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on May 07, 2011 :
Okay, so supposedly, when you see a bad review, it's a case of the book not living up to the expectations of whomever purchased it. That makes sense. You rarely see reviews that state something like, "I absolutely loathe horror stories. So in a masochistic fit I picked up Seven Co-eds Get Horribly Murdered In A Haunted House. It was a horror story. I hated it." (And if you do write that review, you deserve to be smacked upside the back of the head Gibb's style.)
No, usually bad reviews go something like this: "I purchased Seven Co-eds Get Horribly Murdered In A Haunted House because I love horror stories, and there were a bunch of great reviews. Then I cracked it open. I don't know what the other reviewers were smoking while they read it, but it didn't live up to the hype."
So, you see a book, you read the write up, you check out and the reviews and develop expectations. You read the sample and develop more depth to your expectations. Having done that, I expected The Judas Syndrome to be Red Dawn redone with a whole bunch of teen stoners.
Unlike the potential negative reviewer, I was very pleased to see my expectations were not met.
I'd say the first quarter of the book followed the traditional post-nuclear Armageddon script pretty closely. We meet the main characters and the secondary characters. We see them party and do a ton of drugs. They come home and find the world has been blown to smithereens. They huddle together for survival. Up until this point it looks like a sophisticated version of many teen fantasies of life hiding out with your buddies, an unlimited supply of drugs, no parents to kill the buzz, and enough danger to keep everything interesting.
And then the story begins to shift. We move from teen fantasy mode into metaphysical questioning mode. We go from nothing deeper than getting laid and the next joint to an in depth exploration of a psyche at the breaking point.
This is not a light fluffy read with a happy ending. The title, which I barely paid any attention to when I was thinking about the book before I read it, is a warning about how it's going to work out. Joel, is a frighteningly well done psychological profile of a man slowly burning out and arising from the ashes not a phoenix, but a devil. The world is gone. Family and most friends have died horribly. As the seven month course of the book continues, more friends die. This is more stress than most people could possibly handle, add in the paranoia inducing effects of large quantities of cannabis, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
It's a compelling read, heartbreaking, but emotionally very, very real.
There are however, aspects of the story I found jarring and out of place. Joel and his friends are too young. They're high school seniors, seventeen or eighteen years old. And while I do not subscribe to the belief that all teens are twits, I can say that all the teens I've personally met who were as interested in drugs and partying as these kids were twits. They needed more time to grow up. College seniors would have worked better, post-grad students, better yet. Basically, I just ignored how old they were supposed to be, and mentally advanced them to twenty-six ish, it made the story work a lot better.
What actually happened seemed quite fuzzy, too. We know the terrorist mastermind had nukes. We learn he had a lot more than anyone thought he did. We know Joel and his buddies live in some middle of nowhere farming community, 200 miles from the nearest big city. When they get back from their camping party weekend, they find town destroyed, sort of. People are dead, some of them. Some look like they died peacefully in their sleep. Some are covered in burns. Some are running around looting. Some places the buildings have burned and cars are toppled. Some are just fine. What happened? Is this some sort of fall out from a bomb over 200 miles away? Did the terrorist have enough weaponry to go after little, middle of nowhere farming communities? And why didn't any of Joel's group come down with radiation sickness?
Joel's home and a nearby barn are perfectly set up for surviving the apocalypse it turns out. And while I get Poetl didn't want to spend too much time dealing with the physical hows of survival, the set up was just a bit too convenient. It's not only that everything is already set up with generators, but that they also manage to find a tanker truck filled with gasoline so they could run those generators.
What Poetl did want to spend time on was ripping away everything Joel knew or believed about himself. He built his character up, turned him from a lay about stoner into a leader, and then as stress piled on stress, turned him into a paranoid addict. And from there things only get worse. As I said earlier, not a light and fluffy read.
Joel is the only fully developed character of the lot. And I'm not sure if this is intentional or not. We get the story from Joel's POV. So are two dimensional secondary characters an indicator of lazy writing or of Joel's inability to really see and understand the people around him? Part of the reason I'm not sure if this is intentional or not is that the writing as a technical matter of grammar and construction ranges from great to error prone. When I see technical mastery of prose, I assume that things like the shallow secondary characters when told with first person POV is intentional. When it's not, I'm not sure if it's another indicator of sloppy writing or an indicator of deep writing with limited technical skills.
Voice, assuming you pretend Joel is twenty-six, is well done. Action scenes are believably chaotic. (Though, as others have indicated, the sudden military prowess of a crew of high school seniors wasn't.) Joel's descent into self-destructive madness was extremely well done. You almost don't notice he's slipping away because he doesn't notice he's slipping away. The ending isn't much of a shock. Once you realize the title isn't kidding, and the last line of the description really isn't kidding, you know how this is going to end. And while not a shock, it still evokes the pain of losing a character you wanted more and better for.
More careful editing, and more attention to making the setting/characters match the gravity of what happened, and this would have been a five star book. As it is, I'm comfortable calling this four stars.
(reviewed long after purchase)
on April 19, 2011 :
There must be a balance between books and their endings. Some must end happily and others are destined to go the darker route, such as The Judas Syndrome by Michael Poeltl. We are introduced to your average teenagers that are carefree and optimistic about their futures. In an attempt to put off summer jobs and escape the gloom brought on by threats of the apocalypse, the group of teens gather for a camping weekend. Upon returning home, the teens are forced to discover that the threats came true and the world has fallen victim to nuclear attack. It is clear to see who the main teenagers are as they are forced to grow up and plan for their survival.
Joel is deemed the leader of the group although he never saw himself as the leading type. Other main characters are Connor, Sara, Eric and Jake. Most of the other teens in the group stay as secondary characters. I am certain that the secondary group will have their time to shine in the second book to this series.
There is a lot of drug use throughout the book and at first I figured it was just kids being kids. I expected drug use to be the furthest thing from the kids minds while they are trying to survive so I was surprised that not only was it an important part, but the leading cause of Joel's insanity spree.
The reader should expect that beginning with the title, this book will have to end on a sad note in order for a more positive message to shine through. Friendships and inner turmoils are put to the test...the Judas test. I am curious to see where the survivors lead in the second installment.
There was mild adult language, heavy drug use, and somewhat bloody descriptions, so this book is better suited for an adult audience.
(reviewed long after purchase)
on March 17, 2011 :
The Judas Syndrome starts with a group of young adults on a camping trip before school. A cloud hangs over the trip, namely a terrorist's threat of a nuclear holocaust. The trip itself gives the reader a chance to know these youths and how they react under normal circumstances. When they return, they find that the terrorists have struck, their homes and families are destroyed, and the world is in chaos.
How they respond makes up the bulk of the story. They must contend with poisonous rain, lack of power, unplanned pregnancy, marauders, religious fanatics, drug addiction and -- perhaps worst of all -- their own inner demons.
The author has a clear and lucid style that takes the reader from one vivid situation to another. The story is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies but without adults rescuing them at the end. What does happen at the end surprised me, though I admit the author had left several clues.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on Feb. 19, 2011 :
I had a hard time matching the the characters' actions to a bunch of kids not yet out of school. The apparent dichotomy between their age and their maturity in handling some situations is even more offset by the excessive drug use by many members. I simply couldn't imagine any group of kids having the discipline to not be stoned for a watch schedule, then get stoned for the rest of the time.
Aside from that criticism it is written well and isn't the typical rehash of an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type of tale. I would have liked to see some more character development, but to do so would have probably made the size of the book overly large. However, the main character is developed well and the reader gets the benefit of seeing him change, both good and bad, as the story progresses.
The ending reminds me a bit of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" in a strange way. After thinking about it a bit, the reader will realize that this particular ending is the way the story *needs* to end.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Jan. 13, 2011 :
Although I don't usually read apocalyptic fiction, the internet buzz about The Judas Syndrome was so intense that I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did!
The Judas Syndrome is the story of a small group of teenagers who go on a camping trip to escape the pressures of school and jobs. They're relaxed, thoughtless, and enjoying life. When they leave the shelter of the deep forest, they find a burned-out, dead world. Eternal night descends upon the globe. Darwinism rules the day, and only the strong survive. Fortunately some of the kids have a background in paintball and war games, and the skills they formerly cultivated for entertainment purposes now keep them alive.
(reviewed the day of purchase)