Raising Stony Mayhall, Daryl Gregory, Del Rey, ISBN 9780345522375, $15, 448 pgs.

English: A zombie

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One day, in the middle of a snowstorm, a woman, and her daughters, find a dead girl and a baby on the edge of a field by their drive. Neither the girl nor the baby is breathing. And yet, the baby opens its eyes and looks at them–and then he begins to move. They take him inside and, against all better judgement, they begin to raise him rather than turn him over to the authorities who would destroy him for the zombie he clearly is.

Seems there was a viral outbreak in the late 60s that turned people into zombies and it was only beaten back by dramatic action in the part of the government. But there is more to the baby than meets the eye. Unlike other zombies who are frozen at the stage they became infected, Stony, for so they have named the babe, begins to grow. Years pass and Stony continues to grow–and learn. He makes friends with his sisters and with a neighbor boy. But then, when he is 18, things change and Stony needs to run or be destroyed. This is the first time he learns that there are others like him. Many others. And they are organized. And some want to infect the world as a means of survival.

I have to say that this is one of the more interesting zombie novels I have ever read. It comes in five parts: raising Stony, the underground, Prison, the future, and the end. Each part is a logical progression of the previous although it is not necessarily immediate. Gregory has taken the zombie world and turned it on its head. These are not the mindless zombies of Romero, although they do go through that phase, but, rather, people who have been zombified and have come out the other end, sometimes the worse for wear and sometimes just different. The book is well crafted, extremely well written in an understated style that works extremely well with the subject matter.

This was a fun book to read and Gregory does not hold anything back. The narrative moves between positive and negative with fluidity but always moves forward step after step. On top of his writing ability, Gregory has developed zombification in a way that I have never seen before. In some ways, it carries a lot of the belief suspension required when dealing with the subject. Gregory does a masterful job at this and the book is interesting and compelling. I highly recommend it and I would search other anything else that Daryl Gregory has written. I know that I am going to.

To get a copy for yourself, click here –> Raising Stony Mayhall

Brains: a Zombie Memoir, Robin Becker, Eos, ISBN 978-0-06197405-2, 183 pgs., $13.99.

Zombies as portrayed in the movie Night of the...

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Zombies seem to be the new vampires.  I mean that it seems like these shambling undead have taken the spotlight in the supernatural fiction genre away from the bloodsuckers.  Whether or not it will last remains to be seen.  Zombies seem, to me at least, a hard sell character wise.  But maybe Robin Becker has found a solution.  Her idea is that in any typical Zombie outbreak there are bound to be at least a few zombies who retain an ability to think.  Her choice for the book is one Jack Barnes, college professor.  So, not only do we get a zombie that retains some ability to think (this is assuming you believe academics retain that ability to begin with) as well as some ability to analyze and adapt to the change.  So, we have Jack Barnes, who is now zombie Barnes, trying to do three things: survive, find other zombie thinkers, and get to the guy who created all the zombie havoc in the first place, Howard Stein.  The problem is that Stein is in an entirely different part of the country than Barnes and, what with his deteriorating body, a cross-country trip is going to be problematic.  And that’s the basic idea of the book–following zombie Barnes as he tries to make his way to Howard Stein, the zombie God.

The basic problem with zombies is that they are dead things.  This means they decay.  And, depending on what sort of climate you are in, this decay can be rather rapid.  The more important point is that they don’t breath and you need breath to make sounds or to talk.  Becker gets around at least one of these issues by positing that there will be special zombies who retain some human skills. So, there is a nurse who remembers how to stitch (which comes in real handy when things start falling off) and a zombie who can run and another who retains a fast reaction time, and they all end up with Barnes, heading toward Chicago.

This book is all about balance.  Balance between the inherent problems of zombies and story; balance between the stuffiness of the main character and the need to have an intelligent main character who can also chronicle events; balance between a need for a quest and a need to trivialize alternatives to a cross-country trip.  For the most part the uniqueness of the idea keeps discrepancies to the side. I mean this may be the first zombie novel told from the perspective of the zombies.

Ultimately, though, this may simply be a one-off.  Zombies just aren’t very sympathetic as characters.  They eat babies, they chew through peoples faces, they fall apart at the most inopportune time, and they tend to be single-minded about who’s got the brains.  I liked that book overall. It’s short which works to its advantage, it’s fairly fast paced, and it’s novel as a novel.  Kudos to Becker for coming up with the idea and managing to actually put it into print.