Hallowread, Part 5! The Dead, by Mark E. Rogers
You guys, I think this year’s Hallowread is a bust. I’m just not excited about most of the stuff I’ve been reading, and I’m getting restless, wanting to move on to non-Horror books. I haven’t read any grindhousey 80’s horror along the lines of Blood Farm this year, which is kind of a shame.
A lot of the books I’ve been reading this October are kind of ‘hybrid’ books. The Apocalypse Codex is a Cosmic Horror/Espionage mashup, John Dies at the End is Horror/Slacker Comedy, Eternal Vigilance: From Deep Within The Earth is pretty much a kitchen sink of genre tropes and terrible names, and now, Mark E. Rogers’ The Dead is a zombie book about religion.
I really, really wanted to like this book.
I first stumbled across Mark E. Rogers’ work as a teenager. I was visiting some family for the Christmas Holiday, and wound up just sort of hanging around for a week with nothing to do. No computer, no car. There might have been a Super Nintendo laying around, but I forget.
But, there was a library within walking distance.
And so, I set off- and while I was browsing the shelves, I stumbled across Mark E. Rogers’ Samurai Cat books. They’re silly, ultra violent, pun-filled satires of various Science Fiction & Fantasy works. The first book pokes fun at Lovecraft, Howard, and Tolkien. Later ones in the series go on to spoof everything from Star Wars to Dante’s Inferno. Oh, and Rogers illustrates the books, as well.
As an added (geeky) bonus, the Samurai Cat books have long been out of print, so tracking them down appealed to the ‘collecting’ part of my brain. I’ve got all six sitting on my bookshelf- I may do a re-read at some point, to see how well they’ve held up. Rogers himself died last year, which is sad. Still, I haven’t yet read all his work yet, so there’s one way to remember him, right?
I began to branch out to Rogers’ other stuff- which brings us to The Dead. I’ve actually had this book sitting on my shelf for years now. It’s so old, it’s got a Border’s price sticker on the back. I vaguely remember starting it at some point, but I wound up putting it down after the first two chapters.
And now I know why.
See, The Dead isn’t a zombie novel (despite the bunches and bunches of walking corpses). It’s actually a Rapture novel. As in, the cause of the zombie apocalypse isn’t caused by a virus, but rather it’s the demon Legion (you know, from the Bible), who’s cutting loose to wreck stuff up, because it’s the end of the world. Of course, before all this happens, a good chunk of the world’s population gets Rapture’d up to heaven, just beamed up there, leaving their clothes behind. Incidentally, The Deadwas first published in 1989, while Left Behind didn’t come around ’til 1995.
The thing about The Dead that got me was the fact that pretty much every character was a freaking idiot. For example, early on in the novel, everyone in the world has the same dream about being judged by God. Then, the next morning, a lot of people are missing, having been Raptured up to Heaven already. And then, various disasters start happening; three plane crashes in the same day, train wrecks, all sorts of stuff. It’s so bad that the random New Jersey town the book takes place in has to open up two backup morgues to handle all the bodies.
And yet, despite this pants-shitting level of disaster, the book’s protagonists carry on like nothing’s happened. I guess I’m biased, looking at the book from a Post 9/11 perspective. Still, I would think that, given such a level of unprecedented, unexplainable disaster, people would start asking questions about it far before the protagonists do. Despite the disasters, the characters still go to a funeral– so you can have the obligatory ‘zombies rising from the grave in a cemetery’ scene.
Undead mayhem ensues.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned any character’s names so far (apart from Legion, I guess). That’s because I really couldn’t bring myself to care about any of them. The book centers around two brothers: Gary, who … is about what you’d expect from a dude named Gary, and Max. Max is a Marine who’s also a student of history and I think he was also supposed to be a semi-devout Catholic or something? He’s basically the Marine from the “A Marine shows up some liberal snooty college professor” story/meme your super right wing uncle keeps sharing on facebook. There are some other characters along for the ride (read: there to be eaten by zombies), but for the most part they were drawn even sketchier than Gary and Max.
Anyway, of course Gary & Max’s recently passed dad was a paranoid nutter, and of course they thusly have access to well-stocked emergency bunker with a seemingly limitless supply of ammunition. And they need it, too, as the zombies in The Dead are of the Return of the Living Dead (or possibly Dead Alive, take your pick) style, in that they pretty much can’t be stopped, short of dismemberment. And even then, there’s a good chance any severed limbs will come crawling after you. And yet, Gary and Max and everyone else manage a surprising amount of incapacitating kneecap shots during the book’s many, many fight scenes.
Now, gruesome fights against the ravenous dead? That’s all kinds of fun. The sort of thing you’d expect. The problem is in the pauses between fight scenes. As this is where the characters take the opportunity to argue about the nature of God and religion and all that. It’s … not very compelling reading. Mostly because nearly every character reads like a Strawman of some sort. I mean, you have the asshole atheist, the fundementalist born-again Christian, a jaded Catholic priest who doesn’t want to give anyone confession because, um … reasons? To be honest, I started skimming over big chunks of the book after awhile. But of course, at the end, it’s the power of Faith that saves the day, and the good characters get to move on to Heaven. Yay?
I’m by no means anti-religious. I’m firmly of the opinion that everyone’s free to believe whatever they like, so long as it’s not hurting anyone. And heck, I’m all for nuanced explorations of faith and religion in fiction. The thing is, a zombie apocalypse novel is hardly the ideal genre to address these themes. Definitely not a chocolate & peanut butter situation, here.
Oh, and on a tangent, I happened to pick up the 2009 edition of the book, put out by Permuted Press- and honestly, that draft was kind of awful, as there were enough typographic errors in the book to even make me notice, in my not-at-all thorough skim-reading.
What’s funny is, The Dead helped me realize that these heavily religious themes are kind of A Thing for Mark E. Rogers. The Samurai Cat books are outright parody, so the gratuitous fight scenes are tied together by shameless puns and silly jokes. No religious undertones there. On the other hand, I read Rogers’ “Blood of the Lamb” books a long while ago. That series is a fantasy retelling of the New Testament, only if the Apostles were kung fu wizards. Also, instead of Romans, you have Mongol-analogues instead. It was more than a little nuts, but I was willing to play it off as a thought experiment until I got around to reading The Dead.
So yeah. If nothing else, The Dead has taught me that one of my favorite authors wasn’t anything like I thought he was. Go figure. Shame the book itself wasn’t that fun.