The Romero Strain Review

Romero Strain coverThe Romero Strain

“Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness.” – William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

No, I did not know the original source of that quote.  Heck, I didn’t know the quote itself.  I’ve never read “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, nor seen it.  To be honest, I found the quote on the interwebs, and copied & pasted it here.  Kind of like “The Romero Strain” by TS Alan.  The entire book reminds me of copying and pasting from other sources to create something new.

Ok, I actually don’t want to be unkind.  Writing a work of fiction is hard, and I applaud TS Alan for standing up to the challenge.  Let me drink down my unkindness, and do this thing.

In “The Romero Strain,” you read a series of first-person diary updates by JD, who knows he’s undead.  Or will be, shortly.  He’s writing this chronicle of the past twelve hours for the sake of history, if there’s a future.  He wants anyone who reads it to know that not all humanity went out in a miserable whimper.

You know, all those OTHER wimpy-ass, whimpering people. Not JD.  With that arrogance and his multiple martial arts skill/Confucious quotes/Cantonese language abilities/great physical attributes/paramedic brilliance/inexplicable knowledge of the New York subway system, JD soldiers forth into an undead world full of undead dangers spawned by a runaway military virus originally meant to create violent soldiers who continue fighting after they’ve been killed.

Zombies, you mean?  Nah, we don’t use that word in this book.  It would be cliché.  “Undead” is what everyone, including Marisol, the mid-teens Hispanic Catholic school-girl type character, uses.  Matter of fact, NOT using the z-word is about the only thing that sets this book apart from every other zombie book or movie you’ve enjoyed/endured/heard of.

As JD, along with his German shepherd “Max” (whom he commands in German, not English or Cantonese), ventures out into this post-virus world, he meets up with the aforementioned hot school girl with street-tude, the snotty and over confident white guy, the gritty but likeable male and female soldiers, a smart guy who knows movie quotes (more on that horror shortly) AND happens to know almost everything about, uh, everything,  and oh shit how cool is this, a used to-be-famous rock star, plus no less, hold onto your bootstraps, JD meets- by coincidence- the condescending and unrepentant doctor who started the plague!  Wow, whodathunk that?  Let’s not forget the black guy who’s an army chef who reminds JD exactly of Chef from South Park.  Nice, familiar characters.  One might say stock, but jeez, didn’t Shakespeare use stock-ish characters?  Kind of?  A little??

The characters mostly meet in the subway system where they walk, they stop, someone gives a long, Wikipedia-like exposition of how the virus started, then JD and your-name-here banters a few terrible, snarky lines of dialogue to create character tension (and mostly because JD is such a flaming Richard), and then some zom…whoops, almost used the z-word…undead show up, forcing the party to move to the next stopping point, where they do the same exact thing over again.  No, seriously.  The same.  Exact.  Thing.

The dialogue is horrible.  Not only does it mostly consist of the characters being crappy to each other, there are truly painful moments when JD and “David” (the smart guy) quote movies without actually quoting them.  Like when JD raised a pistol and pointed it at a group of people, and he “spewed out one my favorite movie lines from the film Scarface.  It was Al Pacino’s line that referenced saying hello to a little friend.”    Really?  REALLY??  You won’t just use the line and let us, the audience, feel cool when we recognize it?  This happens over, and over, and over again in the book.  When I realized it wouldn’t stop, I spewed out my favorite line from crew-woman Dallas, in the director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” where she’s cocooned by the alien and begs Ripley to kill her.

The virus doesn’t just make people undead, it also creates, in the few white people with a certain genetic make up, a boiled-down mutant version of a human that exhibits animal-like traits.  Owl traits, to be exact.  Fast, athletic, can turn their head 270 degrees, longer neck, big eyes.  Oh, and protective scales in places.  Not owl-like, but cool, you know?   Because, I mean, look at the monsters in Resident Evil.  How gnarly awesome were they, right??

BTW, JD gets bit.  He starts down the road of that genetic mutation.  And he has crazy sex with some other chick infected like that.  Hard-rockin’ copulation, yoh.  Because that’s how JD rolls.

Here I spew out a quote from The King and I, where Yul Brunner’s character dismisses tedious details with a word, repeated again after he says it, that is usually abbreviated to “etc.”

“The Romero Strain” could kindly be called an homage to the zombie genre.  It could also be called painfully derivative and relentlessly unoriginal, but that would be unkind.

I can see the hard work the author put into research.  There are several attention-killingly long expositions where we learn about subways, how viruses operate, military gear, and dog training.  Some of it is interesting.  Interesting, in that googling-it-for-a-term-paper way. The virus is thought out, just not particularly original.  These days one would be hard pressed to construct an original zom…undead genesis, but at least the characters could be original, or their environs original, or for the love of gawd even the NAME of the book could be original.  But no. This homage is feisty in its keeping to the already written/filmed tenets of zombietude.

I read the entire book in honor of a woman who read my first book all the way through. I sent her the rough draft.  Rough, as in 1 grit sandpaper rough.  Jeebus what a hot mess it was. Yet, she read it like a champ.  For her honor, I read every single word of “The Romero Strain.” That, is the only reason.

If you decide to purchase “The Romero Strain,” just spew this line to yourself whenever you fire up your book reader and flip past the cover page.  It’s the one Heather Langenkamp gives on the phone to one of other kids in the first “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie, about not falling asleep no matter what you do.  Because you don’t want to be unkind.

***As of this writing, I cannot find this book on sale anywhere.***

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