Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
Zombie fiction, like fanfic, is often badly written but so compelling as to still be enjoyable. Most authors slap together the basic zombie kit of outbreak, plucky survivors, killing of the survivors, a strong moral tale and, like romance novels, a really cool setting. Most of the time this means that very little time passes, because that’s a lot to get through in a couple of hundred pages. A sub-genre is making a strong emergence, the military zombie apocalypse (MZA) novel, in which hardened white men sneeringly swagger through the dead hordes, spraying them with hot lead and not getting the girl. Girls? Why would there be girls at the end of the world? The manly men in these books are the cool setting, and could be why I haven’t read many of them. I might possibly need to read a few more to check my data.
For a while I resisted reading Omega Days, the first entry into this series, because I thought it was one of those pesky MZA’s, but I eventually got in the mood for mindless zombie killing and gave it a try. I was handsomely rewarded, because it’s really well written and meticulously researched, which often leads to vast amounts of authorial bragging, aka data dumps. Campbell uses the research rather than showing it off, and his characters are richer and more believable because of it. Unlike the characters in Jonathan Mayberry’s Rot & Ruin novels, I actually like most of the good guys in Omega Days. It’s kinda too bad so many of them end up dead. There are a LOT of characters, and not many of them make it through to the last pages. Campbell is one of the more cruel zombie authors.
He manages this by creating a really horrible bad guy who will make you cringe and react to the well-crafted plot that builds thrill upon thrill until it’s hard to put the book down because you can’t wait to see how he gets it in the end. If he does. That’s the thing about cruel authors these days, you just don’t know if the bad guy WILL get it in the end. I miss Disney.
The truly evil but not supernatural miscreant in Omega Days is there to set the theme, which recurs through the series. At the end of days, when humanity is hanging by an unraveling thread, why are there people who cannot even then leave their murderous ways? And once these sort are identified, often too late, what can be done about them? Campbell lets us know why the malefactors are the way they are and do the things they do, and he never gives our good guys an easy road.
Book one introduces our major players through a rather irritating but understandable POV skipping , and the main setting for the first two novels in the San Francisco Bay area. A troubled priest, a tv show sniper, a convict, a Russian helicopter pilot and an incoming college freshman are only a few of the people scrambling to find a safe place while surrounded by millions of walking dead before they’re either eaten or burned in the raging fires ringing the area. There is a “No great loss” section reminiscent of a similar section in the expanded version of The Stand that I enjoyed.
Book two, Ship of the Dead picks up at the cliffhanger end of the first book and finds the survivors scrambling to get onto another major character, the USS Nimitz, which is grounded and slightly listing in San Francisco Bay. Too bad there are so many dark corridors, so few guns and so many dead crew. This book is much heavier on the zombie gore and ups the thrills even more because you’re more invested in the characters now.
Drifters takes the story away from the Nimitz into the horrors of the zombie infested, evildoer-controlled mainland. The newest entry, Crossbones is what happens aboard the Nimitz during the time frame of Drifters. This is crazy making, because Campbell is good at drawing out a story to up the thrill, and because I don’t see a next book ready for pre-sale at Amazon. Both of these books work the theme of why bad guys can’t resist evil even after the apocalypse.
Getting this series now would be a mixed bag, because it’s difficult to wait for the next installment, but on the other hand it’s a good read from a talented writer. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you prefer to have John Campbell torture you, and recommend that you do read these books.