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Sun, 2 Sep 2012

I, Zombie, by Hugh Howey

There have been far too damned many zombie books and TV series recently, most of them not very good. They're a simple formula that sells: good vs evil, black and white, no shades of grey, and a cheap excuse for relentless action without much thought. There are occasional exceptions. Max Brooks's excellent "World War Z" pretty much brought the genre back to life, and was also the high point too, with everything since being at least unoriginal and almost entirely dreadful.

"I, Zombie" breaks out of the mould, and is almost great. It could so easily have surpassed World War Z. But it doesn't.

As its central idea it turns the zombie story on its head, telling it from the point of view of the zombie. This is, of course, impossible: we all know that zombies are mindless automatons, with barely more sentience than an arcade-game bad guy that you can trap in corners, driven solely by their insatiable all-encompassing desire for human meat and inability to do even the simplest of forward planning. Such creatures can't possibly be the view-point characters of a story. But Howey looks beyond the shambler and considers what happened to the person it used to be. In most zombie stories, that person is simply dead, but in I, Zombie, they're still there, experiencing everything but utterly unable to do anything, and forced to go along for the grisly ride.

The book is redolent of genius. As the "locked in" characters can't interact with each other, or (at least intentionally) with their surroundings, all we are left with is their internal monologues, their memories, and their experiences of becoming and being a zombie. These are without exception handled beautifully. I would never have thought that you could get such fine writing about shitting yourself (zombies, of course, have no control over their bladder or bowels) or the feel of having fur stuck in your throat from the cat you just ate and not being able to cough it out, but Howey does this gloriously.

So why only three stars? It goes on for too damned long and the things the different characters experience are repetitive. As a short story, just about any short section of the book would be brilliant, but as a full-length novel it doesn't work very well.

Posted at 20:09 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | horror
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