Spec Ops Z by Gavin G. Smith
Solaris, pb, £5.23
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Spec Ops Z starts in Afghanistan with Vadim and his team at the end of a mission that has cost them a team member. They’re tired and disillusioned fighting other people’s wars and being told what to do by men who have never faced combat on the ground. But there is an end in sight. They are due to go home. At the last minute, there is a change of plan, and the team are sent to New York on a ‘training exercise’, but when they get there, they realise they are part of a mission to release a chemical weapon on the city. Fighting an all-consuming desire for human flesh, Vadim and his team resolve to return to Russia and demand the answer as to why they were considered expendable.
Re-released in 2021 Spec Ops Z is a zombie story with a twist. It explores the difference between soldiers and civilians, how they handle situations, and the impact of PTSD on their life after service. Although they are also zombies, Vadim and his team retain enough of their humanity to control their baser instincts and put life first. This makes them unlikely saviours of the uninfected in their nightmarish new world.
Within the team, seven members survive the initial attack on New York. Two are still human, but the other five are zombies. Each of them deals with their altered situation in different ways depending on their personality. Nergui has family who he will never be able to rejoin because of his new state of being. Gulag, a former prisoner from a Siberian gulag, embraces his otherness. They are also not the only people able to retain their personality. Just as PTSD can affect any survivor of trauma, and the question becomes who is more dangerous, an average zombie or a traumatised zombie?
This rather profound message about how ex-soldiers cope with post-army life is wrapped up in a high-octane gun battle across continents and oceans, where looks are deceiving, and the fairest faces can hide the darkest monsters. Perfect for any fan of the zombie or horror genre wanting a little more from their stories.