Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dual Review: Neeta Lyffe, and I Left My Brains in San Francisco

Today will be a dual review.  Why? Because it's hard to review one book without reflecting on the other.

Yes, parts of this are cannibalized from an earlier review, but it's been a while.

You might remember that, a while back, I had been involved in a Catholic Writer's Guild online conference. I ran a workshop on fight scenes, and ran a discussion on creating a villain. During the course of that latter chat, I mentioned that it helped if the villain had the brain. Mindless, shambling zombies were not really that much fun, as villains go … Then I remembered that one of the people in the chat was Karina Fabian … who had written – surprise – a book about a Zombie Exterminator.

Now, if I had had my wits about me, I would have noted how, in zombie films, zombies are generally NOT the main bad guys. They set the scene, they act as cannon fodder (for an action franchise like Resident Evil, where the real villains are the Evil Corporation du jour), but most zombie movies are more about the people in the Zombie Apocalypse du jour rather than about the zombies. The zombies are window dressing.

Instead, my witless wonder moment had me hasten to add "Though I can't speak for every zombie storyline, I have yet to read Karina Fabian's." I think I inserted a smiley and went on from there.

Within two minutes, I heard an email click. I had just received an e-copy of Karina Fabian's Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator.

See, when I shoot from the lip, I have no idea what'll happen.

Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator, takes place in the 2040s, several decades after the zombie outbreaks started. There are no zombie apocalypses here.  It never happened. However, the undead can be annoying, so exterminators have to be called in -- exterminators with chainsaws.  Zombies are attracted to certain strong smells, and they don't like standard household cleaners.... don't ask.

Neeta Lyffe, a second-generation exterminator (motto: "I want to be buried like my mother, with my head cradled in my arms") is sued after an extermination call went into property damage. Now, in order to generate income, she's agreed to do the most terrifying thing in her life..... host a reality show.

Yes, you read that right. The reality show Zombie Death Extreme, where Neeta is stuck with a handful of exterminator wannabes, training them to re-kill the occasional nests of undead that threaten LA (then again, if parts of LA were turned into shambling mindless hordes, would anyone notice?). Also included: re-grief training ... for when you have to mourn for loved ones a second time, when they come back; and flash cards to tell the difference between a stroke victim, a drunk, and a zombie.  And you can probably guess, this has a sense of humor, unlike most zombie films ("We throw the grenades on the count of 3. 1, 2, 3."  Second person shouts "Five," and throws the grenade ... sorry, Monty Python joke.).

Karina, with chainsaw
The cast looks like it should be stocked with the standard cliches: an ex-marine, a farm boy with a stutter, an African-American woman from an urban environment, an Afghan emigre who's first language isn't English (he speaks it perfectly well, but the producers want him so speak more like Hasan from a Bugs Bunny Cartoon). The Producer of the show is the standard two-dimension cardboard cutout, which means he's drawn very accurately -- however, he's never had to negotiate with someone who carries a chainsaw on a daily basis, including the occasional brainstorming session for the show.

All of the characters are vivid and brightly drawn ... and heavily mocked, in some cases. Everything you have ever hated about reality television is skewered ruthlessly, and wonderfully.

Possibly one of the best parts of this book (and there are plenty to choose from), use the running excerpts from a documentary on the rise of zombies, detailing a somewhat funny look on the matter, down to and including Darwin Award winners who tried to play tag with a zombie. That was fun.

In short, it's one part satire, one part action, and all parts fun.

5/5 stars.  Best zombie book ever. Period.  Buy it now.

And now, time for I Left My Brains in San Francisco.

Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator returns in Neeta Lyffe 2:  I Left My Brains In San Francisco

After hosting the show Zombie Death Extreme (which has spun off more copies of the franchise than anyone in the book can count), Neeta is back to her job Re-killing the undead.  However, for this book, she's off to a Zombie conference in San Francisco. There will be scientists, government researchers, fellow re-killing experts, as well as enough vendors to outfit a small armory.

Also tagging along is her business partner and sort-of/maybe boyfriend Ted, who had been a cameraman on Zombie Death Extreme, and has joined her as an exterminator with a penchant for setting things on fire. Usually zombies.

But there's something out in the dark waters of the bay that is restless, cold, and dark, and hungry.  And Neeta is about to have a busman's holiday from hell....

No, that's not the summary from the back of the book, that's the short version of my own summary.

Now, let's start with all of the good things about this book.

The details put into this world is impressive, and even reminds of me of early Laurell K. Hamilton (when the books were dedicated to building up her character's world, not her list of sex partners).  The global politics are well put together, the various legal systems regarding zombies, etc (and, sadly, I can see some idiot passing a "no eco-profiling" act). I liked the shots she took at the Occupy movement, and creating degrees in professional protesting, and, once the book gets started, they have a solid, amusing running gag involving a group of eco-terrorists.

There is also a ton of details and thought put into the development of anti-zombie weapons systems, from monofilament swords (model such as "the Buffy," or "The Highlander", and, of course, the "Inigo Montoya"), to specialized squirtguns, and flamethrowers.  There is a talking GPS named Majel (Star Trek joke), and a whole bunch of little moments that make this book quite enjoyable. And, of course, having recently been to DragonCon, I could easily believe some of the panels at this particular convention.

Now, I have to be honest, this book will be tough to get into.  In the first 20 pages, we've split four different ways.  There is Neeta -- her convention, her vacation plans, and her relationship with her business partner/maybe-boyfriend.  Yes, her maybe-boyfriend.  Along the way, we also have excerpts about an eco-terrorist group called TREE (Terrorism for Radical Environmental Enhancement), and dropping TREE"s founder down a watery grave.  We also trip over a professional protester wandering around the Bay area. At that point, the listener or the reader has no ideas what's going on.  It's a little like reading a Tom Clancy novel -- you have several things going on at once, but you don't know how they interact until page 100 .... or whatever the case is here in the audio equivalent (at this point, I haven't listened to the WHOLE THING.  But I've read it.)

It takes a while to figure out, but yes, there is a plot here. Honest. Take my word for it. It's devious and kinda brilliant in concept.

I have to say that I like making fun of San Francisco. I do it often. However, when I'm reading a book, I want to have a story, character, and plot. *Then* you can go on for pages at a time having fun at a city's expense. By page 25, the book is so wrapped up with making fun of the strangeness that is San Francisco, I honestly started to wonder why I cared.  The jokes were funny -- probably because I've been there -- but the travelogue making fun of the practices and policies of the Left Coast probably could have been saved for later on, when the story, characters and plot were better established.  Instead, I was left wondering why I kept reading.  This was one novel that refused to get out of its own way.

In the previous novel, script excerpts from a proposed documentary were used to fill in the back story of the history of how zombies work in Karina's world.  She once again falls back on the model to explain the history of TREE.  While this model worked to great effect in the first novel, that was because the relevance of zombies were established on the first page.  Here, we have no idea EXACTLY what impact TREE will have on the plot until (again, using the book as my guide) page 167 (of 229), while the documentary snippets explain the history of TREE back on page 15.  Early Terry Pratchett novels barely got away with similar methods of dropping in "huh?" elements early in the book (showing you things that you have no idea the significance of just yet), but he usually saved the explanations until you knew what the heck was going on.  This novel has put Descartes before the horse (sorry, math joke).


In the last book, Neeta was witty, and smart, and tough. But for a lot of this book, stuff happens to her, and she seems to be dragged from one event to another with little to no say in the matter.

Also, Neeta's thoughts continually go to an apprentice she lost on page one of the first book.  Which is odd, because she dwells more on the loss of that particular idiot (he died because he eschewed his body armor in order to show off his abs for the audience) in this book than she did in the first.  It was jarring and inconsistent with her previous behavior. There are even moments when it looked like said dead apprentice would become relevant in some way, but mentions of him peter out by the end of the novel.

There are brief, fleeting mentions of pills, and a psychologist, and I presumed that we're supposed to deduce from these bits of detail that she's suffering from PTSD, but she's not -- Karina told us in her interview.  In fact, I come away with exactly the opposite impression of what I'm supposed to. And one scene with Ted makes all of her behavior seem like a result of inborn neuroses.

In short, this book doesn't begin to get interesting until we actually get to a convention, and reconnect with several characters from the previous novel.

After that, the book only gets slow when Neeta is no longer on the page -- okay, a scene where a zombie horde runs into a survivalist store was just awesome. It doesn't end well for the zombies.


By the end of the book, Ted proposes to Neeta. But for most of the book, Neeta is wondering what her relationship is with Ted.  Now, I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer when if comes to social cues, and things like that.  However, the idea that Ted is going to propose to Neeta when she's not even sure if they're dating takes being thick to a whole new level of brain dead. In the interview with Karina, she explains that Ted is a flake. But that's not the impression I get.


In the case of the audio reading, I liked it. It was very much like an old-fashioned radio play, with one reader, but sound effect and even atmospheric music at points. It worked.

Again, I had fun with this book.  At the end of the day, I think most people will enjoy it, especially if you have faith that, eventually, everything will tie together.  Trust me, it does.  However, if you read book two back to back with book one, you're going to have to just go with it. You'll probably enjoy it more if you don't argue with the narration, and turn your brain off.  Treating this like a murder mystery, where you try to solve the riddle of what's going on here, will not work.

If there is a book three, I will read it. I would assume that many of the little things that were "off" about this book were one-offs.

Call this a 3.5, maybe 4-star book.

If you want to hedge your bets, buy Neeta first, then go for this. You won't be disappointed.  But I suggest you just buy them both and go with it.


  1. It’s here! After a nearly 2-week delay, I Left My Brains in San Francisco is up on Audible. Check it out at


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