This Dark Earth
John Horner Jacobs’ foray into the zombie apocalypse begins conventionally, with a sudden and unexpected influx of dangerously bitey people. We’re immediately introduced to a cancer doctor ill at ease in an ER during the first hours. Her escape from the ER and into the teeth of the outbreak moves briskly and is fairly thrilling. Doctor Lucy is not a congenial physician but the author makes her likable and not superhuman so we root for her. She runs across a trucker, who is NOT a massively heroic ex-military putting up with us civilian sheep, and they power through the first few dire hours. There is good zombie action, though with an unfortunately minimal amount of scrounging, and the story moves along briskly. After a jump in time we spend the bulk of the book with the small settlement that grows around the doctor and the trucker, and things slow down while a larger threat than being outnumbered 10,000 to 1 grows in the distance.
I can’t seem to get over the book cover, which seems to promise something different than the inside is giving us, but the prose is solid, the plotting is coherent, and kudos for having a copy editor. There are several narrators over the course of the book and once we leave a narrator we never go back to them. This allows us by the last part of the book to really understand where everyone is coming from, and the author stays true to the nature of every person. He differentiates the characters with changes in dialect or tense or increased internal dialogue, giving better tonal changes to characters than normal. He does hit the staples of zombie fiction but sometimes goes a little light, like the dearth of malls, plus there was nothing unusual or interesting about the setting. Most of it is set in the Ozarks. Lots of trees. Rural. Meh.
I wasn’t terribly happy with how utterly helpless the author seems to think we are in the survival business. After three years people are still living in tents? Yeah, I don’t think so. I was also cynical about how quickly the military wiped out large urban populations to try and control the spread. I could see them doing it, but not that fast. Where it really lost me is the insistence that 98% of all men will turn into raping slavers the first few seconds of an apocalypse. I’m a world class cynic and even I don’t believe that crud. Also, parts of the book are low grade sex porn and torture porn. The very last part of the book moved too quickly and ended rather abruptly.
For the most part I enjoyed reading This Dark Earth, which covered a larger span of time than most zombie novels, had a large and diverse cast of characters that we get to know fairly well, and is solidly written. The problems for me, the porn and misandry, were a little too much to overlook and say I liked it a lot. You may enjoy it more than me, so I say give it a try if you’re in the mood for a fast read and can either overlook or don’t care about the drawbacks.
CFR: In Addition: No thanks. I don’t do porn. Especially torture porn.