One of the great things about moving house is when you come round to unpacking all the book boxes and you discover all the books that you’ve always been meaning to read but never quite found the time to. This has been the prevailing feeling for pretty much all of the last week and you may well see a couple more of these posts before the week is out! This time round, it’s the turn of two of my favourite pieces of zombie fiction. Is it zombie fiction though? I’ll let you decide…
I’d just got back into zombie films and the next step was to see if there were any zombie books out there that I could read. I don’t think I’d seen any zombie books at this point (apart from a Stephen King short story that I forget the name of) but it’s always worth a look!
Joe McKinney’s ‘Dead City’ was the first zombie book that I came across and that whetted my appetite for more of the same. And then I came across Brian Keene’s ‘City of the Dead’, an apocalyptic tale of humans holed up in a Manhattan skyscraper with masses of the undead outside and eager to get in… I may well have been reading this while I was walking to the counter to buy it!
I didn’t know this at the time but ‘City of the Dead’ was actually the sequel to Keene’s ‘The Rising’. As a result, the beginning of ‘City’ works well enough on it’s own but does throw you in at the deep end and expects you to catch up. You have to be quick on your feet, there are zombies coming for you! I found that this terrifying pace swept me up and carried me along to a conclusion that’s inevitable in any kind of zombie media. Zombie fiction is all about survival and that is the name of the game in ‘City’. It’s also all about humanity’s darker instincts and the hard choices that arise from this, ‘City’ lays this on thick as well. The thrills and scares lie in what is constantly chasing Jim Thurmond and his band; they can’t stop for a second and this means that the story cannot stop either. Just when you think things are about to calm down for a second, Keene throws something worse at the group and it all kicks off again. The pace is as relentless as the undead and their need for flesh. The growing sense of the apocalypse permeates everything and gives us an interesting counterbalance between the futility of resistance and the strength of the human spirit and it’s refusal to surrender.
Is it zombie fiction though? The dead are returning to life but only because demons are taking over human corpses in an attempt to destroy all life on the planet. They can drive cars and are pretty handy with automatic weaponry! I’d say that it is. These zombies may not be mindless flesh hungry automatons (and they do have a habit of making quips that just aren’t funny…) but they are the dead returned to some kind of life. Also, like I said earlier, ‘City of the Dead’ deals with themes prevalent in all zombie novels. It might be pushing it a little bit but I’m standing by ‘City’ being a zombie novel, as is its predecessor ‘The Rising’.
I loved ‘City of the Dead’ and knew that I just had to find myself a copy of ‘The Rising’ as soon as possible. The only problem was that the book was out of print… So began the reoccurrence of one of my more obessive traits, trawling every bookstore in London trying to find somewhere that had a copy (but with no success whatsoever). Copies online were going for stupid prices but that wasn’t going to stop me either. Luckily for me, my ebay powers were weak at the time. Not only did I lose out on a copy of ‘The Rising’ (thereby saving a lot of money) but a week after that the book was back in print again. I had a copy in my greedy little hands and was missing stops on the tube so I could keep reading.
‘The Rising’ does exactly what ‘City of the Dead’ did but is a little more forceful in pushing the boundaries of taste. Humans will do anything to survive and there’s nothing like an apocalypse to loosen everyone’s inhibitions… ‘The Rising’ was also meant to be a stand alone piece (until an outcry over the ending led to demand for the sequel, it is a very abrupt ending…) so maybe Keene felt a little more able to unload everything onto the page in one go. Whatever the reason, ‘The Rising’ isn’t a book for the squeamish. It’s also a little scarier than its sequel in the way that it explores just what it means to survive in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. If a loved one became a zombie, what would you do? Keene racks up the tension by asking this question of all his characters. Everyone will do what is necessary but not everyone can live with the results… Keene really captures the essence of shooting a spouse or parent in the head and it’s about as nice as you would expect.
I had as much fun with ‘The Rising’ as I did with ‘City of the Dead’ and (if you haven’t noticed already) I’m now a dedicated follower of everything that Keene has published. If you’re a fan of zombie fiction then you could do a lot worse than give these a look, they’re worth it.