Mikhail Lerma's Z Plan: Blood on the Sand (Permuted Press) is a zombie apocalypse tale set among U.S. troops in war torn Iraq as they begin their trip back to the United States. This story is the beginning of a series, with Red Tide, being planned as the next in the series. Note that this book is available as both a paperback, and an e-book, but Permuted Press has said that it is stopping printing hard copy books of all but its best selling titles, so I am not sure if future copies of the series will be available except in e-book form.
Mikhail Lerma, originally from Holdrege, Nebraska, has been a member of the Nebraska National Guard since he was 17. His first deployment to Iraq was in 2007. This story is based on his experiences there. he now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with his wife and three daughters.
In our story, Cale with his friend Zach are deployed to Iraq. There military duties involve driving armored trucks in supply convoys to more remote regions of Iraq. The author calls the vehicle a GT112 (?), which based on his comments in the book sounds like an up-armored "gun truck" version of the Humvee.
When the two friends are not on duty, guarding supply convoys, they play an interconnected game of Halo 3 with other men in the unit. We get to learn a little about some of their fellow soldiers before they are eaten. The author's service in Iraq does a good job of getting the novel off to a realistic feel. He knows the lingo of this type of work.
Well I am not going to get too involved in story details. A rabies-like virus is spreading out of Africa. Although the military unit is very well equipped, their rules of engagement don't allow them to shoot at stumbling around unarmed civilians. And of course, when they do anyway, they don't go for the needed head shots. So they start getting bit. After the majority of their unit is overrun, Cale, Zach and a few others decide to make a run for it in one of the gun trucks. The plan is to head to the Mediterranean coast, find a boat, and figure a way to hop scotch along the coast until they can get to the Atlantic, and somehow home from there.
What evolves from this is fairly typical zombie fare, except that it is in the Middle East, and the heros have better access to weapons than typical.
So did I like it? Yes. Did I love it? No. It was o.k. I liked the earlier parts of the novel while they were still within a military setting. They are not exactly gung ho marines or infantry, and the unit interplay was fun. Once they left that environment it became fairly stock zombie genre fare. The voyage home from the Middle East is an interesting twist, but it has been done before, and this book only starts the process. There is the unfortunate tendency of the author to give away little details of foreshadowing (spoilers) early in the book. Particularly annoying is the conclusion which spills the beans about what is happening at home at the end of the book. So I would call it a qualified recommendation: if you like zombie-novels, this a reasonably entertaining example of the genre.
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.
Realism was reasonably high for the zombie-genre. The zombies keep biting, so it is a continued reminder of the implausibility of the scenario. On the other hand, issues of supplies, ammunition, unit cohesion and decision making when the chain of command breaks down (aka is eaten) are all noted. Our two soldiers are far from being special forces types. They know how to use their M4s, but beyond that their tactical decision making is about as good as bunch of guys who learned infantry tactics from Halo 3. Cale keeps blaming himself for costly mistakes, and for the most part he is correct. For a zombie novel it's reasonably realistic: a 5.
Readability is straightforward. It is very close to a page turner, and perfectly sized at 225 pages. There is a bit of head hopping with the point of view (POV) at times, that leads to some confusing narrative in a few places, and our hero wastes some of our reading time with some uninteresting nightmare sequences. It is a straightforward 5.