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AUTHOR: Steve Vernon
PUBLISHER: KHP Publisher
(Visit Steve Vernon’s website here!)
As the name implies, this is a zombie book of sorts. I like zombie books, and there are few surer ways to make well worn concepts in genre fiction at least temporarily more interesting than to turn them into period pieces (Jason X, anyone?). So I was kind of intrigued by this book when Alex gave it to me to review. But the end product left me a little puzzled.
Given its short length (it’s a novella), it’s hard to summarize the plot without giving too much away, but I’ll try. There’s a bandit fleeing a botched bank robbery into the deadlands of Texas (Get it? Get it? DEADlands? See what he did there?), who runs into two groups of zombies. One group is created scientifically, the other by apparently mystical means. The two zombie factions are at odds with each other, and the mad scientist who started the technologically raised dead down that path has greater ambitions than merely commanding zombies to do his bidding. Our cowpoke “hero” gets caught in the middle of this conflict, and mayhem ensues.
Sounds straightforward enough, right? But throughout the book, I kept wondering “Why did this happen?” or “How did he do that?” or “What reason could he possibly have for doing this?” None of these questions was satisfactorily answered. I know, the zombie process is often not explained in books and movies; it just kind of happens. But in this story, all the zombies created are made deliberately. It’s no scientific accident or passing comet or disease. And while it may not be necessary to discuss all the how’s of either the scientific or mystic processes (it is a horror tale, after all; we’re prepared as horror fans to suspend some disbelief and take a little on faith; sometimes more than a little), the WHY kept nagging at me. Why did the mystic guy bring him back? Why was the scientific dude so obsessed with raising the dead that he got banished by his fellow man to this place? And so on.
The Old West dialogue was also kind of ridiculous at points. Some of the metaphors were kind of funny, but more of a make-you-grin funny than laugh-out-loud funny.
There’s some fun stuff here, I suppose. Plenty of gunplay (how could you set a tale in any genre in the Old West and not have that?), and one of the characters had a gun that was a real trip to imagine in action. I’m going to have to research whether or not this was ever a real gun. There’s also some decent gore, if that’s your thing, both gun and zombie induced.
You do start to care about a couple of the characters, which I guess is pretty impressive given how short this story is. But the main villain had some potential that went largely unexploited. He was certainly twisted enough that you find yourself not liking him, but delving a little more into him might have made him a villain with more depth you may have loved to hate a bit more. It was clear, for instance that he craved power, but there was no real explanation as to what he planned to do with it once he got it. Knowing this might have made him scarier, and might have made you root more actively for his undoing.
Overall, this book seemed kind of disjointed and purposeless. It kind of reminded me of a porn film in terms of structure. The scenes of gore and violence were just strung together with little rhyme or reason, the way the sex scenes in a porn film are. Maybe this is a generational thing. I find a lot of the more modern fiction I read and review these days has this kind of feel to it, and there are often ambiguous endings and unanswered questions. If there’s a term for this post modern style of writing, I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m noticing it more and more. Could it be I’m just too old to “get it”? I’d like to think not, and that I can spot good writing when I see it. This book just wasn’t quite it.
Why You Might Like It: Maybe the Old West setting will appeal to some more in and of itself than it ended up appealing to me. Decent, but by no means great, gore. Some new spins on the typical “Romero Rules” zombies, which zombie fans may find intriguing.
Why You Might Not Like It: Disjointed and purposeless in execution. Lots of unanswered questions. Some pretty bad dialogue. Missed opportunities for character development.
Unless you’re a zombie completist, or really attracted to horror/Old West period pieces, you can probably skip this one. But if you’re at all curious, it’s a very quick read. It’s only 99 pages, and since it’s broken up into many short chapters, a lot of those 99 aren’t full pages, so you can probably bang it out in a sitting or two.