Posted on July 15, 2010 by Eric Pollarine
Available at Amazon.com
I find that as time goes on and I continue reading more and more works in the survival horror/zombie fiction genre that there are good stories, there bad stories and then there are the exceptional ones, that no matter how many times you’ve seen or read the formula-and of course dear reader there is always a formula- you don’t get tired of it. Those works of fiction are the best examples of what the “Zombie” has to offer, and many times it’s the simple disconnection from the everyday, the little glimpses of truth which hold the story up. The idea of modern man faced with the unexplainable horror of reanimated corpses thirsty for flesh, with no rhyme or reason for their new existence,and how they deal with it- those are the greatest aspects of the genre.
So when I was reading Dead: The Ugly Beginning by T.W. Brown I was also looking through my collection of Rilke’ and happened upon the Duino Elegies, and in my copy the forth line of the opening elegy reads “Because beauty’s nothing but the start of terror we can hardly bear,” which I thought was appropriate, because Dead: The Ugly Beginning is exactly that, the start of terror, but unlike Rilke’s observations on the human condition, which somehow prophetically holds true for the goals of all great zombie books, I could and did- bear it well.
The Story centers around Steven Hobart, insurance adjuster and reluctant leader of a band of survivors which include a small Mexican girl, a teenager who becomes G.I. Jane and a host of other regular characters who all realize that in survival, it’s the ordinary regular people, the individual and unique, which gives us the strength and purpose to move ahead and continue on.
However not connected (as of yet) to the main cast are the sub plots which run through out the book, there are the four geeks who have been somewhat prepared for just such an occasion, through their late night gab sessions on the internet, a group of convicts who find redemption through the new world, and a hard ass senator and her three daughters; and along with these there are the small “Vignettes” laced throughout the book to give you a larger picture of how the rest of the world is either surviving or being over taken by the zombie threat. All brought to life by a masterful stroke of storytelling by the author. Each character is believable, none are forced and the actions they often take are the wrong ones which actually quite refreshing in a genre filled with military buffs and survivalists who seem to have all the necessary tactics to weather the zombie storm. Many of the characters are dealing with their own internal struggles and trying to fully comprehend what this terrifying new world is, or has become.
Dead: The Ugly Beginning is really not a “Zombie” tale-no, and the best books in the genre almost never are. They are larger stories set in the confines of the genre, morality plays, coming of age stories, the rebellious spirit, railing against norms and they often turn out to be wonderful and relevant social commentaries. All of which Dead: The Ugly Beginning has in spades.
But if you made me really choose which of these particular identities the book comes across as having, well I would go with a coming of age story more so than any of the others, because through both the parallels of Steven Hobart, And the Geeks, The convicts and the daughters we see what it is for a human to realize, who or what they are, and what they are or are not capable of- that there is a often a purposeful moment in the acceptance of responsibility, whether they consciously know it or not. However Mr. Brown doesn’t sugar coat it, no , without giving away too much of the plot and gentle subtext of the book, the hero’s journey in Dead: The Ugly Beginning is a hard fought one. Full of complete mistakes and uncalculated risks, of doing what you think is right and what you know is absolutely wrong- to say the very least Dead: The Ugly Beginning is as close to a true version of what the zombie apocalypse might look like as anything else that I have read. And I can not help but think that this has at least a little to do with the author and how long he’s waited to tell his story.
The action is all there too, don’t let my over inflated, often pedantic use of pretty words make you think this is a timid book, because it’s not. There are plenty of shootouts, close calls and scenes of unmistakable and horrifying gore that ring so true for the best zombie books as well. There are intestines and brains, flesh feasts and bullets for even the most hardcore fans of the genre to dive into and get their kicks out of.
But as I almost always do, I think that the one aspect of the book which defines it as one of the best I have read yet are those moments of fully realized humanity in the face of an unresolved epic catastrophe. It’s those small quiet moments inside Steven’s head or when one of the geeks does the wrong thing and then lives to regret it, it’s in those moments when the real storytelling begins to shine through the veneer of “genre” horror and moves closer to the “slipstream,” closer to the “literary.”
So yes, I recommend this book to you if you are a die hard zombie fan; in fact I say to those of you who consider George Romero the savior of the world -that you shouldn’t miss it, but if you like heady novels or pieces that push the boundaries and actually make you wonder – then you shouldn’t miss it either.
Review by Eric Pollarine