Posted on January 10, 2012 by Flames
Available at Amazon.com
After I received an advanced copy of Ty Schwamberger’s novella The Fields, I turned the first pages and immediately began reading kudos by notable authors and magazines such as Gary A. Braunbeck and Shroud Magazine. I never judge a book by its cover, but I do start judging books by their praise. And with an introduction by Jonathan Maberry (Rot and Ruin, Patient Zero), I was excited to start reading.
Jonathan Maberry starts off his introduction stating “The Fields is a morality tale. With Zombies.” Maberry then explains to the reader that zombie tales are more than cannibalistic and mindless corpses. These tales, if written with feelings and responsibility, remind the reader zombies are people and they have life and their own stories. This is what Ty Schwamberger accomplishes with The Fields. He, as many authors have tried but failed, brings out the emotion of the characters but not just the living, but the dead also with much success.
The opening chapter sets The Fields pace; quick with that sense of emotion that is mentioned in Maberry’s introduction. The reader is drawn in as Billy Fletcher, son of plantation owner in the Deep South, is racing through the darkness with zombie in tow. Schwamberger describes Billy’s friendly relationship with the former slave now turned zombie Samuel. Yes, that could happen and yes, if you’ve studied American history, friendly relationship between slaves and owners did indeed exist. With not giving away too much of the plot, Billy survives the zombie encounter.
The novella moves on to an odd and unexpected meeting between Billy and a man named Abraham, a long since forgotten friend of Billy’s deceased and “hard son-of-a-gun” father. The plantation is in dire straits and Abraham promises Billy that with help, the plantation can once again be resurrected to its former glory, the days before the Civil war.
Unsure of Abraham’s motives, Billy keeps himself from revealing too much about the past few years of his life and about his father’s death until Abraham’s cryptic mannerisms gets the best of Billy. Billy then explains the past years and again, Abraham offers help. This help is sinister. To transform the plantation back its glory days involves exhuming the dead slaves from the plantation cemetery to revivify the slaves and the plantation.
Billy scoffs. But by the end of the day, he is overcome by exhaustion by tending to the tobacco fields and the livestock alone. He is clouded by flashbacks of his father’s brutality against the slaves. Billy relives moments of slaves being tied up and beaten. He even relives his own abuse by his father for simple mistakes such as arriving at school late.
The writing of the beatings is brilliant. The sounds of the whipping stick come to life through Schwamberger’s descriptive writing. The reader can nearly feel every whip and the pain that the slave and even Billy endure. More so, the reader is able to relate to Billy’s struggle for parental acceptance. Like many children today, Billy feels he hasn’t lived up to their parents’ expectations, especially his father’s.
And with another meeting with Abraham, Billy decides it’s time that he makes his deceased father proud of his son for the first time.
The pace of The Fields picks up from here. It was already fast-paced but now it’s an enjoyable and emotional rollercoaster. Billy knows he has to follow through with Abraham’s continuing offer of help, to exhume the dead slaves. What Billy will find out from Abraham though, it’s not the slaves or the plantation that Billy is truly resurrecting.
The chapters to follow describe the dead as they appear in old zombie movies from the 1940s and 1950s, mindless field workers who go about their work (ala White Zombie staring Bela Lugosi). Schwamberger even pays homage to the Haitian form of zombification, harmless zombies kept mindless in order for them to help their masters. This is where the originality comes in. Schwamberger doesn’t create typical flesh-eating zombies, he draws his influence from old school horror, a practice getting lost by today’s influence from AMC’s The Walking Dead and the George A. Romero generation. It’s Schwamberger’s ability to ignore the typical and easy copout of the modern zombies that leads to the surprise ending, which deserves its own praise. The reader will never see it coming.
The press release for The Fields, with its many well-know author kudos, is dead on with their praises. The Fields isn’t your average zombie tale. It’s much more. It’s a game changer. It delivers what the genre is suffering from, which is originality. It negates the typical overrun town and city streets of the gut-thirsty walking dead so typical of the majority of novels, novellas, and anthologies. The Fields brings emotion, ignites the need for unity, highlights the important struggle of family responsibility and above all, brings fun back into the zombie genre. Schwamberger also reminds us; the dead have a story to tell and to live.
Review by Howard Allan