Monday, November 9, 2009

Brian Keene Takes Zombie vs. Shark to a Whole New Level

We've all seen the notorious scene from Zombi 2 (or Zombie, depending on which side of the ocean you're from), where the zombie fights the shark. Hell, I think it was a meme not to long ago; it surely has garnered some cult fanaticism as I've heard, seen or read about in several place. And I'm sure that Brian Keen had it in mind when he penned his novel, Dead Sea. Not saying he stole the scene - there isn't really a scene in his novel that involves a zombie and a shark outside of the narrator's imagination - but surely, he must've chuckled at the idea of throwing it in there, even if it's just a thought.

But Dead Sea is no laughing matter. Having a key interest in the current end-of-the-world fanaticism of the age, I picked up the horror novel to inspire my own writings. What I got instead was a wonderful read, something I wasn't expecting the first time I skimmed the pages. Being the second novel I've read about zombies - the first being World War Z by Max Brooks - I wasn't anticipating greatness (even though I went into World War Z with great expectations and walked out just the same).

Keene's novel records the tale of Lamar Reed, a gay, black man from Fells Point (can we say three strikes against the narrator in the real world?) who finds himself down on his luck before Hamelin's Revenge spreads across the nation, bringing the infected dead back to life - human and animal alike. After gunning down his friend and only surviving neighbor, Alan, Lamar is pushed out of his hiding place by a wild fire, spreading throughout the neighborhood and city. Upon his escape, he comes across two orphaned siblings, Tasha and Malik and a gun aficionado, Mitch. The four of them manage to escape the city, rescued by a motley crew aboard a naval ship turned museum. But the danger doesn't end there as Hamelin's Revenge begins to mutate and jump upon species previously assumed to be immune.

Haunted by his past, Lamar is regrettably the "hero" of the story and is told so more than once by a few characters. He doesn't feel like the hero they need, but the hero the book deserves (and that's not a harsh insult whatsoever). It makes him believable. After all he has done to fight the stereotype bestowed upon African-Americans from Fells Point, he feels that he has become exactly what he has fought against for so long. And to top it off, he feels his sexuality is just another thorn on his side. He carries excess baggage that he's unwilling to let go even as the world is literally eating one another.

His journey through it all, leaves him pondering the end. If the hero is supposed to be heroic, lead his flock into safety, bring knowledge forward at the dawn of a new age, then what happens to the hero when the world around him is filled with the groans and moans of the undead and the screams of those who cannot out run them? Who is left to tell the tale of the hero after all is said and done? And exactly why does it matter that he continues on?

Those are the questions that arise within the pages for the novel, ones that I still find myself asking. What do you fight for when all of humanity is lost?

Seriousness aside, though, I did encounter one passage I loved the most (and we're turning to the beginning of this post to wrap it up neatly):
It had all happened so quickly. It just didn't seem real somehow. I mean, a zombie fucking whale? If the circumstances had been different, I could have almost laughed. You go through life believing only in what you can see. What science can prove. Things like ghosts and monsters are the stuff of fantasy. But then, one morning, you wake up and the dead are out in the streets hunting down the living. Your world comes crashing down when that hppens. But even when you get used to the idea that the dead can walk, a zombie whale still seemed incredible. In a way, I think it shook our world view all over again.
Clearly, no laughing matter, but you have to understand the hint of humor in it. Anyway, without further ado, Zombie Vs. Shark:

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