Last weekend I decided I needed a few hours of distraction. Zombie stories always looked to me a good pick, because even when they are bad, they manage somehow to grab my attention (by craft or by gore). Having exhausted the Mira-verse, I started hunting for something else, stumbling upon Jack Wallen. I’ve never heard of this author before, but the title (and the cover) looked inspiring enough to go and get it. Was I right in my choice? Probably yes. I’ve achieved the intended objective of putting down for a moment galaxies and exoplanets lately a bit too present in my life (and in my nights). More: the story is entertaining, even though not dramatically original apart the main idea behind it and often not plausible either. But in this case like in many others, a good idea is all you need to make a good book.
At a first glance, I Zombie I doesn’t look anything special. The usual zombie stuff. There’s a big part of mankind suddenly hungry for flesh. There’s a conspiracy theory behind (i.e., the blame game: how in hell has this happened?). And there’s the usual splatter and blood and body parts scattered around while the few survivors hide and prepare an escape plan.
What’s new, it is the case to ask. Answer: the main character, who, bitten by a zombie, decides to report on a journal his ongoing zombification. In the words of his author, “it took only one bite for journalist Jacob Plummer to find the story of a life time — his own downward spiral into the zombie abyss. As Jacob slowly transforms into one of the undead, he discovers a truth that could spare the world from extinction. While Jacob struggles to reveal the conspiracy behind the virus, he must fight off his own inner zombie and the undead masses to save the human race, the woman he loves, and a planet ripped apart by the Mengele Virus.”
Mengele Virus apart (I have my own reservations on this one), this is a fresh approach to the genre, and Wallen deserves praise for it – considering how difficult is to treat this subject without repeating dozens of others. Jacob’s journal has a lively style and makes a good reading, from the beginning to the end.
The mysterious (for me) author was next in line for some research. I am a curious animal, after all. Checking on the web, I found out some interesting things. That Jack Wallen is a widely appreciated indie author (see this review for more info), with a previous career of actor and now a writer called by his fans “the Zombie King” even though he writes more than just about zombies. And that “the series of Jacob” actually includes a few other books – My Zombie My, Die Zombie Die, Lie Zombie Lie, you name it – and even a Zombie radio.
That Jack Wallen made the right (narrative) choices, no doubt about it: his own success is there to prove it. One of the main challenges was, of course, his great idea itself, turning a zombie-in-the-making in a character readers can relate to (and love). In the author’s own words “that, in and of itself, was a problem. A book with a main character no one would like is destined to fail. In order to save this book, I had to toss down the gauntlet of challenge once again — this time for real.”
Other challenges have turned out in a less successful way. I have mentioned the Mengele Virus: this was a hard sell to me – after all, I am a science buff, and the whole stuff was nowhere as rigorous as the Kellis-Amberlee virus of the Newsflesh Trilogy. On top of that, there are some logical contradictions in the story, and, while I won’t elaborate here (I hate spoilers), I couldn’t avoid noticing them.
But, looking around at the reviews, on Goodreads and elsewhere, it seems that lack of scientific background or logic contractions didn’t represent a huge problem. With a neat and lively style, a fast pace and well-maintained homepage now featuring the last of Jacob’s adventures, Cry Zombie Cry, the Zombie King has certainly understood how to capture his readers and keep them well entertained.