Review by Joey Madia
I will be the first to admit, I am not a fan of zombies. I do like Zombieland, got a few laughs out of Return of the Living Dead recently, and enjoyed the third through fifth seasons of The Walking Dead. I was even a lead actor in a remake of White Zombie several years ago, although the Haitian-type zombies are another thing altogether. This is my first review, out of more than 230, to engage with the subject of this unique brand of monster, and I have made a commitment to get to know this subgenre better. I have another zombie book on my to-be-read list, so expect another review on the subject before the end of the year.
As to Infection, it is a quick, action-filled read, which operates squarely in the zombie subgenre of horror/adventure, offering plenty of violence, gore, and all the tropes zombie fans love. It lies somewhere between The Walking Dead and Shaun of the Dead, the latter solely because good mates with everyday lives suddenly are faced with a zombie invasion and learn as they go. It is not at all a comedy.
Although it never states so, the novel seems to take place in the present, with no leaps in technology or other indicators of the future. It takes place in Kirkintilloch, just outside Glasgow, giving it a slightly different tone than typical American zombie novels.
The (reluctant) Hero of the story, who tells it to us in first person present, is a Martin Freeman type; a typical everyman you want to root for as he and Graham, Grant, Dougie, and the rest of his working-class mates try to make sense of a sudden and very violent change to their small, mundane world. The primary females in Infection are Kenny’s wife Nicola and his mother, who are awaiting Kenny’s return on a farm through much of the story.
Appropriate to this subgenre, the author introduces the zombie problem without any preliminaries. Within a paragraph, there is talk of widespread attacks no one understands and, within a few pages, after a conversation at a convenience store, the zombies appear and Kenny and his friends are fighting them.
Most like The Walking Dead, the narrative takes us back and forth between fighting humans, fighting zombies, and trying to save family and friends. If there was a zombie apocalypse, this would be the way it would unfold. It is aliens, not zombies, but in the remake of War of the Worlds directed by Steven Spielberg, Tim Robbins in his farmhouse is just plain scary. There is a little bit of that with Cillian Murphy in A Quiet Place 2. The farm in Infection—as you can see, always a popular trope in apocalyptic works—is reminiscent of season two of The Walking Dead, although it is based on a piece of property near to where the author lives. There is a representation of it at the back of the book.
As they attempt to fend off the near constant attacks, Kenny’s group amasses weapons, typical supplies like matches, medicine [Kenny has some serious medical conditions, including neuropathy], and food/water, assuming they will be under siege for a long time at the farm. They are rightly focused on saving themselves and do not have time to consider the origins of the zombies.
The growth arc in Infection is in this group of rag-tag everyday dudes trying to figure out how to kill the zombies (they move from hammers to sophisticated military-grade firearms) and keep ruthless humans from taking what they need while learning necessary survival skills. They don’t have much time to think or engage in idle conversation. As a result, we don’t get to know them, but like most horror stories with a lot of death, this is typical. The downside of this trope is that, as the act progresses, and the hordes, as you would expect, get bigger and more challenging, there are the requisite deaths, but none of them are traumatic or moving because, other than Kenny, the other characters are undeveloped and expendable.
It is implied as well as explicit that they are fighting the zombies and making their game plans based on zombie movies they’ve seen and books they’ve read, which is a nice Easter egg for the devoted audience of this subgenre. You have to figure that there would be plenty of that kind of approach should a zombie apocalypse actually occur. They mention Dawn of the Dead. The threat of an arrow to the eye is a callback to a key death in The Walking Dead that is central to its peak lore and popularity. At one point, someone is wearing a zombie t-shirt. There are also more veiled references to other action films with reluctant heroes, like Die Hard (one of Kenny’s mates yells “Yippi-Ki-Yay!” before they dispatch some zombies).
Kenny takes his lumps, getting injured numerous times while on his quest for the medicines that will help him survive the time that they will be under siege at the farm.
Toward the end of the act, the author introduces some fantastical elements that hint at the origins of the zombies in a new and interesting way. The team also encounters some off-the-wall zombies that add some fun to the narrative.
We also meet Zak, a military veteran from Texas, who works with Kenny. Zak is my favorite character. An American “man’s man,” he is funny, charming, and badass. He’s a Ryan Reynolds or Matthew McConaughey type that I would have liked to meet earlier and learn more about.
With a clear cliffhanger, fans of the book can look forward to more adventures for Kenny, Zak, and the crew as they settle in to their version of sanctuary and try to figure out what caused the infection.
TITLE: Infection: Rise of the Undead
AUTHOR: Steven Kenny