also,

His soul shivered in fear like a thin dog in the cold, raging in vain at the terrible thing called life.

Really? I’ve never met a dog that seemed to be ‘raging in vain at the terrible thing called life’. But I certainly can note purple prose when I see it, and it didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the story.

One of the things the sanctuary does in order to make sure the virus doesn’t get in is by doing monthly “vettings”. Given that apparently this virus can cause an outbreak in no time flat, why only monthly? I mean, I get that it takes manpower and all that, but once monthly should be completely ineffective. Worse still, apparently if you don’t show up you won’t get someone knocking on your door until at least two vettings have passed without you showing up. In that amount of time the whole place should be overrun.

Part two, written by Traas, was in general much better and more fun to read. The main character is Troy, an Army Scout. He goes out with his partner and a Bag Man named Morris. Morris is a complete dick with a god complex; how the hell did he end up as a Bag Man? Or perhaps more importantly, why is there even a designation for ‘Bag Man’ when it seems like Bag Men are just glorified Army Scouts who don’t have to answer for their actions? At any rate, Troy is an interesting character and he kept my attention throughout the story.

I still have a few minor issues. Obviously these people know what the word ‘zombie’ means, but supposedly most people don’t know to go for the head. Hey, we’ve all known that ever since vampire movies started to come out in volume, which means a looong time ago. Also, why is it that bad guys can never just be threatening or just be insane–why must they always confirm their bad guy status by threatening to rape any ladies present?

There were some good parts in Traas’s story, but they got overwhelmed by setting issues and the poor quality of narrative in Jackson’s part.

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