It would be years before I would connect an Extra Special Vacation Episode of Happy Days with the phenomenon known as ‘jumping the shark.’
Alas; for me, the shark was well and truly jumped in book three of the ‘Surviving the Evacuation’ series. Book one was about Bill coming to terms with the changes in the world and working out how he could survive. Book two was about discovering other people, throwing in a political wrinkle about how zombies came about. In this, book three, Bill and his tiny band of survivors head toward the coast, following rumors of a large group surviving on an island. They eventually reach a half-way house and discover far more about international apocalypse politics than anyone wanted to know.
The plot continues to be filled with odd plot points–thank you very much; I’m aware I’m talking about a zombie book–that result in deux ex machina solutions. In the midst of plain ol’ survival issues, Bill decides discovering if he is a ‘carrier’ of the virus is an important issue. Oh, and maybe we can create a vaccine out of his immune status if he isn’t. As if mere survival wasn’t enough, the undead have started to gather into hordes, like wildebeest in the savannah. The discover that competition over nuclear submarines is still a thing. But helpfully, Sholto, Bill’s brother, appears to have been trained by Jason Bourne. There’s more, of course, but these are the kind of plot points that move an apocalypse book past the exploration of what survival means into a bizarre kind of war movie. Can you even have international politics when we don’t know if other nations survived?
Everything that inspired curiosity and appreciation in Book One was well and truly gone by the end of this one. Perhaps I am wrong, and perhaps Bill is essentially the same person from book one, trusting in his childhood friend and responding with remarkable naivete to his situations, hoping for the best. But now having survived in the wider world with months of the zombie apocalypse under his belt, he displays no further planning, analysis, or, as it’s euphemistically called, ‘situational awareness.’ Far from the Girl Scout mentality he first displayed, he waits until he’s in a fight before realizing his knife is ineffective: “The weight was too much, the balance wrong. Without the two fingers from my left hand I couldn’t handle the weapon properly.” This was the same person that made his own spear, practicing with it until it became relatively safe. But somehow, Bill pretends he’s learned his lesson, if only it wasn’t repeated ad nauseum 75% of the way into the story:
“What I said next was cruel, but it was necessary. I was starting to get a measure of this place, and it was dawning on me that I’d made a big mistake going there so unprepared.”
I found myself outlining passages, marking a ‘TSTL’ more than once. I ended up setting the book down for some time and might have left it for good if it weren’t for that annoyingly completionist drive I sometimes have.
The first book in the series was fabulous, an ‘I Am Legend‘ type story that captures all the complexities end-of-the-world stories are capable of exploring. The last two books, however, have been steadily sinking. Still, I’d recommend the first book, with the caveat of stopping after. Yes, I know it’s hard. Yes, I know there are more stories/episodes/seasons. Just Don’t Do It. Save yourself the shark experience, and treasure a perfect memory instead.