on 20 May 2009
So I really dig zombie/post-apocalyptic fiction and while searching on Amazon found Brian Keene's novels. Deciding to go with Dead Sea for a first read I gotta say I am very impressed. Other reviews for his other books painted him in a different light to what I read of his work. I can honestly say Dead Sea is one of the better zombie novels I've ever read and I'll be buying up more of his work after being so impressed with this book.
The zombie mythos is evolving more and more, with the introduction of running zombies and thinking zombies and new ways to spread infection and more species being infected and so on. Some, though valiantly attempted, fail miserably at improving on the genre. Some, as in the case of Dead Sea, succeed marvellously in taking the zombie genre and taking it in a new direction. Cross-species infection is handled brilliantly, the zombies are their classic slow/hording selves, and the imagery is intense.
Keene does an excellent job of pulling you in and making you feel part of the story. The first person perspective coupled with common cultural notions, little things such as the kid in the Slipknot shirt or the joke about Fallout Boy being all that's left for future generations to find, draws you in further and lets you relate a little better with the kind of guy Keene is.
It's through these little nuances that the book becomes more engaging and the story never loses pace. It's an excellent slice of Zombie Fiction and I urge anyone reading this to pick it up if you haven't already and you're a fan of Zombies. Regardless of what other reviews say I'll be checking out a lot more of Keene's work and deciding for myself how good it is, but as far as Dead Sea goes?
10/10. Great read.
on 12 July 2011
Any zombie-fiction fan worth their salt will be familiar with Brian Keene, the Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Rising. Those people would also know that the man's prolific output (often 3 or 4 novels a year) makes it very hard to keep up with all of his work. This may be why one particular entry of Keene's backlist is often overlooked in favour of his more seminal works, Ghoul and The Rising (along with its sequel City of the Dead). The novel I am referring to is Dead Sea.
Set in a different world to that of The Rising's demon-possessed zombies, Dead Sea features the more traditional Romero-esque undead; shambling hordes of rotting corpses. This may be unoriginal to some, but a big plus for many that dislike the modern `sprinting zombie'. However, despite a nod to tradition, Keene adds a unique twist to the subgenre by good use of setting.
The story begins with Lamar, a gay, black man, fleeing a burning city full of the dead. Along the way he picks up two lost, yet plucky, children and finds his way to the docks. There he manages to board an ex-navy cutter, the USS Spratling, and sets sail along with a handful of other survivors.
The premise of being stuck aboard a ship during a zombie holocaust may not be entirely original (The Morningstar Strain comes to mind), but Keene creates a world all his own through his excellent cast of characters. Like pretty much all of Keene's work, we are given people to root for and people to hate. The protagonist is realistic and flawed, while the antagonists are normal people that react in negative and selfish ways under stress. We can see bits of ourselves in all the characters that Keene creates, and in this regard he is very much like Stephen King at his best. So confident is the author in his characters that he even has one person discuss `Hero Archetypes' and their impact on narratives. The self-referential piece of dialogue is fun and interesting but also gives us an insight into just how well Keene understands his craft.
With so many books to choose from, many will opt to read Brian Keene's better known works, and perhaps that makes sense, but I would strongly suggest giving this one a try, because it may just be one of his very best. The ending in particular is very strong and left me ruminating on it for days afterwards.
So if you like your zombies slow and rotting, this is the book for you.
on 10 February 2013
It starts with the rats, all plagues always seem to. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there, or anywhere if the results are to be seen. You can hide, but it will find you, you can run, but you can only run so far.
Out of the sewers they come, the rats, the dead rats, and they're hungry, and they start their feasting on the living; dogs, cats, humans. Then those that die come back, and the results ain't pretty, the dead can't re-die or be stopped, but they can be hungry, and suffering from Hamelin's Revenge continues as the hungry continue to look to feast, and as those feasted upon continue to spread death, and undeath, and the world dies.
Lamar is a black gay man who is suffering from the guilt of having acting like a thug in the recent pre-plague days, but now he is hiding in his house trying to weather out what is happening to his neighborhood, and his world. Then there is a fire, and he has to flee into the chaos, from there on it becomes a helter-skelter, desperate fight for survival. Along the way he comes across the eight-year-old Malik and his older sister Tasha, who are holed up in their fortified slumstone building. But the fire rages on, and the dead just rage, and they are forced to flee, and eventually cornered by the perpetually hungry, they are rescued by the over-weaponed Mitch who is searching for his lost son.
But the dead continue to multiply, and they are unstoppable, except by extreme head injury. Caught in the unquenchable maelstrom of fire, blood, zombies, chaos, and death the quartet decide to try for Baltimore's Chesapeake Bay in an attempt to get a ship and flee the living challenged. They almost don't make it, but they do, and there they find USCGC Spratling about to make sea.
This book is called "Dead Sea" so it's no surprise that the ship will be able to start their journey, but then the novel is still only a third over. Being a zombie novel, it's also no surprise that many adventures still await the Spratling's new crew, and that the war of the dead will become a war of attrition.
This is not your average zombie tale. It is a rapid fire excursion into Hell which is often created with the same structure as an old Hollywood serial, with the novel constantly feeding us a diet of fast action, cliff-hangers, and last minute rescues. In fact, maybe too many last minute rescues, as it often seemed like Keene would overly rely on some form of deus ex machina to constantly save our intrepid hero Lamar.
Still, even though everything moves at an extremely fast rate, Keene doesn't skimp with the characterization; Lamar, Tasha, Malik, and Mitch come across as real people, with even most of the novel's redshirts being easily recognizable types so that we can fill in their characterizations ourselves.
When I saw that this Deadite Press edition of Brian Keene's "Dead Sea" was the author's preferred text I got it out of curiosity. I had read the previous Leisure Books paperback version and found "Dead Sea" to be the best of Keene's novels that I had read, and I wondered what was left out. Not much it seems, Keene himself admits that he's only fixed a few typos, strengthened the relationship between Lamar and the two children, and fixed a glitch in the storytelling. It also has Keene's inability to overcome his own predictable problems when it comes to endings. If you've read very many of Keene's other novels then you know how this one will end. Keene's horror novels, no matter what they are about seem to end in the same place, which is why I had stopped reading him for a while.
Still, this is an old-fashioned zombie novel, not one of the modern video game ones, fast as it is, Keene take his time with characterization, develops a sense of place for his story, and the zombies are right out of a George Romero/Lucio Fulci movie; being horribly mutilated, stinking with rot, and maggot infested.
This is an alternate universe version of Earth, and like the other worlds in Keene's multiverse there are cross-overs. In "Dead Sea" Keene's hero Frankie from "The Rising" novels makes a couple of cameos, but she doesn't make it here, although her foray into the zoo is briefly documented by a third party that is on the Spratling. It's easy to see that that since this novel has such a cinematic quality to it; it would make a great movie. Especially since this novel has a number of truly epic scenes depicted in it. There's the burning of Baltimore, the crucifixion of the zombies, and the dead whale. Awesome stuff. And it comes in a nice package too; a sturdy print-on-demand trade paperback with a cover by Deadite Press (a part of the Erasurehead publishing empire) regular Alan M. Clarke, although I still prefer the original Leisure Books cover. There is no aqua-human zombie in the novel, however.