Wednesday, 13 October 2010

‘Zombie Apocalypse’ – Stephen Jones (Robinson)

It was way back in May that I found myself extolling the virtues of cover art that doesn’t mess around with subtlety and hidden depths, sometimes ‘simple and direct’ really is best! The book in question, at the time, was Stephen Jones’ ‘Zombie Apocalypse’; a book that had me really excited and counting down the days until its October release. You should know by now how much I love zombies :o)
Things changed, between May and October, though. I started to wonder if there was a little too much zombie fiction out there with everyone jumping on the bandwagon in an attempt to get away from vampires that sparkle. The last couple of zombie books that I’ve read went a long way towards proving me wrong but there was still a nagging little doubt at the back of my mind when ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ came through the door. Was there going to be more brilliance or just something off the bandwagon?
Yet again I’ve been proved wrong. In what’s turning out to be an excellent year for zombie fiction, ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ hasn’t let the side down at all. Quite the opposite in fact...

In the not too distant future, the UK government seeks to restore some semblance of national pride with its ‘New Festival of Britain’. The way things are, you can’t really blame them for trying can you? What you can blame them for though is digging up an old church in South London and then trying to cover up what boils out of the crypts... What results is a plague of biblical proportions where the merest scratch from an infected person is enough to kill you... then bring you back to life with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.
There’s only one way to eradicate the plague at source and when that fails, the world is faced with all out war as the living battle the walking dead for domination of the globe. Who will win? Will anyone win...?

‘Zombie Apocalypse’ is a tale of society’s slow descent into chaos as the overwhelming reality of the living dead proves to be too much for people to handle. Governments try to cover the problem up, people worship zombies as a sign of the End Times and all the while, the problem slowly drifts past the point of no return. The difference here is that the story is told via a series of diary entries, blog posts, new flashes and emails (amongst others) that all combine to form a much larger picture.

If you’re anything like me then you’re probably wondering if ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ is a poor man’s version of Max Brooks’ ‘World War Z’, a book that follows pretty much the same format. The clue is in the phrase ‘pretty much’. While there’s no doubt that ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ borrows heavily from ‘World War Z’ in that regard (and that sense of familiarity does detract from the book as a whole), it adopts a much more personal tone that not only balances things out with the format but lets ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ stand out as an entity in it’s own right. While ‘World War Z’ went for the epic ‘wide screen’ approach; ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ really gets right down into the muck and filth (as well as the standard entrails and brains) to show you exactly what it’s like at ground level. If ‘World War Z’ is a Hollywood blockbuster then ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ is the TV mini-series that’s just a little bit too creepy and explicit for regular prime time viewing.

And it is creepy. Thanks to a solid looking array of writers, we are taken right inside the heads of various people trying to survive on the streets of London, New York and Mexico amongst other places. Without giving too much away, the zombie virus has an interesting new spin on it here which leads to plenty of nasty surprises being sprung at just the right moments. The quality is consistent throughout and all credit to Stephen Jones for managing to get all these separate writers to come together and form an overall story arc that flows very smoothly and doesn’t have those breaks and jars that you almost come to expect when one writer signs off and another one jumps straight on. I was more than pleasantly surprised at how well it all hung together. While the quality is consistent, there were a couple of moments that really stood out for me. Sarah Pinborough’s ‘Diary Entries’ mix teenage poignancy with the sights and sounds of South London going straight to hell and the end result makes for compelling reading on more than one level.
Tim Lebbon’s ‘Zmbs’ is a lot faster moving and you have to admire a writer that can inject a real sense of urgency into a series of text messages. Lebbon manages admirably and the twist right at the end comes as a really chilling surprise. It’s an ending that I keep going back to in my head purely because of how abrupt and final it is...

 These two excerpts form a part of a much wider narrative that highlights how quickly humanity will fall in the face of events that it just cannot comprehend. This is highlighted superbly in the government minutes where the emergency plan for a zombie uprising is simply ‘run away screaming’. Some things are ultimately outside our experience and this is why they cannot be dealt with, something Jones makes very clear in the worldwide uproar that follows seemingly innocent construction work being carried out on a church site in Greenwich. I wondered if there was a political agenda going on at times, there was certainly a lot being made of how useless various governments are with their reactions to the crisis as well as the work they do on a daily basis. If I’ve been told something once then I generally don’t need to be told the same thing over and over again. This was the case here but I could also see that you are likely to get the same message from more than one viewpoint. It was a bit irritating to be force fed the same line again and again; I could see how it went that way though.

‘Zombie Apocalypse’ follows all the best zombie literature by bringing humanity right to the fore, both the good and bad aspects. The gore makes for some nice decorative touches but it’s the reactions of various characters, to their situation, that make this book an absolute must read for zombie fans everywhere.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten


Nick Sharps said...

All this zombie fiction you've been reading and I feel like you've missed the origin of the recent upsurge in popularity. You need to check out Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. Max didn't invent pop-culture zombies but I think a lot of recent attention is because of those two pieces.

Anonymous said...

i saw this in waterstones today, i read the twitter feed from bob something...where he is on the plane, basically im ordering it off amazon now :)

Michael Culham said...

I've read this book. I really like this book. BUT, try as I might, I just don't "get" the ending.

Am I trying to read too much in to it, or (without meaning to give too much away) do the last two "chapters" seem to suggest that there are two types of Zombies? Its something that pops up all through the book - The Queen, the President, Lynda Russo (the pilot), Mike Richards (the text guy) and Maddy (the diary girl) to name a few examples.

I really don't want to say too much in case I'm spoiling it for anyone, but if somebody can explain the point I'm clearly referring too, I'll love you as much as I did this book.

Despite not understanding bits of it.


ps: Believe it or not, I'm not actually thick.