by Brian Keene
[Updated to remove reference to my no longer used Star Rating system.]
This is a piece of pre-SHTF fiction, and I am truly thankful it was fiction. My problem with the book isn't that I was unable to suspend my disbelief; rather, I didn't want to. The zombies were, in many cases, smarter than the humans they once were and, while their agility deteriorated with their flesh, they were still much greater threats than the true zombies from The War. Not only that, but all vertebrates were capable of zombification. I do not wish to downplay the threat of a real zombie, but the ones in this book freaked me out to no end. You haven't been truly afraid until you've stared a zombie anaconda in the face. That, and the nightmares of being chased by zombie rabbits, kept me up for nights. I do not know if the author has survived, but I'd guess a sick bastard who could write such a story probably would.
The book starts after the Point of No Return, though there are frequent flashbacks that reach into the world as we knew it. While we follow several characters, including an addict who shook her habit while the SHTF and a scientist who may have triggered the event, the story revolves around a man who sets out on an odyssey to rescue his son. The book ably demonstrates that no matter what threat you face, what creatures God raises to oppose you, it is the ordinary human being you should fear the most.
As for the practical advice that the book offers, most of it is geared towards a world where the threat is smarter and faster. For instance, during a crisis, I would avoid using a car because the noise attracts zombies and you can just as easily evade them on foot. In the world of The Rising, though, you cannot so easily escape them, thus making the risk worthwhile. However, the book reinforces the need to maintain your supplies of food and ammunition. Listen up!
This is worth reading. It will scare the crap out of you, provide some useful advice as long as you are discerning of the context, and provide some insight into what the pre-SHTF world thought about zombies.
There are spoilers after the jump.
This story starts rather late in the life cycle with some flashbacks to earlier events and ends, if not explicitly in extinction, it certainly does not look optimistic for Humanity.
The author does not explicitly spell out how TEotWaWKI was triggered, but heavily implies it was the result of super collider experiment gone bad. Unlike what really happened, these zombies are not the result of a disease. Instead, that experiment opened some sort of portal to another world in which were exiled evil beings. As creatures on our side died, presuming their brains were still intact, the bodies are reanimated with the souls of those evil beings. The zombies are actively working to bring their compadres to this side. While they hunger for our flesh, they will eat only enough to allow the victim to remain functional when reanimated. This is the essence of what makes them truly fearful. They plan, they hunt, they seek our extinction.
Outbreak and Beyond
It's not clear in the book whether there was a period in which the event was known to but a few who sought to resolve the situation. I think the story jumped straight past the Point of No Return and careened towards extinction of the human race. The only way to terminate the event was to close the portal to that other plane. The book never even hinted that such a thing was possible.
This is why I didn't give this story a 5th star, it's hopeless. You will eventually die and turn into a zombie. It doesn't matter if you on the menu for the undead or you last until old age. I want a story that at least offers a hope at some point, an "if only" moment that that I can play back in my head to see how I would have reacted. Given the course of events in the book, I'd've put a bullet in my head.