‘Monster Island’ is quite an old book now, first published in 2006, taken from the SFCrowsnest backlist. I’m not sure when the zombie craze started, but it may be over. Except for a few short stories in anthologies, it largely passed me by as I have no particular interest in the walking dead but I thought I’d give ‘Monster Island’ a try for something different. I’m glad I did.
The world fell to pieces when the Epidemic happened. People died and came back to life as zombies, stupid and hungry for meat, especially living meat. They were stupid because while they were dead their brains got no oxygen. Gary, a clever medical student in New York, gets the disease but puts himself in a bath of formaldehyde with a respirator tube keeping him oxygenated. He dies and returns to life undead and hungry but with brains. He’s one half of the tale as the narrative point of view switches between him and the main protagonist, though Gary’s is third person and the other is first person. It works.
Our hero and first person is Mister Dekalb, a UN weapons inspector who was working in Africa when the Epidemic struck. After his wife died, he and his daughter ran away from Mogadishu, Kenya and ended up in Somalia where they were captured by the Army of the Free Women’s Republic of Somaliland. The army’s glorious leader, Mama Halima, has AIDS and needs drugs to survive. Dekalb tells her he can get supplies from UN headquarters in New York City which has a well-equipped medical facility.
They’ve tried everywhere local and all the hospitals have been looted. Europe is a wasteland and so is Asia, according to reports. Zombies can only be killed by destroying their brains so places where the populace has high-powered weapons have fared best. America is their only hope. Hooray for the NRA! Mama sends a boat and a squadron of soldiers with Dekalb to New York, keeping his daughter in Somalia. Dekalb has to get the medicine and time is limited. High stakes and a ticking clock! Perfect drama.
The Somali girl soldiers are competent and ruthless but getting through a city full of zombies isn’t easy. There are many close scrapes. Even so, after a while, the reader not absolutely crazy for zombie gore must wonder if this can be sustained for 280 pages. Then the plot does a big switch and the game changes as some very old dead people come onto the scene and a dark, mystical force is bought into play. Dekalb still needs to get those medications but there’s a bigger struggle brewing, a war between the living and the dead. I was reminded of Stephen King’s epic ‘The Stand’, where survival is the first aim but a bigger battle ensues.
Author David Wellington is very much in the Stephen King school, a top-class academy with which to be associated. His hero is likeable and even the villain has realistic motivations. Wellington writes action and adventure scenes that keep you enthralled and his descriptions of horror work. He’s also very familiar with New York City and the novel has a strong sense of place, exactly described. Of course, we all know Manhattan somewhat from a million films and television shows but the author lived there.
He also worked at the UN and his insider knowledge of that organisation is interesting and realistic without being too cynical. As the story rushed towards its gripping climax, I found the book hard to put down. A niggly responsible adult part of your brain is telling you that all this is very silly but, like King, David Wellington makes the real world parts so true that you swallow the fantastic stuff along with it, suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride. That’s the trick.
I liked it well enough and look forward to ‘Monster Nation’ and ‘Monster Planet’ the next two books in the trilogy.
(pub: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006. 282 page enlarged paperback. Price: $13.95 (US). ISBN: 1-56025-805-0)
check out website: www.avalonpub.com