Zombies. End of the world. Nuclear weapons. The US government and military. Combine all those and you have the ultimate nightmare.
The story, however, is anything but a nightmare and is one of the few books I’ve read that I couldn’t put down. It zips along from first page to last, managing to bring out a few ‘heart in the mouth’ moments that I’ve only experienced before while watching a horror movie…or my kids riding a bike for the first time.
In fact it’s so well paced, with slow and fast scenes following on from each other in quick succession, that I didn’t even do a page check while reading. The short punchy chapters certainly helped this pace, but the style of writing does far more for the pace than any tricks of editing. There are no wasted words, no extraneous dialogue or description and no information dumps. What the reader needs to know about the world is fed in small bites as the narrative continues right through to the end.
The background to the story is that human race has, mostly, succumbed to a virus from outer space, brought to Earth on a crashed Soyuz spaceship. Naturally, as is the way with these things, it lands in the USA, the place where all aliens and viruses seem to land. (If you watched Monsters vs Aliens, it’s a comment you may recall) The virus is virulent and turns people into Zombies that love to bite and feed off corpses, though they never seem to like a beer to wash all that flesh down.
The pandemic spread quickly but now, it seems, some of the zombified humans have more intelligence than the average, and have developed a skill that enables them to live in the desert within being turned into beef jerky through exposure to the heat and sunlight. The two attributes together make them a fearsome foe.
Hancock is given his orders and along with his crew, flies a B52 with a nuclear armed cruise missile to take out a base deep in the desert. Only Hancock knows what it is. They don’t make it, crashing in Death Valley, though Hancock tries to keep to his mission even with only one eyeball and his body necrotising. He smells a bit.
The airbase they flew from is surrounded by zombies trying to get in for a quick brain and muscle takeaway, but is there an infected person inside already? Has the virus got inside the perimeter, slowly eating away at an airmen or two? Did an infected crewman get aboard the plane? No one knows as it takes time before it shows itself, though one of the aircrew is soon shown to be infected when Frost finds his ejected chair in the desert.
After a few hours, Hancock decides that the only thing they can do is fulfil the mission, and that’s the point when the tension explodes. They’re fighting amongst each other and against the Zombies. What puzzles them most is why they’re not being attacked, even though one or two of them get inside the plane.
I’m not going to tell you anymore about the story. Suffice to say that it kept me hooked from first to last and the story quit at the correct point, leaving me breathless.
I highly recommend it, not just to lovers of horror, but also SF and Fantasy buffs.