George A Romero is the father of the zombie movie. The godfather of the dead. An icon of modern American media, a pioneer of the horror film genre, an outstanding filmmaker, writer and editor and the creator of the image of the zombie in modern culture.
The zombie horror genre is my genre. It has been a personal fascination, bordering on obsession, since I first watched Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead back in the 70’s, followed by Day of the Dead in the 80’s. Since then, I have watched pretty much every zombie movie or TV show that has been made, read every book, and played every game. I’ve played a zombie in a scare event and was a participant in the reality TV show, I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse. I now write zompoc novels myself. (Wait for Me. Trident Edge).
I don’t fully understand my unusual interest in zombies and the concept of the zombie apocalypse (neither do my friends and family) but I think it’s something to do with humans being the real threat to humans, not just in terms of being flesh-eating monsters, but also in the way that the survivors react and behave towards each other when the world as they know it ends. All illusions of civilisation and humanity rapidly melt away leaving people who are barely distinguishable from animals. It’s shocking how quickly society disintegrates and falls apart.
I’m also intrigued by how strange and unfamiliar familiar places become in an apocalypse of any kind. Busy streets, deserted and quiet. Bustling shopping malls and city centres, empty and silent. Survivors free to explore and scavenge wherever and whatever they want – barring zombie threats of course. Nature reclaiming the land. The end of all the services we rely on and and take for granted like water, power, mobile phones and the internet. An upside down, inside out world that is still the same place as before, but at the same time different and changed for ever.
I don’t have the same affinity for other sci-fi and fantasy monsters like vampires, werewolves and aliens. They just don’t do it for me in the same way as zombies do. Maybe it’s because the living dead seem more realistic to me than these other fantastical beasts and creatures. I know that sounds crazy!
I’ve established that I am a massive fan of Romero and all his work. So, imagine my excitement when I heard that he’d written a book, albeit posthumously completed by Daniel Krauss. Not just a book but a humungous 700-page epic that promised to chart the zombie plague “from the first rising to the fall of humanity … and beyond.” It was showered with amazing reviews from the start: “a horror landmark”; a work of gory genius”; the last word of the living dead”; everything you could have hoped for” …
Imagine my disappointment when it just didn’t live up to my expectations.
The first part of the book told a lot of individual stories from the very start of the apocalypse. It was interesting and I did enjoy the start of the book. But even here, there were some stories I enjoyed and some I didn’t. I liked some characters and absolutely hated others. Some stories particularly grabbed and held my attention, and I was irritated when the narrative jumped to another story. I had to stop myself flicking through the pages to get back to the story that had engaged me.
At some point, some of the stories started to get weird. Very weird in a way that just wasn’t believable. I know, for many people, the zombie apocalypse itself isn’t believable but the behaviours and reactions of the characters usually are. At this stage of the book, I started to lose interest and wonder where the whole thing was going, but I soldiered on. In some ways, it reminded me of Stephen King’s The Stand, and I was expecting the various characters all to come together at some point in a satisfying way. And (SPOILER ALERT), they did, but much, much further down the line in, for me, a very dissatisfying way.
It felt as if we missed out on decades of the lives and experiences of the different characters until we meet them in the final section, battle scarred and changed forever. We are told the stories of these missing years in the form of interviews, but this inevitably resulted in a lot of “tell” rather than “show” and as a result they lacked depth and were completely unengaging. It was almost as of the fast forward button had been pressed and we had skimmed rapidly through a huge chunk of a movie. Sadly, with a few exceptions, by the end of the book I just didn’t care what happened to most of the characters and I just wanted to get the book finished and move on to something more enjoyable. (Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel was calling me from my to-be-read pile.) Some of these fast-forwarded stories of the missing years were frankly absurd. Stories of warring zombies with prosthetic limbs. Fantastical tales of unlikely survival. It just didn’t ring true for me.
The main problem with the book was that it was just far too long. It wasn’t a terrible book; it just wasn’t as good as I hoped and expected it would be. The trouble was that when it did drag on it dragged on for so, so long. God, it felt like a slog at times, and I have never been so happy to finish a book.
All that said, I would recommend it. It was a good read in parts, and it took the zombie apocalypse to a place far away down the line where some sort of ending had finally materialised and there was hope for those survivors that had made it that far. It touched on some interesting and currently very relevant socio-political concepts as “causes” of the apocalypse. It just wasn’t brilliant! Just be warned it’s a long hard read and you’ll need some stamina to make it to the end!