Night Shade Books (2010)
Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts
This is the sexy zombie novel you’ve been waiting for.
It’s not a sexy novel with zombies.
It’s a novel about sexy zombies.
There are whips.
I spoke rather incoherently about The Loving Dead on the last episode of Galactic Suburbia. I’ve since had a bit of time to assemble my thoughts. The topic of pop culture educating the masses on how to cope with suddenly finding yourself in a horror story has been well trod in films such as Scream and Shaun of the Dead – but what Beamer does differently is a grounding in realism. Her characters feel like people you might know – or might have known, in your twenties. Faced with trauma, they act badly and without logic. There are times when it felt too real, as if the casual “right, it’s a zombie apocalypse, good thing we’ve had lots of chats about how to deal with this when stoned” reaction flies in the face of narrative expectation. In genre, we pretend that being desperately original is a good thing, and yet narrative expectation is there for a reason. The book felt more creepy because it had a reality tv vibe about it, or … what’s that term when animated characters are so true to life that it freaks you out? That.
There’s also the issue that, for me, none of the characters were especially likeable. They felt like real people in that too – the sort of people you would like if you were mates, or hanging out with them due to circumstance, but when viewed from above you kind of wish the zombies would eat them. Or is it just me that has that reaction to hipsters who view the world through irony and self-deprecating wit?
All this makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book. The truth is that I did, very much. I spent most of the reading time being severely creeped out by it, and the fact that I was thoroughly enjoying myself. This is a book with sexually active zombies, the eating of flesh, and some seriously unpleasant individuals. It’s a book that has ensured that I will never again be able to hear the words “There’s something happening” without having a complete panic attack. (do not do this at Worldcon, I will hit you) And even though I didn’t like any of the characters (except for one fairly innocuous teenager) I was still utterly compelled by them, and surprised how much that I cared about what was going to happen to them.
And oh yes, it’s a book that embraces the pop culture “now” – a book so solidly entrenched in 2009 that it groans under the weight of iPhone apps and Twitter. I love books that document the pop culture of the time – better that than the blanding that emerges from trying not to write a book that “dates”.
There are parts of the book I didn’t like – and not just in a “omg they are being eaten” or “I’m on a Zeppelin!” kind of way. I still haven’t decided how I feel about the rape scene in the last part of the book – I know what job it was there to do narratively, and it was entirely about the person it happens to and not how anyone else reacted to it, and it’s part of the collateral damage of the overall story (did I mention people were being EATEN?). I think ultimately it contributes more to the book than it takes away from it, especially in that it conveys how some people are just waiting for the veneer of civilisation to crumble so they can act like monsters, and also how women often submit to rape in order to prevent greater violence. I can’t argue that it shouldn’t have been there narratively, I just would have preferred it not to be. Also I would have preferred it if there were NO ZOMBIES EATING PEOPLE which goes to show I was probably reading the wrong book. I needed one about sunshine and kittens. Why are there not enough books about sunshine and kittens?
The actual ending was a shock. And I can’t reveal why it was a shock, or even elaborate too much on why it was, because it would ruin too many reading experiences. Let’s just say that the worldbuilding underpinning the story got a good workout at the end, and I really appreciated a view at the world after the zombie uprising, rather than ending in the midst of crisis. There are two final scenes in the story, and part of me feels it would have been more powerful to end on the first, and I’m not altogether sure that the second makes it a better ending, even if that is more satisfying. Ha. See me dodge the spoilers.
My Galactic Suburbia specific rating and recommendation is that Random Alex probably shouldn’t read it, but Alisa can as long as she does it during daytime hours, and/or when Maelkann is sleeping over.
Ultimately, this is a funny, smutty, weird, kinky, vivid, utterly disgusting and entirely memorable first novel from a very interesting author. I look forward to seeing what comes out of her brain next, and I think we all need to work to ensure she is never in the same room as fellow-horror-writer-who-makes-you-want-to-scrub-your-brain-out-with-carbolic-soap Kaaron Warren. The universe couldn’t take that.
When the zombie uprising comes, you know it’s going to be reported on Boing Boing first.
There’s something happening.