Geek Inked met the authors of Bath Salts this year at Toronto’s Fan Expo. I don’t recall whether it was Alisse or An that I spoke to but they quickly captured my attention with their sales pitch. Bath Salts is a novel which was conceived after the “Bath Salts” or “Zombie” drug controversy made a splash in the media. To give you a quick primer, if you hadn’t heard of this drug before; it causes violent behaviour and an increased pain tolerance… when people take it, some of them act a little like zombies… So what if a zombie outbreak did happen? Alisse and An wrote this book from their own point of views and structured it as a collection of journal entries.
The book did capture my interest quickly as I followed each girl’s preparations for how they were going to survive the apocalypse. They definitely had a plan, which involved leaving behind their big city lives to flee up north to Nunavut and risk the perils of the Arctic where zombies might have a harder time surviving. There is some debate among people who I discussed the book with about how plausible their plan was, but regardless of that it is a work of fiction and I think the characters provided enough justification that it didn’t cause much of an issue. Much of the book was an intellectual reaction to the fallout of a zombie apocalypse. If you are expecting a quick zombie killing bonanza Dawn of the Dead style, then this isn’t it. This is a tale of what people do and how people act to avoid death by zombie. Warning; It also involves people’s feelings. A lot of literature and films completely ignore or gloss over the psychological aspect but since in this case, you are reading a person’s journal entries, none of that is left out.
I have to say that I loved the format… or at least the concept of reading a science fiction book written in a journal format. However, it did become quickly apparent that the journal format had some severe pros and cons. The pros are very obvious; it’s an under used format and things that are different are interesting and new. It also provided a structured alternative of giving each girl a voice, rather than doing the more common thing of assigning an alternating chapter format.
The “con” in this case was that the journal entries were not equal in length or in quality. “Ali’s” entries were usually around a page long and “An’s” entries where usually less than a paragraph. It seemed to make “An’s” point of view seem like an after-thought. The book could have been easily written completely from “Ali’s” point of view with her relating her friend “An’s” feelings as she did for all of the lesser characters. I would have liked to have seen both girls have journal entries around a page in length. This would have given the impression to the readers that “An” was just as important to the story as “Ali”. This would also have given An’s character more space to go into more depth about herself and show more of her personality.
The other side effect of the journal entry format is that you don’t get as much pure description. When you write a journal entry, you are essentially writing about something you’ve experienced and therefore you already know all the details of what happened. You write in a journal in order to mentally work out your feelings on paper or record something you wish to remember at a later date. Either way it doesn’t evolve the same sort of descriptive writing that a normal novel contains, so reading a string of journal entries can get a little monotonous. The flip side of that is it can also be a very personal and intimate thing to read someone’s journal. One thing that I would have liked to have seen in this book, to make it feel more personal, was pictures or drawings. Because the novel lacks a large amount of description due to the format, it would have been a nice touch… however that sort of thing is tricky because if you are going to do that as an author, you have to do it well or risk having your book look childish. I think this book could have pulled it off, though.
Is this a book you should rush out and buy? Honestly, I can’t make that judgement for you. I enjoyed it but I can see how some people might not like the format, but that is the price you pay as an author for trying something new. The content is good but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.