I, Zombie by Hugh Howey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
That was extremely intense. I don’t think I’ll ever look at zombies the same way again. I got this book as part of some pay what you want bundle. I never would have bought it on its own – I’m not a big zombie person. I read World War Z because everyone spoke about how incredibly good it was. And, just like The Walking Dead (pretty much the only other zombie story I consume), World War Z was about the people, not the zombies. Really the enemy could have been a contagion virus or out of control vampires like The Strain.
Well, I, Zombie flips the script – what if we could see what it’s like to be a zombie? And what if we took it seriously instead of the parody one would be quick to imagine? Well, then you’d get this incredibly intense book.
I, Zombie is structured similarly to World War Z in that it alternates point of view with each chapter. But, unlike WWZ, it is split into parts and each part spends something like 3 chapters per character in that part. So Part 1 is characters 1-3. Chapters 1,3, and 9 are character 1 and so on. It allows him to shift from day to day and we watch as the characters go through hell. It works out well since we only have about three to keep in our heads at a time.
Interestingly, the germ of the story is similar to this year’s John Scalzi book, Lock In. The author posits a world where the minds remain in tact while the bodies do zombie things. So the people are well aware of the horrors their bodies are committing, but can’t do anything about it. It’s absolutely terrifying and affected just as I feared Lock In might. There are real diseases that do similar things and there are those who are in vegetative states where we aren’t sure if they’re like this. It’s interesting to see how the author has each character deal with this.
From a story-telling/meta point of view there are two things I really like that the author did. First of all, he had the characters compare their being trapped in their lives before and after being zombies. Sometimes the characters did this on purpose and sometimes through their reminiscing it was made clear to us. The metaphors worked incredibly well. Two that stand out for me are one man who had a catatonic mom and the child of immigrant parents. The man’s mother was an obvious parallel for the zombies in this world, but her situation had driven him to drug addiction and there was a nice parallel between that and the unending hunger of the zombie. The immigrant felt trapped in this new world and was trapped in her zombie body and trapped where she turned. Another that stood out was a character he used to make a metaphor between date rape and zombie attacks. The second thing I loved was that he started the story with the characters in part 1 already turned. This allowed us to get immersed in the world he was creating rather than deciding whether to root for the heroes that were hiding and in danger of being turned. He hits those, and other great zombie tropes, in part 2 and beyond.
The book’s dedicated to 11 Sept and is set in Manhattan. That has consequences for the story as well as the ending. I wonder if others interpret the ending the same way I did.
I heartily recommend the book to anyone who likes zombies thrillers and wants to think about them in a different way. I know there are other zombie point of view books and movies (one came out in the last couple years), but they’re usually played for laughs rather than serious like this one. This is a pretty heavy book, though. So if you find that books affect you strongly – don’t read this one when you need a pick-me-up.
I hope it’s painfully obvious that this book is gory. Outside of that, there’s profanity. It’s actually not that excessive, but it’s there. That’s pretty much it for the stuff people shy away from other than the trigger warning that there’s implied date rape. Well, probably a lot more than implied, but it’s not graphic. Just a mention that a guy takes advantage of them both being drunk to convince the girl she wants to have sex even when she initially says no and wouldn’t if sober.