Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: Xombies: Apocalypse Blues & Xombies: Apocalypticon

Walter Greatshell, 2010, Ace Books

Lulu Pangloss has problems. She has no friends, her mom is difficult, and her absentee father is a deadbeat. Things can hardly get any worse...or so she thinks. Then the world comes to an end. It starts with Agent X, a plague that turns women into raving, demonic predators - Xombies - who then hunt down and infect anyone they can catch. Guns are useless; armies are helpless. With civilization collapsing all around her, Lulu hitches a ride with a crew of wary male refugees, and together they flee for the last place on Earth rumored to be safe. But what they find is as unexpected, and as terrifying, as the hell they've left behind.

A quick history lesson: back in 2004, with 28 Days Later making a major splash in cinemas around the world, and Shaun of the Dead generating pre-release buzz, Berkley Books quietly released a novel entitled simply Xombies, written by Walter Greatshell. To hardcore zombie fans, who were yet to enjoy the current and ongoing boom in zomfic that we all now take for granted, Xombies was a truly exciting publication; not just a proper zombie novel, albeit one in which the titlar monsters had more in common with the infected of 28 Days Later than with rotting corpses of George A. Romero, but a really good zombie novel, released through a mainstream publisher (Berkley being a division of the Penguin Group). Barely a year later, of course, Max Brooks' World War Z hit the bestseller list with the force of a speeding train, and was forever more (along with 28 Days Later) largely credited with kicking off the zombie boom. Yet it's worth noting (I feel, as a big fan of Xombies) that Walter Greatshell's work - along with a handful of other pre-Brooks zombie authors - contributed very strongly to the current mainstream popularity of the genre.

So, for myself, and on behalf of anyone who's read and enjoyed a zombie-related publication over the past few years: Walter Greatshell, thanks so much.

So - on to the review proper.

There's not much to be said about the plot of Xombies (retitled Xombies: Apocalypse Blues for the 2010 re-release) that isn't covered in the blurb above; at least, not without giving away some major, fascinating plot-points. The action rolls along at an unforgiving pace, aided by some wonderful (and often severely-flawed) characters. The Xombies of the piece, also, are suitably terrifying - viral psychotics (blue-skinned, due to cyanosis), that remain animated after death; a convincing amalgam of Rage zombies and the more traditional walking dead. Greatshell has been quoted as saying (to paraphrase) that he wrote Xombies as a sort of reverse-Romero take on the genre, and the conclusion to the novel (again, without giving too much away) certainly offers the mother of all reversals of the usual zompocalyptic tale. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

Xombies: Apocalypticon -  a direct sequel to X:AB - shares all the strengths of the first book, and more than that I simply cannot say, as doing so would give away the ending of X:AB. Suffice to say, it's a nasty, gritty, and wholly engrossing read.

Both books are currently available in Australia through Penguin Books. Buy them. Read them, back-to-back. Enjoy two of the most solid contributions to the zombie genre as it exists today.

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