BOOK REVIEW: DEAD MEAT (2012)
Any readers out there probably may have gotten the hint that ever since THE WALKING DEAD exploded onto cable television screens on the AMC Network, everyone has been into zombies: horror fans and non-horror fans alike. It seems like zombies have become so mainstream that even safety billboards urging drivers to buckle-up so they don’t get killed in an automobile accident and turn into a zombie have been created (Seriously, I really did see this!). Since the early days of Fulci’s and Romero’s careers, I felt that zombie stories were nothing more than an excuse to have scenes of excessive gore and violence mixed with a lot of action. If that were truly the case, I could still dig it. Gore films have their place in the horror genre and I can appreciate that, but I have found that a really good zombie story contains well-crafted characters, as well as the gory deaths pitting the living against the dead.
With any good story, zombie and otherwise, one needs to create and develop characters that are realistic and believable. Characters that a reader give a shit about. After all, when a zombie happens to get close enough to a human and take a massive bite out of their flesh, the reader needs to associate on some level with the character or else why would anyone care that they became infected and soon will turn into one of the living dead. Well-written characters are the core of the story DEAD MEAT, a quick 165 page read.
The story of DEAD MEAT is told through the eyes, ears, and smells of its lead character, Gavin, a young man thrust into the zombie apocalypse whose sole focus and drive for living is to become re-united with his sister Addison, and then possibly become reunited with his parents. His sister is away at college and his parents were going to head there to pick her up before the epidemic occurred. As with many stories involving zombies, the exact reason as to why any of this is occurring is somewhat vague, if non-existent, and the how or why really does not need to be answered with a zombie story because what occurs during the outbreak is what makes the whole story. If I wanted some technically complicated explanation, I would have picked up a Science Fiction novel and not a horror book.
The Williams Bros., the team of Patrick and Chris Williams, have developed a story centered around some very solid characters, most solid of all being our narrator and main character Gavin, a young man just trying to get back to his sister and family. All of the characters are thrust into situations that may quite possibly occur if a zombie outbreak actually did happen. After all, a zombie outbreak broken down to its true essence stripped down is a tale of survival. The story is always centered around survival and how the characters in the story deal with it. These characters include Benny, a very interesting, volatile, and complex young man that first befriends Gavin on his (Gavin’s) way towards his sister and the school dorms she was living in before the shit hit the fan. The two are forced to defend themselves and make some very hard and quick decisions early on. What works well in the book is the dialogue between the two as they survive. The dialogue is realistic. The thoughts that Gavin shares with readers are thoughts that many individuals put in similar situations probably would have. There are scenes in DEAD MEAT that will make you laugh, as the character of Benny is obnoxious most of the time but really surprises the reader on rare occasions with some solid doses of common sense. The relationship one forms with another in life due to a necessity because of a dire situation sometimes is never thoroughly explored in zombie stories (on the screen or in the pages of a book) and I feel that this aspect in a story can separate an average zombie tale from an excellent zombie tale (such as is the case in DEAD MEAT).
As much as I tried not to, as a reader of THE WALKING DEAD comics and a loyal viewer of the television show, when the Williams Bros. story introduces an elderly man by the name of Rickett, I could not help but see this character in my head as looking like actor Scott Wilson who plays the old farmer Hershel Greene in the popular cable television series. I apologize for referencing WALKING DEAD so much, but when talking about characters in a story with depth, I dare not mention a Lucio Fulci film (whose films themselves barely follow a coherent plot and whose characters frequently are introduced and killed off within the very same scene. As for Romero zombie films, there generally is not much of a deep back story (unless one references Romer0’s “political commentaries”) and cannot compare to the well-crafted and well-written zombie story in DEAD MEAT.
Like I mentioned earlier, zombies are everywhere (in a fictional sense of the word and a commercial one) and this reader and writer tends to get really tired really quick of the same old shit. Therefore, when reading DEAD MEAT, I almost was done with the story before having even read the first chapter. I knew that if this story was going to keep one interested, solid characters were the key to it. As I read the book, I found myself empathizing with Gavin and could relate to one’s drive to see if any of one’s family members are still alive. When it comes down to it, what the hell else is one left to do? After survival, one needs to know that his or her parents are either safe and or dead…or even undead. Hell, if my parents were alive and part of some surviving group, I really would want to be with them. On the other hand, being surrounded loved ones would make the act of survival all the more emotionally difficult and straining. I guess it is somewhat of a double-edged blade.
As Gavin and Benny survive throughout DEAD MEAT, meeting other survivors along the way the writers uniquely call the infected or living dead Bees, as in the little black and gold insects that fly around pollinating flowers, making honey, and stinging humans in the summer months. I, for one, hate bees as much as I would probably hate a fucking zombie! Both are annoying, although one is integral to mankind’s existence. In addition to the Bees roaming around, hungry for flesh, there is the always multifaceted component to any good zombie story: government conspiracy. Is there one? Who are these men burning zombies, or Bees, wearing haz mat suits and what is there role in all of this?
After introducing Henry, a female character who readers never really get a solid feel for, the story follows the quest for survival and offers a plethora of gory deaths, mutilations, disembowelment, decapitation, impalement, and many other ways the living dead and the living meet their fate and doom. I find that gore and blood alone never make for an interesting read but well-developed characters thrust into very difficult and life-threatening situations always make for good reads and the Williams Bros. have accomplished this. I also feel that once Henry is introduced, the story really starts to pick up. After all, throwing a twenty-something female into the works amongst a crass and obnoxious young man as Benny is and a determined and driven brother and son looking for his sister Addison and their parents just adds more ingredients to the already boiling pot of zombie stew…or in this story’s case: Bee stew.
While talking to Christopher Williams, one half of the book’s brainchild, I was made aware that initially DEAD MEAT was part of a weekly blog entitled DEAD MEAT , which caught the attention of Permuted Press who really wanted them to turn the story into a short novel. Essentially, what began as a very creative hobby by two brothers turned into a full-blown book that got published (and most deservedly so!).
Hopefully readers of SHU-IZMZ who enjoy zombie and apocalyptic survival scenarios will give DEAD MEAT a chance and a read. After all, I went into this book feeling completely burnt out on zombies and was really surprised by how much the writing and characters won me over upon the story’s compelling ending. Click HERE to order a physical or digital copy of the book. If one wants to follow the book on Facebook just head over HERE and like them. Indie writers and publishers can use all the help they can get with getting the word out and SHU-IZMZ is doing its part by separating the good stuff from the bad stuff through reviews. I hope readers that give DEAD MEAT a chance enjoy the story as much as I did.