The Living Dead by George A Romero and Daniel Kraus
Tor, hb, £16.00
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
On October 23rd, John Doe arrives at San Diego’s morgue dead. An autopsy is performed, but cause of death is ambiguous. Certainly not the gunshot wounds on his body. Yet, despite being declared dead, and with his heart in Charlie Rutkowski, the morgue’s diener, John Doe starts to move.
All around the world, the dead start to rise and fall on their still breathing fellow humans, fuelled by a primordial need to feed. Any who are bitten die but return to a sort of life, spreading the sickness further until humanity is divided into pockets, fighting for survival.
The Living Dead follows the stories of a handful of survivors; an 18-year-old girl, a morgue diener, a naval officer, a new presenter, and a data analyst, from day one, exploring the lengths humanity will go to in order to survive.
For anyone who regularly reads my reviews, I don’t need to confess that I love zombies. It isn’t the zombies themselves, it’s the survivors and the challenges they face. Sometimes, the survivors are more terrifying than the zombies. The Living Dead shows humanity at its best and its worst.
A few different points of view are used to tell this story, but it’s handled well. A couple of characters will be together in a moment, and we live that moment with both of them, the highs, the lows and the bits in the middle where survival is as good as it gets.
The central theme is around the almost tribal nature of humanity, banding together based on common traits. The Living Dead demonstrates there are no Them or They, there are just humans. Each of the characters reflects this theme, men and women who all face racism and prejudice every day because of the colour of their skin, gender or sexuality. The situation demonstrates that people have the same fears and concerns, and scope for compassion regardless of the surface, superficial differences such as skin tone. A very relevant message during these times.
In fact, the only male Caucasian of any real note is a Catholic chaplin on an aircraft carrier, and for me, he is the least rounded character. White men of religion going mad in times of crises and ruling plots of land like bloodthirsty dictators is not new and my only criticism of the entire book.
A little while ago I read a short story by Jonathon Maberry who wrote Dead of Night and Fall of Night. In George A. Romero ’s opinion, they were the official explanation as to how the dead came back to life and Maberry to write a short story to connect everything together. A Cold War Russian bioweapon is tested on a prison inmate, genetically engineered parasites that take over a person’s brain, cutting off the consciousness from the physical. A person would be aware of what they were doing, but unable to stop themselves.
This is an uncomfortable concept, and The Living Dead contains some scenes written from the zombies’s points of view. They are aware on a primitive level and have some limited memories. These scenes are fascinating, the hive mind of the zombies, what they remember and do not, and do as much to challenge the reader’s perception of zombies as the choice of characters.
Another interesting point about this book is the two authors, Daniel Kraus finishing what George A. Romero started. Even though there were two people involved in it, its impossible to tell who had a hand in what. It is seamless throughout making for an enjoyable, fast-paced read. Recommended.