Can true love survive the end of the world?
Imagine finding your first love, only to be ripped apart by the apocalypse. Peyton Anderson will never forget the day she was forced to make a choice–between her family–and Chris Parker, the boy she’d given her heart. Now, four years later, as she steps from the fallout shelter and into a dead and broken world, he’s the only thing on her mind.
All Chris “Chase” Parker wanted was to take Peyton away and keep her safe from harm. But he waited for hours in the rain on judgment day and she never showed–breaking his heart without ever telling him why.
Now the two of them have been thrown together once again, reluctant chaperones to a group of orphan children in a post-apocalyptic world where the dead still walk…and feed. As they begin their pilgramage to the last human outpost on Earth, can they find a way to let go of old hurts and find the love they lost–all while attempting to save what’s left of the human race?
Sean’s Atmospheric Analysis: Cheeeeeeeeesy.
Okay, okay, so it’s not that bad. It seems to be pretty heavily inspired by Urban Fantasy cover styles, which I guess is an improvement on the prom dress phenomenon. the light coming out of the main character’s fingernails is kind of a weird choice as a representation of her implanted claws. It doesn’t look bad, exactly, just strange.
Phoebe’s Atmospheric Analysis: For once, Sean and I agree on a cover. Artistically, this is nicely handled, and the text effects are particularly cool. But it’s a little cornball. However, since many readers love (say) the similar stylistics on the covers of Cassandra Clare’s books, we might just be the wrong audience for this cover trend.
Planetary Class: Post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi with added zombies of the ‘not undead, just mutated’ variety.
Mohs Rating: There’s a fair bit of applied phlebotinum at work here, so I’d give this a 3. the infection that turns people into ‘Others’ (mutant zombies things) is the least plausible element, since an infected person apparently goes from being indistinguishable from an ordinary human to being a hideously mutated monster in a ludicrously short space of time. in general, the science fictional aspects of the book exist to be plot-relevant first and genuinely speculative as an afterthought.
Sean’s Viability Rating: How viable do you find implanted razor blades under someone’s fingernails? Or nanomachine-enhanced vision? the book is playing with some well-worn cyberpunk tropes (the main character’s father gets the idea for her combat enhancements from Neuromancer), and just as in cyberpunk, the why is more important than the how. in this case, main character Peyton has cool augmentations because cool augmentations are cool; the mechanism by which they work is beside the point.
Phoebe’s Viability Rating: I was less bothered by the cyberpunk tropes here than the awkwardly inserted and dated pop-culture references. I’ll expand more on this below, but it is in no way plausible that a teenager in 2034 would have the exact same sphere of pop culture reference as, say, me–a reader born in 1983. Mancusi tries to come up with an explanation for this, but it falls flat and continued to bother me throughout the book.
Sean’s Xenolinguistical Assessment: Is that…could it be…? Yes, it’s third person! And third person past tense at that. You wouldn’t believe how refreshing it was to get away from first person present tense for a while, especially since the two viewpoint characters have nicely differentiated voices.
I wish I could say every other aspect of the book’s prose was so inviting. the writing in Tomorrow Land starts off weak and then gradually claws its way up to just average. Phoebe and I had a fairly interesting IM conversation about this yesterday, during which it became apparent that we have widely diverging ideas of what constitutes ‘good writing’. Here, for your edification, is a snippet of that conversation in full:
Phoebe North – 15.54I don’t know. I think the prose is fine. first draft pose is error-riddled.That’s the difference, to me.
Sean Wills – 15:55I guess that makes sense. It’s un-good enough that I’m constantly aware of it, though, which is why I brought it up as an issue.
Phoebe North – 15:55We shall fight about this in the review!For me, the line into unfunctional prose is crossed by genuinely bad writers. this is just . . . okay. It works for what she’s doing. It’s a little corny, but it works on a sentence level and avoids a lot of amateur pitfalls
Sean Wills – 15:56I’m watching Spartacus, so I just pictured us review-fighting in an ancient roman arena
Phoebe North – 15:56yes
Sean Wills – 15:57I think I have ‘broken writing’ in a different class to just ‘bad writing’, which includes boring or tedious or whatever. So something could, I guess, be kind of broken but good for other reasons, or not broken but still kind of badbad (as here)
It’s like a venn diagram of mediocrity.
Phoebe North – 15:57Man, I almost think we should do the review over IM. Or at least quote this conversation.
Phoebe’s Xenolinguistic Analysis: Well, what he said!
I think the prose of Tomorrow Land is largely fine. It’s the variety of prose that those who are trying to look down their noses might call “pedestrian,” and those a little more forgiving might call “workmanlike.” It does its job and largely doesn’t get in the way of the story, though it’s also without flourish or adornment (if you like that kind of thing). There were a few sentences here that were cringe-worthy–a reference to a character’s heart “literally” stopping was one (she did not, however, literally die). There was also some painful artificial slang, namely “flecking.” But by and large, the prose works, and works well.
Sean’s Expanded Report: I’ll be frank: Tomorrow Land and I did not get off on the right foot. the first chapter is chock full of bad SF worldbuilding, irritating slang terms (most of which have no relevance to anything) and absolutely atrocious pop-cultural references. after Peyton explicitly name-dropped that Kardashian reality show (despite the story taking place in 2030), I was about ready to give up.
The second chapter’s abrupt jump forward to four years after the end of civilization made me glad I didn’t. Peyton the YA Everygirl from the first chapter suddenly becomes Peyton the survivor in the second, and Mancusi’s decision to bypass showing how the world fell apart was a wise move given how familiar most YA readers are with the tropes of the genre.
My enthusiasm came to a screeching halt shortly thereafter when I realised that the story was going to jump back and forth between Peyton’s post-apoycalyptic adventures and the lead-up to that apocalypse – in other words, the very thing it originally skipped over by jumping ahead four years.
That on its own wouldn’t be too big an issue, except that it introduces some absolutely baffling exposition. For example, when Peyton initially leaves the vault where she weathered the breakdown of civilization in relative safety, we’re given a brief rundown of everything that happened during her seclusion: her mother’s encroaching dementia and drug dependence, her attempts at leading some semblance of a normal life, and her worry over what might have happened to her friends. the way she narrates all of this suggests that she’s giving the reader a relatively complete story.
Oh, but she forgot to mention the retractable razor blades under her fingernails and the ocular implants her father outfitted her with shortly before a super-flu killed most of the world’s population. this is all mentioned in a flashback, after which Peyton goes on to use her cyborg weapons. It gets worse: we’re told that her implants are breaking down and have been breaking down for quite some time only when Peyton tells this to another character. the unspoken rules of exposition dictate that this should have come up when Peyton was describing the rest of her travails in the vault. Having it sprung on the reader abruptly felt like a kind of awkward retcon: ‘Oh, now Peyton has always had cyborg implants and they’ve always been breaking down’, rather than ‘this is new information about a character that you just didn’t have before’.
Putting that aside (which is difficult, since it runs throughout the book), the plot itself is a predictable rehashing of familiar post-apocalyptic and zombie tropes. Anyway with any degree of familiarity with the genre is unlikely to be surprised by most of what happens, barring a single interesting (if rushed) twist right at the end.
Phoebe’s Expanded Report: Tomorrow Land is an interesting endeavor in the realm of modern publishing–a novel published in 2007 (so before the wave of books just like this) by a now-kaput publisher, rereleased in eBook form. in many ways, I think it is a perfect novel for e-publishing. It’s accessible, priced-right, and in an extremely popular genre. For those who want one more post-apocalyptic road trip, similar to Partials or Ashfall or a bunch of other mainstream novels, there’s really no reason to pass up Mancusi’s take on the zombie apocalypse.
But a “perfect novel for e-publishing” is not necessarily a “perfect novel.” Don’t get me wrong–in terms of polish, this is well done. It’s clearly been professionally edited. the e-book was formatted correctly and without glaring errors. However, in many ways, in terms of story and plausibility, it falls flat.
Sean is right that much of the problem here is created by the alternating timeline utilized by Mancusi. the main plot–where Chase and Peyton walk down a post-apocalyptic I-95 (called here “Highway 95″–it’s a nitpick, but such real world worldbuilding errors always rankle, for me) with a herd of orphaned children–is the most interesting. There’s a rich subplot about drug addiction, and the pair’s romance is exceedingly well-handled. It grows slowly, and feels based on genuine mutual respect and affection without resorting to didacticism about what teen romance should look like. I liked both of these kids, and believed in their love. They’re what kept me reading.
But the other timeline is far blander, the story of the looming zombie apocalypse and how it destroys Peyton and Chase’s mostly-normal suburban lives. though a few of these scenes were both interesting and necessary (the incipience of their romance, the discovery of ZOMBIES!!, Peyton’s surgery and the building of her father’s bomb shelter), most was not and actually had the effect of diffusing tension in the main story. And despite this format, many plot twists felt insufficiently foreshadowed. As Sean says, we don’t, for example, learn about Peyton’s ocular implants and retractable claws for an implausibly long time.
But my biggest problem was that the text is riddled with inappropriate pop culture references. Mancusi tries to tell us that Peyton is a millenial movie addict, but that wouldn’t explain references to Edward Scissorhands (’90), the X-files (’92), mad Max (’79), Neuromancer (’84) and a whole bunch of other stuff. the children of the 2030s appear to have no culture of their own. Instead, their cultural frame of reference is the same as mine–or, more likely, the same as the author. A very, very small number of these worked for me (I caught what might have been a stealth reference to the NZ kid’s show the Tribe, though I suppose kids with facepaint living in a retail store might happen in two media works organically), and mostly they never failed to take me out of the story and leave me scratching my head.
But still, if you’re not a nitpicker like I am, you might enjoy the story here. again, the characters are engaging, and the central romance is sweet. It exists in a bit of a glutted market right now, but if you just can’t get enough zombie apocalypse road novels, there’s really no reason not to try Tomorrow Land.
Tomorrow Land is available now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.