on August 6, 2007
There are many who feel Brian Keene's zombie smash The Rising remains the pinnacle of his artistic achievements as a writer. It was a huge success and was certainly a hard act to follow, as it would have been for any new writer. But while I enjoyed The Rising, my opinion diverges from the majority. Prior to the release of Dead Sea, my personal favorite Keene novel was The Conqueror Worms, which also happened to be his least commercially successful novel. One of the things I admired most about The Conqueror Worms is that it did not feature a standard-issue hero. The elderly narrator of the first and third sections of Worms was a man who fought as best he could within his limitations, and I felt this was a finely drawn character. In Dead Sea, Keene gives us another hero not cut from the usual cloth. The narrator is a gay black male named Lamar Reed. The fact that he is gay and black are treated as facts of his existence and are not present to browbeat the non-progressive segement of the audience. Instead they inform the narrative in subtle and effective ways throughout. Lamar Reed is gay and black, yes, but in the end he is just another man fighting with everything he has to stay alive in a world gone to hell. And Keene's depiction of him is one of his finest moments as an author. I wouldn't say Dead Sea actually eclipses The Conqueror Worms as my favorite Brian Keene novel, but it is a very close thing, a virtual DEADlock. Do yourself a favor and get a copy now. Very highly recommended.
on August 31, 2007
Before I get ripped to shreds by Keene fans like so many slow-moving humans in his books, let me explain:
"The Rising" to me was a very good, but not excellent, installment that breathed new, fetid life into the Zombie genre. I thought that Keene had some great ideas, characters, and set pieces for a very involving story. My only knock is that Keene slowed the pace at times with his vivd description of the undead masses - not that it was bad, but after 200 pages, we know that the zombies are rotting! I felt this was a minor problem, and maybe it was just me, with what was otherwise a very good book.
"City of the Dead". Where do I start with this one? There seemed to be a few problems with this one. The writing was not up to par; It felt like Keene was going for cheap thrills and the story went on a tangent with Ob and the assault by the undead. In and of itself, this was an ok book, but not what I wanted after "The Rising" showed so much promise! Not to mention the similarities w/ "Land of the Dead", which came out around the same time - the last vestiges of humanity holed up in a skyscraper (check), A maniacal madman, owner of said tower, holding sway over his rescued flock (check), the undead gaining some sentience and assaulting the tower (check). I didn't like the movie, and was not a huge fan of Keene's book.
Enter, "Sea of the Dead". Ahhhh. This, my friends, is zombie bliss. Keene presents us with an masterfully crafted, suspenseful, violent, horrific tale of society, and the world around us, crumbling under the power of a virus that infects it's hosts and reanimates them with a taste for flesh and a penchant for timely infections! Superb book, highly recommended to all horror and zombie fans. I'm keeping the description brief with this one because there is too much in the book that can be spoiled with a review; suffice it to say you will not be disappointed in this novel!
on July 25, 2013
Brian Keene is a name that's been thrown at me on numerous occasions, and after delaying the acquisition of his works for far too long, I did a little spending in order to draw my own personal conclusions as to Keene's relevance in today's world of horror fiction. Not only is Keene certainly relevant, he's an author who delivers endearing works courtesy of an extremely relatable writing style. The man gives life to characters like few others, and showcases a sound awareness of current pop culture (there are a few nice nods to some great recent works, including a scene that falls straight out of the amazing 28 Days Later, and a tip of the hat to Robert Kirkman and his genius long running survival comic, The Walking Dead).
Lamar Reed had it all. Okay wait, I'm already lying: Lamar Reed had virtually nothing when a flood of zombies swarmed the mean streets of Baltimore. He'd lost a comfortable job working for a Ford plant, battled those pesky bill collectors and ultimately resorted to criminal conduct just to ensure survival. Of course, none of that mattered once the dead began to rise, hungry for the flesh of man and animal alike. But zombies aren't the only detriment to the health of those still living. The city is on fire, and one lone escape route presents itself: the open sea.
Dead Sea distances itself from your typical zombie fare early thanks to some fine attention to detail. I've probably read a good 25 zombie novels inside the last six months, and one common similarity I seem to stumble across is the fact that animals are rarely affected by the... disease, shall we say. In my mind, this has always been a glaring issue for me. Is it conceivable that this horrendous plague could be isolated to a single species, thus eliminating anything other than humans contracting it? Sure, but it's never seemed a believable plot point for me. I've always felt that if man is plodding through the streets in an undead state, feasting on anything living, then animals should be subjected to the same treatment. It just seems logical (here I go trying to bring logic to a zombie tale) that animals too would eventually become infected. Keene apparently heard my inner rumblings, as he's littered Dead Sea with zombie dogs, rats, horses... you see where I'm going with this.
Another brilliant point Brian brings to light is what I like to call the "splatter factor". Read a dozen tales dealing with the undead and at least ten of them will paint a violent image of the living, hacking, smashing and blasting their way through brainless ghouls, no regard for the plasma that sprays from the rotting beasts. For a fast-paced ultra-violent tale, sure it can work, but really, if the transfer of blood or saliva creates infection, why the hell aren't protagonists infected after zombie blood drenches their face following a vicious corpse kill? Surely a drop or two of that gooey stuff is likely to find its way into the eyes, mouth, or an open cut. Keene confronts this oft-made error immediately, which forces his characters to act with extreme caution. Again, there isn't much of anything "realistic" about a story of this nature, but, hypothetically speaking, were an outbreak to occur, I'd personally be looking to preserve my health at all costs, which means if I could avoid up close and personal executions, I certainly would, and if I couldn't, I'd definitely aim to protect my face from any errant spray. Lamar and his band of survival buddies are wise enough to exercise the proper caution, and that goes a long way in creating different and unique obstacles for Dead Sea's survivors.
While these seemingly minor details serve as major bonuses for me personally, I think the unique character outlines and sound development are what truly won me over (I can't lie though, you had me at hello, Brian). How often is a horror story's hero a homosexual black man? I'm not sure I've ever encountered such a bold maneuver, on paper or film. Yet that's the exact description Lamar fills out, and not only does it work, it aligns some additional extraordinary challenges for the novels leading man, outside of his battle with the undead. But for as unorthodox as Lamar may be, there are some more stereotypical characters introduced that still manage to really shine, in some cases just as much as Lamar himself. Mitch - the novel's "warrior" - is a terrific personality: kind and considerate, yet boldly violent when required to be so. Malik and Tasha, two children left to fend for themselves after having lost their parents bring spunky attitudes and an internal strength to the story that certainly merits mention, and somehow instills a quiet sense of hope to the story, after all, if there are children alive here, there may be others, somewhere, therefore there stands a chance for procreation somewhere down the line.
As is my normal custom, I've omitted all crucial details of this story. You may say to yourself "it's a zombie story, I've seen, read and heard them all", but in this case, there are some new angles to juggle, and I won't be the one to spoil them for you. What I will say is this: the sea is unforgiving, and there's no guaranteed safety in the swells of the North Atlantic. Not even for the "hero" or the "warrior". On the dead sea, all bets are off.
Written by Matt Molgaard for Horror Novel Reviews. Horror Novel Reviews does not receive payment for reviews. All books are promotional copies.
on September 28, 2012
This is the third Brian Keene novel I have read. It will be the last. Dude work on your endings!
In all three books the endings are very weak. There is a "hero", everyone struggles, and all of the characters die vicously in the end. This is not really a spoiler because all of the books end this way.
The journey in the books is pretty fun, but everyone dies in everybook in very simple ways.
on July 20, 2007
DEAD SEA takes the idea of animals becoming zombies (that the author introduced in his first zombie novel THE RISING) and basically goes berserk with it. A bunch of survivors take to the sea in an old ship that has been turned into a floating museum. Figuring they've escaped the human undead, the soon discover the virus (known here as "Hamelin's Revenge) has spread from rats to humans . . . and now to sea life.
No one writes zombie stories like Keene, and the nods to JAWS and MOBY DICK are fine touches in what may be one of his most satisfying novels to date. You'll love this one.
on July 31, 2011
Brian Keene once again delivers a nonstop zombie thrill ride, with Dead Sea. The story begins with humans turned zombies, and then animals getting into the mix as well (zombie horse anyone?!). Then a group of survivors takes to the seas on a historic shipping vessel in the hopes of getting away from the catastrophic mayhem on land. Can they truly escape Hamelins Revenge (the name for this disease of zombiedom) or will it follow them to the ends of the Earth, no matter what? What will these survivors do to survive on the high seas? An awesome zombie novel from Keene, will keep you page turning in the wee hours of the morning, leaving you wanting more and more zombies.
I cannot be the only one who looks at the cover art to Brian's books and says "I could have done a better job than that!"
Okay, onto the review. I have read Keene's books for years now, my favorite being the "The Rising" I am an enthusiast of anything zombie, even though technically in that book and its sequels, they were demons in human clothing. I enjoyed "city of the dead" and "the conqueror worms" but longed for the good old fashioned shuffling smelly zombies I know and love. "The Dead Sea" gives me those back, thank ob, no more demon possessed but plenty of carnage for everyone. The zombies are animated by "Hamelins Revenge" a nod to the Pied Piper story because it starts out with Rats, but unlike the black plague the rats aren't spreading something you will catch and be buried with, you will turn into a rotting, reeking, mess. Here our story is told by Lamar, a gay black man who finds two black children and wrestles with the whole "Hero" stigma. They all eventually end up on a retired Navy Vessel along with 20 or so survivors. Hamelins revenge jumps species and our little group must contend with the main question "when will it jump again" and when it does "how much longer can we survive" As usual in Keene's books, his descriptions make my gorge rise the man can describe how rot smells like no other! He likes the Ooey Gooey, and isn't afraid to show it! I liked the book, didn't love it, but it was entertaining and gave me a zombie snack to chew on till I can find another book.
on September 21, 2007
I read Dead Sea right after The Rising. I must say the intrinsic qualities of Dead Sea were so much higher that it almost felt like Dead Sea had been written by another author who seems to have gained in maturity, exploring darker sides of the mankind's psychology. The focus is no longer so much on raw physical violence and gore than on the intimate distress of "everyday life people".
Dead Sea is the story of a group of people, among whom some characters are quite peculiar and very far from the mainstream -which makes the plot even more interesting- who happen to "tumble" onto one another in the aftermath of a behemoth city fire, fleeing the danger while simultaneously trying to evade the plague of the living deads. They make it to the sea, where they embark on a ship. The story takes us onboard too and have us share the life and struggle of the survivors.
What is so remarkable in this book is the quality of the description of the characters' personalities and their trains of thoughts. Unlike what he did in his previous books, the author apparently decided to give a much stronger focus onto the lives and doubts and wishes and, overall, what makes people's characters so subtle and fragile at the same time. With all of their flaws and weaknesses, these survivors really are attaching and credible people, and one can't help but empathize with the core group of unfortunate chaps. Thanks largely to the quality of their description by the author, those people are just like us, far from perfect. That makes the story all the more interesting as the reader can relate to them easily.
Also, death is everywhere, and credible too, as it strikes people in the very random way we are accustomed to in real life. Death spares no one: women and men, heroes and villains, kids and elders, blacks and whites, the poor and the rich... Everybody is equal in front of death. Another balanced and credible view of the world which makes the book so interesting.
There is also a strong, underlying, Romero-like criticism of many of the values that we, as a society, have established as supreme in our daily life. Religion, materialism, the military, politics, media, the police etc. do not provide any efficient material, or psychological, or ethical help in fighting a plague that is of such a magnitude. Question is: when everything falls apart around you at once, what makes you fight? Basically, the book is really about the ultimate, desperate, irreversible end of the world as we know it and how people could react in the turmoil. The evil disease is global, cureless, merciless, transmissible from species to species, mutating and adaptive. A real nightmare. Boy, I would hate to find myself living in such a world...
But the author also makes us question: what use is mankind's intimate self-preservation reflex when there is absolutely no more hope around? What makes us hope? What is hope? I have personally loved the fact that the book had me think about these things.
The icing on the cake is probably the excellent book ending, which leaves room to the reader for some personal interpretation. Depending on your mind, mood or personality, you may be drawn to see the light at the end of the tunnel or, on the contrary, find yourself in a bottomless pit, with absolutely no hope in sight.
A very good book indeed.
Brian Keene's zombie novels have sold fairly well, and have a huge fan following. This newest outing is a love letter from Keene to his zombie-loving fans and also not coincidentally a way for the author to make some more money by giving the fanboys what they want. But is it any good? Read on...
*** Ahoy, Spoilers Below Deck! ***
Keene's newest zombie novel is probably his best one yet, but still formulaic and predictable for those who read his earlier books. The zombie plague here is an organic one, not based on demonic possession as in Keene's two earlier zombie books - in other words "Dead Sea" is a separate universe from Keene's other zombie apocalypse books. This one is pretty much similar though, with the added hazard of the plague being communicated through bodily fluids. The (limited) good news for our human cast though is that the zombies can't use guns, cars, and artillery this time around.
Our lead is Lamar, a gay unemployed black man with a history of petty crime. To his surprise, Lamar becomes a heroic figure by saving the life of two kids during his escape from the collapsing Baltimore, and he and the kids soon join a cast of about twenty survivors on a Coast Guard cruiser that is searching for refuge along the Atlantic Seaboard.
If you've read Keene before, you know that the search is a pretty futile one, and if you've ever seen or read any horror media before, you know most of the generic cast of survivors is going to be down and out for the count pretty quickly. Along the way there is plenty of head shots and gut munching and various zombified critters like fish, cows, and birds, also a Keene specialty.
The difference here is that the nautical setting helps keep Keene focused. Instead of his misguided attempts to portray an epic cast and setting in his two previous zombie books, the small cast and tight narrative centered on a few characters makes this story work a lot better than his earlier books. Plus Keene has done a lot of research on the oceanic setting and ships, so his facts ring a lot more convincingly this time. The tight focus helps keep the plot moving and adds more suspense than usual to the adventures of the protagonists.
The absence of Ob the demonic windbag helps this book immensely and the more limited zombie opponents keeps things more sporting than Keene's alternate zombie world interpretations. The action sequences are more precisely and carefully written, and many of the characters have more depth and ability to engage the reader this time around. Lamar in particular is an excellent and unusual protagonist with an honest to goodness "character arc".
What's not to like? Keene evidently has gotten into Jung / Campbell archetypology and wants to share this mildly interesting philosophical system with the reader. Far too many pages are taken up by talking head "NPC" type fellow survivors who live just long enough to impart their collegiate style syllabi on the issue of heroic figures in myth and psychology before getting munched by the walking dead.
This is not uninteresting material, but it is a tad out of place in a horror novel and it takes up too much space. Eventually most of the cast is massacred "off-screen" and this most unsporting twist appears to be necessitated by all the excess time Keene has spent telling us about the eternal spirit of the hero. A different and welcome change in pace from his earlier work and I like to see ideas discussed in horror, but maybe not at this length and maybe not in such jarring scenes of artificial and tedious exposition that catapult the reader out of the plot so suddenly.
Other issues: as usual, Keene just keeps ratcheting up the bleakness until by the end of the book, his surviving characters are doomed and hopeless. I guess a pleasant Pollyanna sort of ending would be too discordant, but a little bit of hope or even ambiguity would be welcome. Starving survivors on a deserted oil rig surrounded by a world of zombie fish and fowls is both a bad ending to their specific story and also very derivative of Keene's earlier novels.
Finally, on the narrative level, a key plot point, Professor Fisherman's infection by the zombie fish, seems a bit of malus ex machina, as the inter-species jump capability of the disease is well known to all the survivors, and the behavior of the zombie fish is so patently odd that no one figuring out the risk of infection to the professor seems quite unlikely. The resulting massacre conveniently speeds up the plot a bit and gets rid of all the remaining generic "zombie fodder" characters. Sort of a clumsy way to handle the matter, but not a big deal.
All in all, this novel is the best of Keene's zombie novels. It is more than a bit similar to his other zombie (or worm) apocalypse books, and even if you are a Keene fan, unless you're also rabidly committed to reading the same book over and over again, you may find this a bit superfluous. If you have not read Keene so far, this is a good start. I personally am encouraged to see Keene developing better plot control and characterization style, and I look forward to seeing what he does in the future.
I do hope he eventually just stops writing these zombie books though - he is capable of a lot more, and the amount of innovation an author can wring out of the same old setting and plot, particularly this one, is pretty much a classic example of diminishing returns. David Wellington's zombie books, as uneven as they are, at least show some example of new zombie world concepts. Keene's sparks of authorial innovation seem to be most evident in his non-zombie work so I would like to see him move more in that direction.
on April 16, 2012
Ok, I admit it, I love Brian Keene's stuff. It's been awhile since I read one of his, but I'm slowly working through his body of work. I think the last thing I read was Ghoul, which was very good. This one has Keene back in the zombie apocalypse genre once again, albeit with the more standard, dumb, slow-moving zombies that you usually see in the movies and so on. This time Keene makes his mark by making changes in other ways - a protagonist that is definitely not run of the mill, and a zombie "infection" that is anything but typical in who/what it targets. As always I love Keene's language, and the pace at which his plot moves. This is a short, quick and easy read that is a blast for those that loved his previous zombie books, The Rising [RISING] [Mass Market Paperback] and City of the Dead [CITY OF THE DEAD] [Mass Market Paperback], but takes a different turn than those did. The action is tense until it ends up at the ultimate conclusion of the book. Great stuff! Can't wait to read another one!