Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Ex Libris: John Hornor Jacobs' This Dark Earth

As most apocalypses go, the zombie apocalypse isn't rocket science. Yes, a little science makes it run a long way but the fact is, most zombie fiction involves the rising of the dead, everyday people turning into survivalists, lots of blood and munching (nomnomonom braaainzzz), etc.-- but that's basically it.

George Romero's Night of the Living Dead shaped the modern-day zombie template while Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (i.e. from slow to fast zombies) made some changes. But the zombie story has been generally set for some time now. 

Fortunately, some writers have been trying to shake things up the zombie story they want to write. Unfortunately, John Hornor Jacobs' This Dark Earth isn't one of them. In Jacobs' defense, he admits in his afterword that he came up with this book a little before the spate of current zombie fiction that moved this little subgenre from the indie/self-published horror vein to the mainstream bookshelves.

That's where rocket science comes in: Jacobs has come up with a well-written basic zombie apocalypse peopled with interesting characters. It doesn't really break the mold but at least he makes it an interesting tale to begin with. 

This is the only thing that makes you keep reading Jacobs' story. Otherwise, you'd see that This Dark Earth  suffers from a lack of direction and focus: it's too heart-felt to be a gore-fest, too scattered to be a character study, pulls its punches to be epic, but speaks too much about the supposed nature of humans to be mindless drivel.

This Dark Earth starts with Lucy and Knock-out's tale of surviving the zombie virus break-out and the resulting nuclear attack that shuts down most of the technology, to their set-up of Bridge City and the building of a post-zombie civilization, to the travails of Lucy's prodigy son Gus who tries to lead an attack on a slaver's camp, and the supposedly climactic battle. But honestly, where is this story really going?

If there's one thing that'll keep you reading This Dark Earth, it's Jacobs' versatile writing style, maneuvering the story from Lucy's 3rd-person perspectives to the first person viewpoint of Knock-out and Gus, to even a minor character of the engineer Broadsword.

So yes, you'll wonder where Jacobs is taking This Dark Earth-- but at least you'll stick around because he's a deft storyteller with an exciting story to tell.

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