Xombies: Apocalypticon by Walter Greatshell
Fortunately, when Xombies: Apocalypticon, by Walter Greatshell, arrived on my doorstep, I didn’t need to dig my shotgun out. I was, however, understandably wary. This review is mostly spoiler-free!
The summary from the author’s website:
XOMBIES: APOCALYPTICON is the continuing saga of the USS No-Name, an Ohio-Class submarine converted to a refugee vessel during the worldwide plague of “Agent X”–a disease that changes women into raving, homicidal Typhoid Marys.
Leading the fight to survive are Dr. Alice Langhorne, whose research helped spawn the plague; Commander Harvey Coombs, Navy captain minus a navy; Sal DeLuca, BMX champ facing the ultimate Xtreme sport; and troubled teenager Lulu Pangloss, who died and was born again.
Facing off against them are mutinous shipmates, yoga-crazed prison convicts, hostile mercenaries…and the all-encompassing threat of the Xombies themselves.
So my first reaction was this: “oh no, not another one of those books.” You know, the kind where the author is “edgy” because s/he changed the conventional spelling of a word; or the gimmick where if an “X” is in the title, it automatically becomes cool.
I might also be a bit of a jerk. But I digress!
Since Romero, there’s always been a fringe culture that’s been obsessed with the idea of a zombie apocalypse, but over the past decade the idea has been catapulted into mainstream pop culture. There’s a lot of zombie related material out there, from Stephen King to Simon Pegg, everyone’s had a go at the genre – and there are only so many zombie apocalypse stories you can read before you get a sense of déjà vu.
Walter Greatshell was not an author I was familiar with. Xombies: Apocalypticon is the second book in the series. (Xombies & Xombies: Apocalypse Blues are the same book.)
All of these factors made me a little iffy on how much I was going to enjoy this. Even Amazon lacked a good number of reviews for it.
And then I read it.
I enjoyed it plenty despite my initial misgivings. This little gem is sadly underrated. I want to slap whoever was in charge of promoting it, but that’s another digression.
The writing is solid. The characters are well-constructed. Most are somewhat sympathetic or at least understandable, even when they do terrible things, which is often. Like most zombie stories, it is less about the monsters and more about how society copes. In a world with no women, the men degenerate fast.
Sal DeLuca and several other teenage boys are sent ashore as a salvage party. Some of the submarine crew has mutinied and so the boys are abandoned, along with the mob of strangely docile xombies that the Dr. Langhorne, the only known surviving woman, has been studying. Dodging xombies, the survivors encounter the highly-militarized remnants of the corporation that created the plague. Said corporation has orders to retrieve the Naval submarine, and as you can imagine, things get messy.
The surviving factions are ruthless and Greatshell doesn’t shy away from violence, and it is described in an almost blase manner. It is fitting, but no less disturbing. Greatshell fleshes out a pleasantly complex society with some unpleasant habits: mutiny, pederasty, anthropodermic outerwear. For the zombie connoisseur, I would say it is more brutal than 28 Days Later, but less so than Crossed. If Plants versus Zombies is too much for you, well, skip this one.
The plot manages to encompass the tropes of zombie horror and keep a modicum of originality. I must admit the characters and the world are the real strengths of the novel. Greatshell describes it as “satirical.” Maybe that’s why I liked it.
There are one or two plot points that could have been explained better. Both Bobby Rubio’s role and Lulu’s nature make me feel like I’m missing something from the previous book. This novel stands well enough on its own, but given the fact it was so well-written, I plan on picking up the first book when I have time/extra money.
All in all, it’s a good paperback and I’m looking forward to Greatshell’s third book, Xombies: Apocalypso which Amazon claims is coming out in February of 2011. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing much about it on his website. I respect his lack of attention-whoring, but maybe he needs to? His next book, Mad Skills, is due out in December.