I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.
This week I'm reviewing Wet Work, by Philip Nutman.
This novel came with the back story that it began as a short story he had published, that someone requested he flesh out into novel form. It also included the short story, which was an interesting departure from the novel (in other words, it wasn't just the short story with a whole lot of details filled in.)
This is a solid zombie novel, and very different from the typical ones. In it, the zombies are self-aware and thinking, though some of them haven't made the change successfully. Of the successful ones is our main character, Corvino, a special ops agent who happened to be on an op when all hell broke loose.
We track several characters other than Corvino, including a man who is herded up with other non-zombies in order to feed a group who have taken over the government. He's a police officer who sticks around initially to help, but ends up running with other officers when it's obvious the police can't do anything against the new menace. You see, not only do the dead come alive again, but any sort of bug or virus is accelerated, so that the common cold kills within a couple days and turns its victim into a zombie, too. This is probably the most damaging part of what happens after the comet sets things in motion.
It's somewhat obvious that Corvino was the original focus of the short story, but the other characters are well fleshed out, as well. The pacing is good, marching us forward until we see what awaits the characters we're watching. Society breaks down, with those who are well committing crimes, looting, raping, etc.
The female characters were mostly incidental, so it was guy-centric. One POV character is female, but she wasn't as well fleshed out as the men. I didn't feel like I knew her well, so it seemed to me she was unnecessary as a POV character, especially considering the end (which I won't give away). However, she wasn't a harpie or the stereotypical female character one often sees; she was just unnecessary as POV, and would have been fine as a secondary character.
It was also clear he struggled with romance/sex, but it isn't a story killer.
All in all, I have little to say. This was an action-driven approach to zombies, one that took them in a different direction than the usual, and there are compelling mysteries involved that Corvino must figure out. Definitely a worthwhile read, especially if you like the zombie sub-genre.
My new rankings:
1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
5. The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2010 (Paula Guran)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Needful Things (Stephen King)
8. 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
9. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
10. Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror (Ellen Datlow)
11. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
11. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
12. Dark Forces (Kirby McCauly)
13. Dawn (Xenogenesis, Book 1) (Octavia E. Butler)
14. Wet Work (Philip Nutman)
15. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
16. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
17. The Witches (Roald Dahl)
18. Psycho (Robert Bloch)
19. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
20. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
21. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
22. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
23. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
24. Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
25. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
26. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
27. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
28. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
29. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
30. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
31. World War Z (Max Brooks)
32. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
33. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
34. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
35. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
36. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
37. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell)
38. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
39. Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs)
Now for some links, since I didn't post on Wednesday. Bear in mind that I'm not endorsing them, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.
Contrary is seeking short fiction, poetry, and commentary. Pays $20. Deadline June 1.
Goblin Fruit is seeking fantastical poetry. Pays $15. Deadline June 1.
Page & Spine is seeking poetry, essays, flash fiction, and short fiction. Pays $.01/word. Deadline June 1.
Compelling Science Fiction is seeking sci-fi short stories. 1000 to 10,000 words. Pays $.06/word. Deadline June 1.
Pickman's Press is seeking Lovecraftian horror for their anthology Corporate Cthulhu. 2000 to 7000 words. Pays $.03/word. Deadline June 1.
Helen Literary Magazine is seeking short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Pays $2 to $5. Deadline June 1.
Fantasia Divinity Magazine is seeking short fiction for the Goddesses of the Sea anthology. 500 to 15,000 words. Deadline June 5.
Have you read this? What do you think of aware zombies? What would people do with societal and mortal restraints removed? Any of these publications of interest? Anything to share?
May you find your Muse.
Self-aware zombies sounds dangerous. Obviously this book went for the horror while Warm Bodies went for sweet romance.
I can't say that I've ever read a zombie novel. Maybe I should put it on my to-be-read list.
Love, love, love Octavia Butler's work. Nice to see her on your list.
I just finished reading The Handmaid's Tale, but I personally wouldn't consider it horror. Then again, I don't know much about the genre. :)
Sounds like an interesting read. Also, I'm still giggling over the fact that you keep using the term 'well fleshed out' to describe a zombie story's characters. So, with the undead... is that a good or a bad thing, to have a lot of flesh...?
It's a bit of a dream to be solicited to expand a short story into a novel. I admit, though, I'm not fond of smart zombies. At a certain threshold it feels like it's not actually about zombies anymore, and just using some branding.
Thanks for the heads up on Compelling Sci Fi! I didn't know they were open.
Thanks for the links! That's a great list of horror fiction--some of my favourites are on there. Thanks for including female authors too.
An aware zombie sounds a lot more dangerous than, well, a zombie zombie!
"Flesh out" got me. I think that's brilliant. I'm not a zombie fan, but you've enticed me.
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