Minor Spoilers Ahead
Goddammit, people. I don't want to read zombie books. I'm not a huge fan of zombie cinema (I've seen two Romero movies, and that's about it.) I don't read horror. I like to sleep, and I'm far too sensitive to such things! (Although it's easier to let go of when it's the written word instead of the screen.) So how have I ended up reading two zombie books this year, both of which I really liked? Dammit, Daryl Gregory! Dammit, Mira Grant! Stop that!
So why did I pick this one up? Well, discovering Gregory's Pandemonium last year was one of the great pleasures of a year filled with great books. It even made it onto my top ten books of 2013, once the dust from the Dust Cover Dust-Up had settled. So I figured, what the hell. Let's see what his take on a zombie novel is like.
I should not be surprised that I enjoyed it mightily. I can also say that it didn't cost me a single sleepless night. This isn't that type of book. It isn't about boo scares or pulse-pounding action. Instead, it's a fairly quiet look at zombies, zombie culture, and the scares come from something far more troublesome than mindless brain-eaters.
Here is what I have enjoyed most about the two books by this author I've read so far. He takes a concept, and in both cases, it's a really interesting one, and then keeps pushing it. Taking it one step further, and then further, delving into the implications of what he's creating. Nothing just lies there, and the ideas are fascinating. This is so very far from what most zombie media is like, but once you take the first innovation Gregory comes up with, exploring all the ramifications of that takes the reader on a really wonderful ride.
This is the first step, the major deviation from previous zombie canon. This first comes up about a third of the way into the book, so I'm not sure it counts as a spoiler, but if you're worried about such things, stop here.
What if the mindless brain eating of zombies was temporary? What if it was part of the initial sickness, and passed 48 hours later? Who would bother to find out? And what if they did? Does the danger to society outweigh the rights of the newly dead but still conscious? How might the government react? The zombies?
That's not where the book starts - the first section is about a zombie baby adopted and hidden by a living family after the first zombie outbreak. Stony Mayhall grows up, shockingly. As in, physically gets bigger. Which, you know, if you're dead, is quite the feat. He learns. He hides. He thinks he's alone.
When things come to a head in his small town, he learns that he isn't, and is inducted into the LDA (Living Dead Army). There, he learns that there is a network of safehouses keeping surviving zombies safe, although the government is after them, big time. And thinks nothing of either killing them, or locking them away in a prison and doing horrific experiments. The facts of zombie existence have never been made public.
So, if that's not far enough, have you ever considered the differences of opinion that might exist in such a quickly-dwindling zombie community? From those who believe no biting ever, to those advocating for the apocalyptic Big Bite.
Also, what makes zombies move? They're dead, after all. How are nerve impulses travelling? What implications might that have for the metaphysics of consciousness?
I am not going to tell you how any of this plays out, except to say that it's always intriguing. This is a zombie book that's heavy on the implications, not the horror. Except that I would argue that while zombies running after you trying to eat your brains is scary, knowing zombies are debating unleashing the apocalypse deliberately is terrifying. In a more abstract way, but terrifying.
This is a good one, folks. I continue to be impressed with Daryl Gregory, with the way he keeps pushing at the boundaries of his concepts, and coming up with cool answers. The characters are great, Stony in particular, and the story moves along to an inexorable conclusion. The way the story twists might lose some people, but I was in. I'm in for the next one. Even if it's another zombie novel.