“Better dead than undead.”
Anyone who knows me well will know that, among my extensive list of Loves, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and zombies are pretty high on the list. I’m sure this is true for a pretty healthy amount of people, too, so I’m sure they’d be just as intrigued and interested in a book that promises to combine the two of them in an action-packed post-apocalyptic novel. However, I would then be obligated, as their friend and fellow lover of the combination of awesome things, to generally avoid Alice in Deadland by Mainak Dhar, with the caveat that they should go ahead and tackle it if they’re like me and want to read everything, or if they want a good example of a really fantastic idea executed extremely poorly.
It’s such a shame, too, because the foundation of Dhar’s Deadland is actually quite unique and different, but the book suffers from a very blatant case of bad writing. Our post-apocalyptic tale takes place in what used to be India, already giving the story a flair for not being the typical zombie story I’m used to encountering, and recalling up one of my favorite short stories, “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” by Poppy Z. Brite. Zombies (or Biters, as they’re called in Dhar’s tale) have taken over the world, and right about there is where Brite and Dhar’s interpretation start to part ways, both plot-wise and aesthetically. Brite’s story is rich, compelling, and terrifying; Dhar’s is dry, unengaged, and frankly uninteresting. We have Alice, a young girl born after the world changed, who does not know of a world before Biters, though there are others who do. And then she happens across the Queen, a strange Biter-human hybrid that holds what she believes is a prophesy in the form of a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She touts Alice as their Savior, though the connection beyond the name and the fact that Alice is white and blonde like the girl in the book, and then the military gets involved and it’s really just kind of a mess.
The premise starts out well, but the plot gets convoluted and convenient. The most challenging thing for me, personally, was how utterly lackluster Dhar’s prose is. There is very minimal description, the characters never fully develop beyond the first dimension, and he has a cache of phrases and terms that he uses ad nausuem. At best, the writing is amatuerish; at worst, it’s just bad. It feels as though very little writerly effort was put into the tale, which is such a shame because the concept has so much opportunity to be a epic tale, and it’s just thrown away. A definite disappointment, although I suppose that just opens up the opportunity for me to take a better stab at it.
Books read: 30/100.
That said, perhaps this missed opportunity for Alice in Zombieland might be a good prompt for my Anthology Contest! I’m not the only one thinking it’s a good idea; Face Off, which inspired this contest in the first place, did an Alice/Resident Evil cross-over episode that yielded some pretty good results (and some pretty bad ones, too, if we’re honest!). So, today’s prompt for the contest is “Alice in Zombieland,” and here are my two favorite looks from the episode, by Derek Garcia and Laura Tyler, respectively: