He’s probably going to kill me for posting this because he’s a buddy of mine, but I’m going to review FLU by fellow Snowbooks author Wayne Simmons. Sit tight and get ready to be zombified!
Alright, where to begin – ah! Yes, well, you see – zombie outbreaks are not limited to major US or UK cities. FLU takes place in Belfast, a city with a history of outbreaks of a different kind that are now hopefully a thing of the past. This immediately grabbed my attention because the setting allowed for the introduction of some great characters who, at least in my estimation, offer the reader some cultural flavor that tends to be missing in more homogenized zombie fiction.
Make no mistake, though, this ain’t your grandmother’s zombie novel. Yes, these are virus-zombies, and what makes the book so darned readable is the fact that by choosing Belfast, Simmons gives you the sense that, well, a zombie outbreak could happen anywhere – even where I live in Saskatoon Canada population 230,000. (Zombies would freeze solid here, though, it drops to -35 Celsius and stays that way for about four and a half months each year. That actually might make cleaning up easier, but enough about the frozen Canadian prairie)
He gives you a real flavor of the city and hopefully without offending my good friend because he lives there, I would describe the setting in one word: bleak. This is important because the end of the world is happening and it’s almost as if the sun itself has forsaken the place. Simmons presents Belfast as brick and concrete labyrinth where the stuff of nightmares hides away in dark places and swarms you like a wave of locust. A place that is entrenched with blue-collar toughness in its inhabitants. A quality that might yet give them a leg-up in the survival game because to survive the end of the world, one must make unthinkable choices. One must become a predator in their own right because Simmons’ monsters don’t care if you’re a Catholic of a Protestant or a mum or dad or five-year-old little boy or girl. You will die horribly, so the toughness you’ve experienced all your life is going to prepare you for what awaits the minute you set foot outside of your hiding place.
Lark was my favorite character – tough as nails, a bit vulnerable, (of course, who isn’t when the dead walk and the living linger on like ghosts) I think, and the ability to swear better than any drunken sailor during a pub crawl at a foreign port-of-call. Actually, there’s quite a bit of swearing in this book which makes sense since the freaking world is about to end. But I digress. The plot is simple: zombie outbreak. Kill zombies. Find a place to hole-up. Fight more zombies. Experience the deaths of those close to you and for crying out loud, do try to not lose your mind because everything you’ve ever known or loved is gone and the concept of hope is a distant memory.
Simmons has woven the politics of Northern Ireland into his book in a way that summarizes the decades-long tensions that we North Americans used to watch on the evening news. People who might have been bitter enemies before the end came must put aside their differences and embrace the new common enemy. They must experience hardship and privation that they’d never before dreamed and they must somehow,(and this is key to the book’s credibility in zombie-lore) find a light at the end of the tunnel when the tunnel is pitch black and they don’t have a match, or a candle, or a flashlight for that matter.
FLU is different. Far different that 99% of the zombie-novels at your local bookseller. (And believe me, as a zombie-fan, I want originality. I recently read one zombie novel that is a massive bestseller with a major US publisher and disliked it immensely because the protagonist was unlikeable, cynical, and just plain bitchy, and the zombies were a tool for someone to become the President. It was original, alright, but the protagonist didn’t have any qualities I could embrace. Worse, I didn’t want to root for her and that killed the book for me.)
Different doesn’t always mean better, by the way, but FLU is different because the setting makes it so. The characters are the living manifestation of Belfast and throughout, the book is peppered with cultural truisms that give someone who has never been there a sense that they might well have visited the place. You know, except that it’s teeming with the living dead.
Read this novel not because it is a zombie novel, that’s just the bonus stuff. Read it because Simmons has done a bang-up job of showing us that safety, security and comfort are simply constructs we create for ourselves. Read this book because those constructs can be wiped away and replaced with a nightmare scenario that is impossible to conceive.
Simmons could have used the book as a metaphor for the politics of the setting, but he doesn’t. This is a horror novel, plain and simple. It just happens to occur in Belfast.
So, if you’re tired of predictable zombie-fare (and God knows, we’re bombarded with it now) then pick up a copy, sit back and get ready to rock and roll. The end of the world just happened. What are YOU going to do about it?