First published in a purchasable hardcopy format back in June of 2004, US author J. L. Bourne’s novel ‘Day By Day Armageddon’ had originally started out its life as an online fiction journal, akin to the likes of ‘Alpha_Dog’ (2002 - 2008).  The novel has since spawned the long awaited and eagerly anticipated sequel - ‘Day By Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile’ (2010).

DLS Synopsis:
It was almost four in the morning on New Year’s Day when he decided that he’d start writing a journal.  He was on leave at the time, taking a break from the military training in his temporary home in Arkansas.  But he wanted to get himself home.  And so after a ten-hour drive, he finally arrived back in San Antonio, Texas.  And that’s when the first reports of a strange type of influenza virus that was spreading across China began to emerge across the news channels.

At first it started out as just a particularly robust viral strain that was rapidly spreading across China.  The US government soon stepped in and deployed some of their troops to bring whatever help and aid they could to the increasingly crippled nation.  But then rumours of people coming down with the sickness started to crop up in Honshu, Japan.  And before you knew it, the Atlanta Centres for Disease Control were reporting a confirmed case of this new disease at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

Alert to the snowballing series of events that were unfolding before his eyes, he starts stockpiling whatever essential supplies he can, including securing as much ammunition as he is able to get his hands on for the numerous guns in his possession.  With the reports escalating almost by the hour now, his preparations extend to fortifying his small suburban home – barring-up the ground-floor windows and hastily cementing broken glass around the tops of the property’s walls.

It’s not long before the call comes in from his Navy base ordering him to report to duty.  But by now the epidemic has gotten out of hand.  The virus has mutated into something horrific.  Those infected by the virus are quickly dying off, only to reanimate following their death, now rabid bloodthirsty walking corpses compelled to kill and consume the flesh of the living.

Deciding that ignoring the call to duty would be by far the smartest (and no doubt safest) decision to take in the face of such a devastating global collapse, the lone Navy officer hunkers down in his secured premises, hoping to wait out the worst of the escalating madness.  But as the days go by, the horror on the streets around him just gets worse.  The haunting screams of the dying sending shivers down his spine and he hides away in his hurriedly fortified home.

With the world gone to hell, the sudden revelation that his neighbour, an engineer named John, along with his pet dog, Annabelle, are still alive and holed up in their house across the road from him, brings with it a wealth of utter relief.  But it isn’t long before the swelling ranks of the flesh-hungry dead are surrounding John’s property, forcing a last-minute desperate evacuation.  And now, the two survivors along with John’s trusty dog are together and trying to work out their options.  They know that they need to get away from San Antonio, and fast.  The numbers of undead have become too concentrated in the area.  The danger has become too great there now.  And so they set off on the road, looking for somewhere safer to hole up.  Somewhere where they can hide out without the constant pressure of the undead clawing away at their backs.

But out on the streets, the danger is everywhere.  The threats are greater and the chances of survival in this hostile new world, get smaller by the day.  Along the way they will face hordes of the undead, fellow survivors wanting help and corrupted paramilitary units who cast a far more serious threat to their survival.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world, where only a very few will have the stamina and skill to survive for long…

DLS Review:

Written in diary format, with the date and time preceding each entry, Bourne’s novel utilises this little used conceptual format, which has as many pros as it does its undoubted cons.

Even though the novel is written very much from a first-person-perspective, the constraints of the diary format (or perhaps a failing with Bourne’s own writing) has meant that little in the way of well-established characterisation is ever really achieved.  Even with our narrator, the hardened US Naval Officer, the reader knows very little about this individual or his background.  True enough, it’s unlikely that upon embarking upon a ‘real life’ journal, someone would spend pages upon pages writing down descriptive details about themselves and their past.  And so it’s easy to lay much of the blame of this on the doorstep of the journal-style-format.  However, perhaps the author should have worked around this problem in some other way.  With enough time and effort put into the task, I’m sure it would be possible to somehow address and ultimately rectify this problem of severely lacking characterisation.

Another issue that is inherent with the journal/diary format is that each entry is obviously written in hindsight – i.e. post whatever events have occurred.  With this firm knowledge always at the back of the reader’s mind, it’s hard to keep together much in the way of mounting suspense, when we already know that our narrator is going to be alive and as such, clearly able to write up this very entry.

The storyline isn’t exactly the most original of zombie apocalypse plots.  Most notably, the plot can be seen as a mix of ‘Alpha_Dog’ (2002 - 2008), ‘Autumn’ (2002), ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ (1978), ‘Down The Road’ (2005) as well as pretty much any other zombie apocalypse survival-cum-road-journey novel.  However, what makes the tale particularly stand out from these others is the author’s decision to make our narrator (and principal protagonist) a trained Naval Officer.  Instead of having Average Joe member of the public as the one whom the reader will hopefully be sympathising with, our narrator is instead someone who can handle such situations with a greater degree of knowledge and instilled military training.  And (admittedly a little surprisingly) it actually works.  Bourne ensures that our unnamed narrator (who is undoubtedly based upon himself, being himself a US Naval Officer) is still portrayed with very human qualities; with his own fears and emotional challenges thoroughly detailed within the journal.  Indeed, our man doesn’t start out as a particularly heroic individual, but over time, gradually rises to the challenge as he adjusts to, and accepts, this new vicious post-apocalyptic environment.

Forget page after page of bloodspill and visceral descriptions of stomach-churning gore.  In this respect the novel is much more in tune with the likes of David Moody’s ‘Autumn’ (2002), with our protagonist’s thoughts, feelings and emotions surrounding the growing ordeal, forming the main body of the journal entries.  And this is another aspect that works in the novel’s favour.  With a constant internal-monologue of desperate questioning at what to do next, fear at the unfolding horror, and a growing concern for his family back in Arkansas and his Naval friends back on base; the journal entries are able to home in on a realistically portrayed human response to the epidemic.  And as a result, bonds between reader and narrator are erected and constantly reassured.  

For the most part, the novel keeps its cards close to its chest.  The early pages deal with a much more carefully worked out storyline, keeping the pace steady, whilst layering up the various intricacies that really make the novel work so well.  However, as the story progresses onwards, Bourne seems to lose this carefully calculated approach and instead opts for a much more immediate and energetic pace.  Once the two survivors and the dog are on the road, the speed at which events take place seem to quickly gather in momentum, with one thing leading to the next, which feeds off the next, and so on.  A real sense of urgency becomes the new dominating emotion.  Existence is dangerous and there’s potential danger around each and every corner.

The family that they meet along the way are as painfully undeveloped as John and our journal writing narrator are.  They have names and lukewarm positions within the grand scheme of things – but very little else.  Again, this is a disappointingly missed opportunity in which the author could have really gone to town on encapsulating another individual’s reaction to this utterly demanding premise.  However, the added characters end up bringing little else to the novel, except for a slight change in the direction and diluting down the now familiar loneliness.  

But overall the novel works incredibly well.  It’s exciting and tense, with a snowballing sense of urgency that gets the reader desperately wanting to read on.  A quite off-putting amount of typos, along with a general lack of having been proofread, does detract from the tale to a certain degree.  There’s no “it’s supposed to be a journal, so it’s got spelling errors, warts and all in there”.  Did such mistakes appear in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ (1897) which incorporated a similar journal-keeping format?  No.  And that’s because it’s a format used to deliver the story – not a perfect carbon copy of a fictional diary.

The ending is not so much an ending as it is a gigantic cliff-hanger to practically guarantee that the reader will purchase the next instalment – ‘Day By Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile’ (2010).  The novel also concludes with a seven page excerpt from the author’s next proposed project, entitled ‘Dead Land’ which looks to this time be written from a third-person-point-of-view.

The novel runs for a total of 250 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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