If you’ve ever known the thrill of choose your own adventure books that were popular back in the 80’s and 90’s, then you’ll be familiar with the concept behind INFECTED. You are the main character and it’s up to you to put all your pre-made zombie apocalypse survival plans you made with your friends to the test. As you make your way through the story you’ll be asked to make choices at certain junctures that will change your overall plot within. The book is a more adult take on the idea though, your character will meet bloody and violent ends throughout the experience with a wrong decision. Most importantly and complimentary to the author, your choices never feel too forced with more sweeping impacts to the narrative than most choose your own adventure books.
Three unique overall storylines are presented throughout the book to mixed results. Each of them are pretty well written with the author’s previous military experience peeking through in certain points and legitimately witty references to pop culture throughout. However there are elements that just aren’t up to snuff pacing and plot wise to the rest of the book. In addition, characters often come off as one sided charictures, which honestly in this type of book I’m not sure how much more development they could have seen with so many different balls to juggle. Both these issues add up to my one real problem with the book. Throughout the experience, in most cases, the narrative feels slightly rushed and you’ll go from in danger to saved or dead within the space of a good night’s reading. At times the swift pace is certainly appreciated and there are moments that will legitimately get your blood pumping, I just wish there was more time I could have spent with every story.
Honestly, that’s a compliment in and of itself as I just wanted to spend more time reading and making choices in this setting. The book, while perhaps not the next Lord of the Rings, is immense fun and can be enjoyed time and time again due to the variety of endings and branch offs that explore different facets of an overarching narrative. Some of the multiple narratives even weave in and out of each other and you often see hints of one story in another. Death scenes, usually a sentence or paragraph in most of these types of books, are well written and usually leave you wondering up till the last page if you’re going to meet your end. Impressively enough, even though the characters aren’t the most fleshed out, you’ll find yourself caring more about them and even more so your fate, simply because you are more invested in the story. I can proudly say that my first read through was met with unmitigated success as I survived the zombie apocalypse without dying once, and with my morals mostly intact. Maybe not so much the second time.
Even more impressive, and I never thought I’d say this with a book, is the fun you can get by adding in more people to the experience. I’ve read this aloud with friends and my wife and it’s simply a blast to play through together and make choices. There’s even a drinking game featured on his website that entails ways to turn the book into a real party experience and, though I don’t typically enjoy that sort of thing, it certainly seems like it would be lots of fun.
As a gamer I doubly appreciate the interactivity and re-playability (re-readability?) that this form of writing brings to the book. Before now I’d almost forgotten about the appeal of choose your own ending (or in this case called click your own poison), but it was back in full force with this book, and with the more mature themes, was even more impressive. It’s worth noting that the addition of using an E-Reader means you can click through the choices and go directly to the consuquences of your actions instead of searching for a page; something I never would have thought of myself before this, but that makes the experience even easier to enjoy. I’ve gone through all three storylines now and comparing my stories to my brothers, who read through at the same time. Even though we saw some of the same storylines, ways we navigated them were different and we got to know more about certain characters or see more aspects of the full plot because of our choices. There’s even a website you can share zombie apocalypse survival stories with other readers if you so choose.
INFECTED is quite simply a welcome evolution to an old format that just begs to be enjoyed. The zombie apocalypse is an instantly identifiable and enjoyable setting to many, especially us gamers who have spent hours in conversations with friends about the topic. With the internet being leveraged to share stories, the e-reader bringing even more accesability, and the more mature theme; James Schannep has truly managed to bring choose your own adventure into this generation. The future looks bright for this subset genre of books and I can’t wait to read more from this promising author, in this format or any other.
If you’d like to purchase this book you can do so at this link.