I’ll be honest: I picked this one up because I was looking for some light reading and I had a coupon and enough money from a Borders promotion that meant I got this book for free. This is a short (110 pages or so) novella in large font with an additional ten pages or so of black and white line drawings. The author’s note mentions that the story was originally contracted by the Australian government as part of an initiative to promote reading, particularly among adolescent boys, and I can see that this is certainly a quick, exciting read that teenagers who think they don’t like to read might enjoy.
I should also note that this is actually the fourth work in Matthew Reilly’s Shane Schofield series (which I didn’t realize until after I read the book). That wasn’t a problem, as the protagonist and his comrades are only hastily sketched out and continuity/backstory for the characters is only briefly hinted at.
Plot spoilers follow.
A small team of Marines is sent, along with several other ill-fated special operations forces teams, to investigate a seemingly abandoned U.S. aircraft carrier that is docked at a secret island in the Pacific that has been used as a site of military experiments. The Marines soon find themselves the only survivors fighting against a horde of genetically-modified and cyborged gorillas who are armed and extremely dangerous. There are, inevitably, a couple final twists and turns, as things aren’t quite what they appear to be. The book is full of fun imagery and it’s a pure action movie kind of book. It’s an extremely quick read and essentially no thought is required. In fact, I could easily see this plot being the subject of one of those action movies that doesn’t do terribly well in theaters but is shown on cable for years.
I give this one 3 stars out of 5, because it does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s light reading, and pure, non-stop action, in some ways a video game described in prose form. If that’s the kind of book you’re looking for, this might be a good choice, but just be warned: you’re going to need to take along a second book with you on the plane or to the beach because you can finish this one in an hour. But the book isn’t worth $6.99. As I mentioned at the start of this review, I ended up receiving this book for free. It’s worth a couple bucks, maybe $2-3 because the illustrations are pretty good and add to the story, but a single hour’s worth of light reading material isn’t worth more than that.
Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers
This was a fun, fast read full of non-stop action that delivered exactly what it promised, no more and no less. A police detective is recruited by a secret government agency to stop an impending release of zombies by Islamic terrorists on an unsuspecting American public. The zombie scourge is caused by genetically-manipulated prions; these zombies are “fast movers,” more akin to those in 28 Days Later than the George Romero kind. The action is fast and furious, with vivid, well-described combat sequences throughout the book. It would probably make a fun summer action movie.
It’s not entirely clear how the protagonist, Joe Ledger, a detective who has never been in combat becomes such a killing machine. We are told many times that he is simply hero material, so we just have to accept that, I guess. He generally deals better with trauma than most of the Special Forces troops placed under his command (which is an odd arrangement, but again, we are asked to accept that). This need to suspend disbelief is common in both technothrillers and horror novels, so it’s not out of place, or any more egregious than in most novels of either genre.
There are a few silly bits in the book, however:
- It’s typical of technothrillers, I suppose, but it’s darn silly to provide makes and models of every piece of equipment mentioned, including gym bags and watches. It could be a subtle gibe at the genre, I supposes, but there’s not enough evidence for that argument.
- Everyone refers colloquially to the Department of Homeland Security as “Homeland.” That’s unrealistic. I worked for ten years in government service , including two there, and everyone, civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, refers to it as “DHS.” Likewise, Maberry has named the “black ops” organization the Department of Military Sciences (“Science” on the back cover), which is also silly. “Department” has a very specific meaning in government parlance, and it doesn’t work here. Also, “Homeland” is often used as a generic term for the U.S. intelligence community, as though DHS had the lead. That is almost never the case. DHS has a small intel shop of its own, but let’s be honest: it’s small, ineffectual, not particularly influential, and half the people working there are detailed from other agencies, either inside or outside the department. On matters like the ones depicted in the book, CIA and FBI would have the lead. I tended to mentally substitute “the IC” for “Homeland” because all those references really irked me.
- “Hooah” is (sadly) not just a Ranger term, it’s widely used throughout the army (and I’ve heard it used by the other services s well).
- Perhaps the silliest bit of all: one of the major characters is a British woman who is purportedly a major in Britain’s SAS who heads up one of DMS’ field teams. Now, to the best of my knowledge, women are not permitted in the SAS, so her background doesn’t make sense, and why would a British citizen be recruited into an elite, “black” combat unit? If she had been described as a liaison officer, I might accept it, but she’s not. There’s really no good reason for her to be a Brit in any case. It’s a bit of an oddity.
Little things like that. I hate to criticize a book for such niggling errors, but when a technothriller purports to depict the military and intelligence comunity realistically, I do think that the book must be evaluated on its own terms and flaws have to be pointed out.
The book ends with closure — the current threat has been decisively ended — but it is clearly set up as the first book of a series. I liked this one well enough that I plan to pick up the next. Yes, the action and twists and turns of the plot are eminently predictable, but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s a fun, light read, and I enjoyed it tremendously. If you like zombies and technothrillers, this is an obligatory purchase.
The publisher has also made available a short story that elaborates on the opening scene of the novel, which you can sign up to receive here.
Review copyright 2009 J. Andrew Byers