One of the aims for this new(ish) blog is to cover more of the books that are on my shelves as well as the new stuff that comes in. There are a lot of books, on my shelves, that are begging for a re-read or (in some cases) are still to be read. And the way I see it, what is the point of keeping books if you’re not going to re-read them at least once? You may as well not keep books if you’re not going to (re)read them, it would certainly help my house to look a lot tidier…
Brian Keene’s books (some more than others) are ones that I will always re-read. They’re, mostly, excellent horror fiction that are short enough for a quick commute but have enough going on in the pages to have you thinking about them for a long time afterwards. I’ve already written about ‘The Rising’, in my old blog, but that was four years ago now and I figured the book was about due to be picked up again (also, having read ‘Entombed’ the other day I just fancied it anyway).
I’ve been reading my old Leisure edition but Deadite Press are publishing ‘The Rising’ (I’m using their cover here) these days and this edition is worth picking up as it has something like thirty thousand extra words in it that flesh out the story a lot more. I can only dream of having that edition but the one I have does the job and you can’t ask for much more than that. I think it will certainly stand a few more re-reads before I’m done.
The dead have come back to life and humanity is under severe threat from zombies that do a whole lot more than just shamble around mindlessly. These zombies will eat bits of you but only after they’ve run you down with a car or thrown grenades at you… Every time a human (or animal) dies, the ranks of the undead only swell further.
Jim Thurmond is trapped in an underground shelter with nothing left to live for, until his young son (hundreds of miles away) manages to call, begging for his Dad to come and save him. Now Jim has something to live for and nothing is going to stop him reaching his son, certainly not a blasted America teeming with the undead and the worst that humanity has to offer. Time is running out though and who knows what Jim might find if he makes it to his son…
The best zombie fiction doesn’t really concentrate on the zombies at all. Sure, they’re a threat (and you will see what they are capable of) but they’re mindless shells really so it makes a lot more sense to concentrate on the survivors and see how they cope under pressure. Keene not only does this (with Jim trying to find his son) but does an admirable job of maintaining the resulting ‘high stakes/high pressure’ tone throughout the entire book. You know what’s at stake and you have to root for Jim, even while you’re wondering if he will crack under the strain. Jim is single-minded in his approach but never becomes one dimensional as a character; there’s a real depth to him that comes out over the course of the book and he becomes a man that people can’t help but follow. Nice people that is, not like the rest of the dregs populating the books; the people that Keene uses to show us that humanity can be just as nasty as demon possessed corpses (never, ever, take a helicopter ride with Colonel Schow…)
And yes, the zombies… They do everything a regular zombie does but a lot more as well, all accompanied by dialogue that can be hit and miss but mostly makes me chuckle. Humanizing (‘demonizing’?) the zombies is a bold move that ends up doing a great job of driving the plot at a breakneck pace and giving the reader a fresh spin on what was, at the time, a tired old trope that needed shooting in the head.
The level of gore works for me (my stomach is pretty strong) but, before picking it up, other readers might want to bear in mind that Keene is pretty indiscriminate about who it all happens to. Fair enough, zombie apocalypses are pretty indiscriminate things but not everyone wants to read about zombie foetuses being blasted by shotguns or severely learning disabled people being eaten by zombie children. And babies dying, it feels like there are a lot of babies dying in this book (there probably aren’t that many, I’m not going to go back and count though) and I wasn’t too keen on all that.
And the ending… It’s a divisive thing that ultimately led to the sequel, ‘City of the Dead’, being written. I for one appreciate its bluntness and also how it leaves those vital key moments to the imagination. In my opinion it would have stood fine as it was but I’m not complaining too much as ‘City of the Dead’ isn’t exactly a bad read either. More on that another time (maybe tomorrow, depending on how my other reads go…)