Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Monsters everywhere


I've just finished David Wellington's 'monster' series: Monster Island, Monster Nation and Monster Planet. I had bought them on a day trip to that world of books, Haye-on-Wye.

Together they make up an interesting and innovative take on the zombie apocalypse genre. Monster Island shows us a world over-run by the undead, set in New York a month after the zombie outbreak began, and introduces the concept of supernatural variants such as resurrected mummies, intelligent zombies, and ghosts. The mission to find AIDS drugs for a Somalian warlord is an effective device for sending the protagonist on this dangerous quest, since it brings the themes of decay, danger and disease to the fore. The tone is bleak right from the start: on the first pages the protagonist reaches Manhattan Island and sees the lines of 'waving' people, but it is soon clear that they are not survivors.

“Osman,” I shouted, “Osman, we’re getting too close,” but the Captain just yelled for me to shut up again. On the walkway I saw hundreds of them, hundreds of people. They waved at us, their arms moving stiffly like something from a silent movie. They pushed toward the railing, pushed to get closer to us. As the trawler rolled closer I could see them crawling over one another in their desperation to touch us, to swarm onboard.

I thought maybe, just maybe they were alright, maybe they’d run to Liberty Island for refuge and been safe there and were just waiting for us, waiting for rescue but then I smelled them and I knew. I knew they weren’t alright at all. Give me your tired, your poor, your wretched refuse, my brain repeated over and over, a mantra. I was butchering Emma Lazarus but I couldn’t stop, my brain wouldn’t stop. Give me your huddled masses. Huddled masses yearning to breathe. “Osman! Turn away!”

One of them toppled over the side of the railing, maybe pushed by the straining crowd behind. A woman in a bright red windbreaker, her hair a matted lump on one side of her head. She tried desperately to dog-paddle toward the trawler but she was hindered by the fact that she kept reaching up, reaching up one bluish hand to try to grab at us. She wanted us so badly.
The novel does a good job of combining a hopeless predicament with tense action scenes.

Monster Nation takes place before Monster Island chronologically, and covers the initial outbreak of the zombie epidemic. Personally I find this stage of any zombie series to be the most interesting. As America is over-run with zombies and some well-drawn characters attempt to check the spread we also meet another of these 'special' zombies - ones that have kept their intelligence and also often gained a new ability. In this case a female zombie who can make herself invisible. Following her plight and her attempts to determine if she still counts as human or not provides the main spine for exploring the collapse of a society. (By the way, if you're interests have a miserable bent and you enjoy this kind of nation-collapse story, I recommend Graham Masterton's 1981 novel Famine. And if you just enjoy zombies chomping on bodies then watch Charlie Brooker's hilarious and scary zombie-filled reality TV satire Dead Set.)


Monster Planet ties up the trilogy, set twelve years after the events of Monster Island. The exceptional zombies of the previous novels now have a uniting name - liches. Each has special powers and this is the novel that introduces a wide range of them as dangerous antagonists. It also reintroduces some characters from previous novels and manages to end their stories in ways that are both unexpected and satisfying. It is a world where humans now only survive in a few isolated and armed camps, or by acting as doomed slaves for liches. Great stuff!

If you like this kind of escapist fiction then I really recommend this trilogy, and I should add that any of the books can be read standalone, though obviously reading them all does add some extra context. Librarians - these would be popular in the crossover between Young Adult and Adult fiction. They might get categorised as horror because of the subject matter but in their style they are more adventure or thriller, particularly the latter two novels.

When I wrote my own attempt at a tense survival novel, Turner, it was to aim at this same kind of audience. An audience always greedy for more, just as zombies can never resist one more braaaaiiiiinnnn... I keep intending to talk about Turner in one of my posts: coming soon!

Read David Wellington's books online for free on his site, or buy copies.
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