Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Zombie Apocalypse!

Zombie Apocalypse!
Edited by Stephen Jones

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

To be honest, I get bored with trends – very quickly. The rash of books all about vampires and werewolves and zombies tend to pass me by. So I was a little apprehensive at first when I obtained Zombies Apocalypse! Fortunately, I had no reason to be concerned. Zombies Apocalypse! was a joyride, from page one to the end.

With over 15 contributors one might expect an anthology. Wrong. This is a mosaic – an epistolic – novel, cleverly woven together by Stephen Jones. Michael Marshall Smith kicks off the saga. Here, a man writes a long missive to his mother, almost a suicide note full of loss and regret. It hints at the tragedy to follow. The entry by Christopher Fowler describes the source of the zombie plague: a church yard being redeveloped for a New Festival of Britain. There then follows a series of police reports, medical reports, diary entries, and so on, and the horror of the plague becomes clear – there is no easy solution (if, indeed, there is a solution).

It’s not obvious exactly when the events are set. Based on clues sprinkled throughout, I suggest 2013. It appears that London’s Olympic Games were a flop – or didn’t take place – and so the Government forces through plans for the New Festival. Picture the Millennium Dome. At the same time, surveillance and the militia-like police create a society of fear and unease. But that society needs something to be frightened of and the zombies fit that bill. The zombies are clearly a metaphor for today’s bogymen (your choice).

Does this mean that the Government deliberately released the plague? Or just try to take advantage of it? Whatever, they failed to control the situation and the end of civilisation becomes inevitable.

Besides Smith and Fowler, other the contributors are (in order of appearance) Mandy Slater, Paul Finch, Sarah Pinborough Jo Fletcher, John Llewellyn Probert, Jay Russell, Kim Newman, Lisa Morton, Tanith Lee, Paul McAuley, Tim Lebbon, Peter Crowther, Robert Hood, Pat Cadigan, Mark Samuels, Peter Atkins, and Scott Edelman. There is no contents page, so it takes a bit of detection to work out who wrote what. It’s fun to do so but not necessary: just get on and read the book. A few characters reappear over the length of the book, notably Sarah Pinborough's young girl writing in her diary about the death of her mother and father. It felt realistic -- very touching.

Zombie Apocalypse! is a mix of horror and science fiction, with added supernatural elements. There is an end, of sorts, but not a satisfactory conclusion to the plague. It’s a scary read, reminding me of The Andromeda Strain and other convincing post-apocalyptic novels. Highly recommended.

(Review first published on Piper at the Gates of Fantasy)

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