"Xombies: Apocalypse Blues," Walter Greatshell

Pros: Wild and weird take on zombie fiction
Cons: Wild and weird take on zombie fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

After reading a review copy of Walter Greatshell’s Xombies: Apocalypticon, I really wanted to go back and get my hands on the first book in the series, Xombies: Apocalypse Blues. As it so happens, Rene, my co-reviewer, had a copy and was willing to loan it to me. While the first book has a completely different main character and focus, what’s the same is the fascinating look at a world on the brink of destruction.

Lulu and her mother are drifters, and Lulu’s mother has fixated lately on tracking down Lulu’s father, Fred Cowper. The two of them are holed up with no contact with the outside world when Agent X kicks off the “Xombie” plague: first women spontaneously go mad and begin attacking those around them. They transfer the contamination to others, and then everyone is in a race: the Xombies to convert the humans, and the humans to survive a seemingly unstoppable epidemic. To make matters worse, these are no stupid, shambling, brain-eating zombies. They’re fast, tough and disturbingly clever.

When Lulu and her mother emerge to go looking for more supplies, they find everything abandoned. The radio is broadcasting an automated emergency broadcast. Fred’s house is boarded up. And Lulu ends up forced to watch as her own mother becomes one of the monsters. Lulu herself, however, seems immune due to a medical condition, and her father might hold the key to her survival.


 

Xombies: Apocalypticon is a fantastic book, but you really need the background of Apocalypse Blues to make the most sense of it, so be sure to start with this book first. The books focus on different main characters and events, however, so don’t expect a smooth transition from one book to the other. It makes sense since the true focus of the books is on the plague, its purpose, and the changes it has wrought on what remains of civilization—and that requires a different approach in each book.

Lulu is an interesting choice of main character. In some ways she seems more of a semi-passive observer of events, but it puts her in a particularly good place from which to show us how things change. As the only woman in a portion of society that now views women with fear, she’s alternately treated as a prized possession, a ticking time-bomb, and an undeserving recipient of supplies and resources others could better use. She’s whisked off by her father to set off on a nuclear sub that’s been fitted out to hold some of the last dregs of humanity, and they’re all headed for the frozen north, where there’s supposed to be an area free of Xombies. Of course things are never quite so simple. How did the folks outfitting the sub know they’d need it when they did? Who’s running this supposed safe place? What will Lulu’s place be there?

And most of all, what is Agent X and how did it get loose?

The mystery of Agent X is fascinating. The characters are interesting. The machinations among the sub’s crew and occupants lend great tension to events. Greatshell’s take on “zombies” is fresh and unusual. But the true star of the book is the look at how society might change in the face of such adversity—particularly the gender-affecting aspects of the plague.

This take on zombies won’t be for everyone—it’s far from traditional, that’s for sure. It’s part horror, part bio-thriller, part action tale, and part post-apocalyptic world-building. If you’re looking for a new take on the genre, however, this is a great place to start!

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