Thursday, February 12, 2015

Coldbrook: A Review

Tim Lebbon's Coldbrook, is a zombie-apocalypse that starts off in a secret scientific base in the Appalachian mountains. It is noted that Interstate 81 runs somewhat parallel to the local access road (page 405), so it is likely somewhere around the North Carolina/Tennessee border northwest of Asheville (page 87). 
The perfect bound cover - the one that I like best.
Tim Lebbon, (1969-) is from Wales, Great Britain and currently lives in the village of Goytre in Monmouthshire with his wife and two sons.  He is a New York Times bestselling author.  Most of his novels appear to be of some sort of horror/fantasy mix: this is not his first zombie-novel. He notes Stephen King as an influence, and while there is no intentional duplication, he also comments that he liked the "realism" of Max Brook's World War Z.
I am going to try and limit spoilers beyond what the author has noted in interviews and the book blurb.  The story has much of World War Z's world collapse scenario, but is much more tightly written, and there is quite a few well done surprise plot twists.
You have your tucked away, not that secret, base in the mountains.  It is working on opening up a gate into other dimensions: and fairly quickly into the story it succeeds.  The gate is designed to kill anything down to the microbial level that might get through.  But much as Monte Python said about the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expected a zombie!  Much like the Python Inquisition (see previous video link), the Zombie's main weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthlessness.  It works pretty well.
These are fast moving, fast turning biters.  In an interview, the author noted a similarity to the movie, 28 Days Later in so far as the zombie disease exists primarily to spread: snacking is limited.  The entire novel extends over a ten day period.  By the end of the period, the zombies are pretty much world wide, and what they don't wipe out, various government efforts (Russian nukes, Chinese bioweapons) complete.  I, along with some others, had questioned how the zombies get from the United States to Europe. The authors comment in an interview.
We do live in a very, very small world, where communication through roads, rail and air are extremely quick. One infected passenger on a flight to London and that’s it.  One infection in Europe and the spread is rapid. I did research disease spread when I was writing the book.
Maybe there’s a bit of artistic licence at work here, but I think it works OK.  And let’s face it, we all hope there’s never a chance to test the theory
I suppose that is fair enough.
The author notes a debt to Stephen King, but the overall arc of the story felt somewhat Cthulhu-esque.  As with H.P. Lovecraft's writing, we are very small part in an enormous Cosmo.  If you open the door a crack, you might not like what you find on the other side.  Since we are talking about parallel worlds here, presumably or current fascination with zombies could be seen as a bleed over from multiple alternate realities.
The author does a limited amount of narrative point of view (pov) shifting to expand his storyline.  Most involve the scientists and engineers involved in the research effort, but the one outlier, a young lady with a debilitating disease, is very well done.  To a varying extent, all of the major characters have serious personality flaws, and these flaws are not ignored.  But there is enough of the good, in with the bad, to make this novel a poster child of how to engage a readers interest in less than perfect protagonists. 
So obviously, I liked the book.  The author, in that interview, also thought some religious folks might get angry with him, but I didn't view his one case of a negative depiction of a religious hierarchy to be targeting that particular institution. It struck me as a very real depiction of dangerous mission drift  and misalignment in any "cause" driven bureaucracy.  The novel has received a number of comments about it being a very bleak story throughout:  an amusing comment about an apocalyptic novel.  To my mind it is appropriately bleak, without that Rah-Rah survivalist silliness of "We beat the zombies" that occurs from time-to-time.  However, it does show people in very difficult circumstances attempting to mitigate the damage: sometimes, that's all you can do.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Zombies have an obvious realism problem compared to other less-than-realistic-causes of the apocalypse: they keep on biting.  The story also has a science fiction element in the exploratory opening into a parallel world.   Balancing that is the very here and now setting.  The very accurate depiction of institutional and government denial, and then panic, in the face of adversity.  Although the novel only lasts 10 days, issues of supply and infrastructure are addressed. Within the group setting, a very realistic mix of folks with differing abilities come to the forefront.  The folks who can make the plausible head shot are obviously very useful, but so are the folks with brains, the brawn, and also just folks who can act as the glue to keep people working together. For a zombie-novel where the zombies stick around, I am going to call it a very realistic 5.
Readability is high for a relatively long (509 pages) novel.  There are some confusing, but relevant dream sequences.  I put it down a couple times out of exhaustion.  Balanced against that is some fairly tight writing.  The character development is a tad bit lengthy on a few points, but is arguably necessary to explain the characters actions at others.  I am going to call it a 5.
I think this illustration was used with either the hardback, or British, release

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