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Read it Too, alRight?

By G.S. Williams, author of No Man An Island

Oct 26, 2010: I have this horrible habit of deducting a mark if a story centres on vampires, werewolves, zombies, robots or wizards—any of the over-used tropes and characters of fantasy, horror and science fiction. I personally feel like it’s not just a well-trod path, it’s a superhighway where cliches go to die.

I’m also immensely wary of superhero stories because I grew up with that genre, too, and don’t want derivative stories—I like something to be original and compelling. Admittedly, that means I set the bar pretty high for almost any story, for a truly original premise is difficult, if not close to impossible.

However, there are times when a writer’s words are so compelling that I can set aside my gripes about originality and find a story just gripping. "Dead Too, Rights" is both a zombie story and sort of a superhero story, and yet it rises above both genres to make me forget about conventions, and just enjoy the ride.

Jaeger, the protagonist, is a death-row convict and former soldier. She’s being treated for Lou Gehrig’s disease, in an experimental clinical trial. Whatever the doctors give her, it seems to be taking away the symptoms.

While in the hospital, a strange meteor shower hits Yellowstone park. Yogi Bear and BooBoo are destroyed in the earthquakes that follow, and so is most of American society. Ash fills the sky. (Okay, the bears weren’t really in the story)

While this might be a good setup for a standard apocalyptic surviving the cataclysm story, the ash starts turning corpses into reanimated cannibals, zombies for all intents and purposes. Jaeger, however, proves immune to their bite, which infects people with the same lust for flesh. The doctors treating her guess that it might be a combination of the experiment and her genetics—instead of becoming a zombie, Jaeger develops a healing factor.

Instead of being an altruistic hero, she’s a self-centred survivalist. The text is remarkably consistent to this end—she cares only about doing what’s necessary for survival, and abandons people who would slow her down. She has no compunctions about stealing food or vehicles, because survival is more important. And shooting zombies? She seems to find that fun.

However, the narrative doesn’t paint her as a killing machine. Rather, it seems like she’s had a hard past and refuses to let it, or anything else, slow her down. She’s tough and gritty and maybe a sociopath, but you like her anyway. Jaeger gets things done.

The writing could use a minor edit – the quibbling details of a missed apostrophe or a mis-spelled word crop up from time to time. However, the story is so engaging you hardly notice, and it’s nothing that can’t be fixed.

What matters is that the action is artfully portrayed, so well you can see it happening. Jaeger’s intense focus on getting things done means that the text rarely loses sight of descriptive details and action, because the narrative and the voice of the narrator are so coherent and organic.

So, if I’ve deducted a mark for a superpowered protagonist in a zombie story, that should tell you how awesome the writing actually is—and I have to admit, if the story as a whole keeps up this high quality, this might be one of those stories where I chuck my personal rule out the window and finally give up that last star. Only time will tell, but I’m reading this until I’m caught up, and then I’m staying caught up until I finish to find out.

The only quibble I have right now is that Jaeger is the only really strong character in the story. There are some almost touching scenes with her friend Mary, but the connection between the characters thins as Jaeger becomes more efficient and dangerous, surviving death and putting herself back together. It’s consistent with the story, but given that Jaeger is an individualist and the narrator, it’s hard to see any other characters as people, they’re kind of just passing through her cold-blooded gaze.

She makes friends with another superpowered human, Malique, who gains her abilities because of the ash from the meteor and volcanic eruptions rather than a zombie bite—because the ash has the same properties as the stuff in the zombies’ infectious blood. Malique is an Albanian version of Jaeger, having had her eyes and mind changed by the exposure—she’s relentlessly efficient also, so it’s hard to connect to her as a character. So while Jaeger’s story-arc is interesting, there isn’t much of an emotional heart to the story once she and Mary are estranged.

Thankfully, after she and Mary find more survivors, Jaeger starts to find a sense of purpose. Mary leaves to join the larger group, but Jaeger makes friends with the more competent and individualistic members. She connects with a preteen named Hope that somehow wakes her protective instincts, and she learns she can teach people to survive. When some people in the small community worry about her infected status, Jaeger sets off to build her own home with Frank, another infected human who cares about his daughter Molly but has become non-verbal.

Molly and Jaeger build a fort in the woods and set up their own territory, and begin to develop a relationship—which is helping to humanize Jaeger. However, there is still plenty of action as infected humans attack and rumours of a military group frighten the community. The story is ongoing—shifting from the first catastrophic phase to surviving the volcanic winter that follows.

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