When offered a copy of the The Burning Z by Clive Riddle to review, it seemed like a no-brainer. The concept, zombies crashing the Burning Man Festival, seemed intriguing. Not really knowing what the Burning Man festival is, other than a sense it was an ecologically correct Woodstock, the idea that a large group of drug impaired, sleep deprived, crazily dressed, electronics-free strangers might be set upon by zombies had us thinking about the age-old question, would we be able to identify a zombie apocalypse in a timely manner if we saw one? The answer, at least for the Burning Man group, we thought would be a resounding no and that promised all manners of story twists and surprises.
Sadly, it was not to be.
There is no doubt the author knows a lot about Burning Man. He devotes chapters to involved explanations of every facet of the set up, but instead of spicing the story up with insider knowledge, the depth of detail is overpowering. Though Mr. Riddle’s information would be at home in an academic journal detailing the phenomenon of Burning Man, it didn’t serve to bring the reader into the experience. Instead it left this reader feeling removed from it. The sense of not being part of the story was intensified by the relentless focus on what being a true Burning Man participant meant, which came across like they were the popular kids in a high school clique and everyone else was outsiders.
Prior to the Burning Man, the author introduces characters with an enormous amount of back story, much of it unessential to the story. This contributed to the suffocatingly slow pace of the novel. The characters, even with a majority of their life story revealed, seemed more like props to be placed in and out of scenes than characters I could root for or despise.
My major feeling was indifference to the characters, to the story, and to the zombies. It is rare that I don’t finish a book I start, but the only way I could finish The Burning Z was by forcing myself to read one chapter a day. Though I kept waiting for the pace or the story to pick up, it never happened. Not a day passed when, after finishing my daily quota, I felt compelled to read on. I only felt relief I was done for the day.
If you’re looking to impress your friends with your knowledge of Burning Man, this might be the book for you. If you’re hoping for a fast-paced, zombie thriller, avoid this one. Instead, check out one of the many great books we’ve reviewed in the past.
- Burning Man Festival: The Documentary (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- Appeal over Burning Man crowd size dismissed (sacbee.com)
- Major Victory for Burning Man over Pershing County (burners.me)
- Art And Culture Of Burning Man (presurfer.blogspot.com)
- New Documentary Captures Existential Crisis of Burning Man, Temporary Metropolis in Nevada Desert (obrag.org)