Zombies are big right now. I mean really big. The Walking Dead is a big hit for AMC and a season of this show isn’t even a full twenty-four episodes. In addition to the Walking Dead, There are video games, table-top rpgs, card games, dice games, and books all about this subject. You can not swing an dead cat without hitting something zombie-centric these days. This has a large down side for me as I am not a fan of this genre. What little I have read in this genre leans heavily on the stupidity factor. The setup gives you a group of people who have been surviving and the initiating action is one or more of them doing something out of character to get the ball rolling. This fucking pisses me off and makes me want to throw the fucking book across the room.
So, when a friend provided me a copy of John Hornor Jacob’s new book, This Dark Earth, I had some reservations. I trust her recommendations though. So I took my iPad with me to the county fair and read the book whilst working the booth for the soil and water conservation board. I was not disappointed. The book opens up with the first of three main characters that wind their way through out the narrative. Dr Lucy Ingersol is working at a hospital and lamenting the loss of a recent promotion due to her somewhat cold demeanor and clinical detachment. At the very beginning, the reader is given a clear picture of what type of person Dr. Ingersol is and this image is further reinforced as the zombie out break starts in the ER of the hospital where she is working. As things fall apart during the outbreak, we are introduced to the second important character of the book, Knock-out. Knock-out is a big bear of a man who is driving a big rig when Lucy hops into his truck and tells him to get moving. As the pair flee before the governments reaction to the zombie outbreak, the narrative switches to Knock-out’s perspective so that we are given a better idea of this character. Not only do we learn more about him, but he provides a different viewpoint on Lucy which only adds more depth to her character as well. This Dark Earth takes this stylistic choice of switching characters and uses it to tell a tale of the destruction of the world that was by zombies and the struggle to create a new world from the rubble. Each character that takes center stage provides a story of the breakdown of society and how that person dealt with the change. In addition to this glimpse of the world, they also weave into the lives of the two major characters and provide a new perspective on these individuals and allow them to grow without always being on center stage.
I loved this book. It embraces the cold intelligence Dr Lucy Ingersol while holding true to the deep emotional well that is seen in Knock-out. At no point did I want to scream Fuck and throw the book across the room because characters decided to up and be stupid and not be who they were. The story doesn’t give in to the standard trope of something stupid driving the plot but instead capitalizes on human nature to provide an antagonist for our main characters. Now, I can hear you saying, “But Rob, aren’t the zombies the antagonist?” My answer to this is fuck no! The zombies of This Dark Earth are more akin to an environmental danger than anything else. The zombies are something that have to be accounted for but are not truly a driving force for any of the characters. I find this both intelligent and entertaining as it makes it more a story about what it means to be human than what it means to survive. If you must know what the zombies symbolize, I would say will to power. I know that consumption is the standard trope here but how Mr. Jacobs describes the zombies throughout the book really made this connection for me. The zombies are animate and mobile but have nothing that motivates them beyond the necessity of consumption. It becomes apparent through out the book that the survivors are carriers for whatever caused this apocalypse and that death of any sort will result in anyone rising as a zombie. This means that the living must strive to protect themselves from the zombies without but also from the specter of those they love becoming one soon. This is just my take though, your miles may vary.
I have to say pick up this book and give it a read. If you are a fan of the zombie genre this will provide you with a much more intelligent take on these tropes. If you are not a fan of the genre, this book will reward you with a great story about the strength of humanity in the face of adversity. Regardless of your stance on zombies, it has some incredibly touching human moments that are truly powerful and made this a five star book to me.