Customer Reviews: Plague of the Dead: The Morningstar Strain (Z.A. Recht's Morningstar Strain)
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If the Z in Z.A. Recht doesn't stand for Zombie, it ought to because the man has given the world a great zombie novel in Plague of the Dead (actually, I think the Z stands for Zach, but maybe he can go about getting that changed). Usually, when I start reviewing a zombie novel or movie, I start by pointing out that this horror fan has never been a huge fan of zombies, but I'm not going to do that this time around. Thanks to the one-two punch of David Wellington and now Z.A. Recht, I now consider myself a true fan of the zombie genre. Today's new crop of post-apocalyptic horror writers have created something far more interesting than a braindead, animated corpse wandering the countryside looking for revenge on behalf of some voodoo queen.

Out of the remote regions of Africa it arose, a virus that made Ebola look like a case of the sniffles. The Morningstar Strain, as it was dubbed, doesn't just kill you (and thus itself); it reanimates your sorry ass and sends you out looking for sustenance in the form of human flesh. Yep, you can't blame any black ops government operation for the epidemic that threatens to exterminate human life on this planet this time around. This virus is completely natural - and beyond deadly. Lt. Colonel Anna Demilio of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID) actually goes out of her way to warn the powers that be of the threat early on, but the bureaucracy as well as international opposition doesn't even allow for any travel restrictions to be put in place until it's far too late. By the time U.S. leaders realize the extent of the threat, carriers escaping the troubled regions have transported the virus to various places all over the world. America sends in troops to try and cut Africa off from the Middle East and all regions beyond, while the leaders back home rely on wishful thinking alone to keep America's shores safe of the threat. An official policy of denial actually hamstrings Demilio in whatever futile efforts she might have made in terms of working toward a vaccine - and lands herself and a brave, plucky reporter named Julie Ortiz some quality time in one of the NSA's least hospitable accommodations. The country and entire world is going to hell, but the government is consumed with punishing those who release the already obvious truth as traitors to their country.

Military attempts to cut the virus off on the African continent come to a head at the Suez Canal, but the forces under the command of Major General Francis Sherman are overtaken in the end by an endless horde of zombies. The veritable army of the undead comes in two flavors. While the shamblers are slowed down by the effects of rigor mortis and various decay, runners (those who succumbed to the virus before death) will freakin' run you down and can only be stopped by a shot to the head (or a skull-bashing whammy, but you really don't won't to be close enough to one of them to have to resort to hand-to-hand combat). Take these guys out in droves, and more of them just keep coming, climbing over the remains of the fallen. After a harrowing coastal evacuation, the ranks of survivor soldiers and refugees easily fit on one naval destroyer. Those numbers fall further thanks to an outbreak of Morningstar on board the ship. With limited men, food, and weapons, and no communication with any other military forces, Sherman and his men have to come up with their own plan once they reach the waters off the American West Coast. They soon get undeniable proof that even the rural sections of the country have not been spared in the least by the doomsday virus. The only seeming hope for humanity lies in the efforts of Sherman and his ragtag army of soldiers and civilians to eventually link up with Dr. Anna Demilio.

Plague of the Dead features just about all the zombie action you could want, taking you from the armed African offensives leading up to the battle at the Suez Canal to a number of dangerous and thrilling scenes of urban warfare inside America's hinterland. The fighting is, more often than not, intense and bloody, which is just the way I like it. Many a good character is lost along the way, some heroically and others quite ignominiously, but those who survive grow into really strong characters you really root for - and that, plus the promise of more bloody good zombie action to come, leaves you primed and ready for the forthcoming books in Z.A. Recht's zombie trilogy.
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on January 25, 2007
The End of the World has begun. It is called Morning Star. A virus of unknown origin and is unlike anything the world has ever seen. Those who are infected are subject to favor, chills, and very violent behavior. As the virus further takes hold those who are infected become incoherent and insanely violent. Their only will in life is to destroy any human that isn't a carrier of the virus. Those who are infected will eventually die but the virus isn't done. It reanimates the carrier who then rises and walks the earth seeking warm human flesh. Destruction of the Brain is the only way to bring the carrier down for good.

Anna DeMilio of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases has studied the virus. She knows it has the power to destroy mankind, and she is trying to warn the world. She knows that if it isn't quarantined to Africa the whole world will soon be overrun. Her warnings aren't heeded in time, and after a military operation in North Africa fails to contain the virus soon the entire world finds itself in the middle of a massive pandemic that cant be stopped. All the major nations of the world start falling into chaos. The carriers are roaming the streets of all the major cities, and there is nothing that can be done to stop it. Anna with the help of a reporter and a rogue NSA agent escapes a burning Washington DC in hopes of meeting up with a rag tag military unit. She hopes to find a safe place to continue her research. She is on a mission to find a cure before all is lost. America is in chaos now and they all know that the journey ahead will be pure Hell.

I have said it time and time before, but I will say it one more time. I am a sucker for a good zombie story. I have also come to expect nothing but the best from Permuted Press releases. They publish the best Zombie Fiction, so when I got my copy of Plague of the Dead I was expecting nothing but the best, and Surprise Surprise I was blown away once again. Plague take off early and the action doesn't stop till the last page. I started and finished it in two days. It has some of the best action scenes you will find in a Zombie Story. The Suez Canal fight scene had me literally on the edge of my seat. I didn't want it to end. Mr. Recht has written one hell of a story and I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that Plague is only the first installment of this story. He is going to make a trilogy out of this story and I cant wait for the next installment. I am salivating for it now.

I Highly recommend Plague of the Dead to all Zombie Fiction Lovers. Plague is 28 Days Later meets Dawn of the Dead. It has something for everyone. Go grab yourself a copy and I can promise you that you wont be sorry.
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on July 8, 2007
One of Recht novel's biggest merits is to bring the light back onto this old -though fascinating- Zombie theme. Looks like it is the latest trend in horror books, given the number of new publications on the subject as of late...

Anyway, I have enjoyed the "international" coverage of the theme: for once, the action is not strictly limited to the US and not solely focused on US internal affairs -as opposed to global ones. Recht's novel covers the whole world, and the author seems to have been willing to involve a fair panel of foreigners as part of the group of heroes, with characters of such diverse backgrounds as Japanese, Arabic, Black African. Good and realistic stuff, as a viral epidemics of the nature of what Recht identifies would in no way be contained to a single nation in the world.

Beyond these comments, I have been a little taken aback by a number of flaws in the novel architecture and hypothesis used in it. For one, there is no clear definition of the number of soldiers that participate to the Suez conflict. One would only hypothesize that such a threat would be dealt with dozens, if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers, from various countries and not only from the US, not by a limited-scale force as featured in Recht's book.

Also, there is a lack of overall cohesion in how the US military behaves: after the Suez debacle, it looks as if the General is simply cut loose from his own commanders. He does not try hard -as he would be supposed to do in real life- to reestablish the connection with his "back-office" supervisors to get their instructions on how to further conduct the war against the enemy. It is as if the head of the US army, back on the East Coast, had completely vanished. With the Suez front being of such a key importance to the overall conflict, how come the US President does not manage to establish and maintain contact with Sherman through either his remaining brass staff, or DIRECTLY in the worse case? The repetition of major flaws in the army's chain of commands' functioning put me slightly off and, from then on, I could no longer read without looking at the overall cohesion of the book. Also, what about the use of non-conventional WMD by the US and their allies, especially out there in the desert? That's probably one of the first things mankind would be doing in such a real-life situation, the risk of collateral damage being of such a limited nature and scope... Plus, look at this righteous target: a bunch of dumb-minded carriers, amassed in a crowd, moving in almost a straight line along a clearly outlined road! Just reroute a few Guam-based B1B's, B2's or even B52's, located a mere few hours flight time away from this theater of operations, have them drop their 40 tons of ordnance right on the target, and the threat would have been quickly and cost-efficiently taken care of...

I believe that, as the book is most certainly going to be followed by a sequel, the entire work of Recht should be monitored and assessed once all his books on this saga are made available.

Now, as it is always easier to criticize than to do the job, I have to stress a few more merits of the book, which in my mind reflects a finely balanced view of the human society overall:
- The idea of runners Vs shamblers zombies is top notch. It is a good means for merging the two concepts of traditional zombie movies/books: some feature slow-moving zombies (Romero's saga), others sport fast runners (28 days after). The expanation between the two is also good.
- It is simultaneously critical of the military, and still shows some respect to the soldiers.
- It does not get dragged into stereotypical situations and behavior descriptions: women act credibly and in their usual subtle ways (they are not just described as men wearing skirts!!), soldiers are not born-heroes.
- The General is not superhuman: he, too, makes long reaching mistakes in his decision-making process.

This is just like real life is supposed to be: not black-and-white, but a constant mix of grays.
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on January 7, 2007
I have been waiting for this book for a while now, and was overjoyed to receive it for X-mas. Recht is responsible for a new, doubly-terifying wrinkle in zombie fiction. I've often heard it debated whether the new fast zombies or the classic shambling ones are scarier. Morningstar gives us both! The first stage of infection has the morningstar virus acting like ebola or other fluid-borne bugs, and can be transmitted through various fluid exchanges (ew). The second stage fills the infected with rage and a ravenous apetite for violence, not to mention a veloceraptoresque pack hunting skill. If they die in this stage by any means other than destruction of the Cental Nervous System, they reanimate as classic undead zombies in the virus' thrid stage, at which point they can only be killed by destruction of the CNS.

You see what I mean? Nasty things!

Not only has Recht created what could be the most awful zombies yet, he provides us with engaging characters with largely realistic interactions (few characters are "flat" or anonymous without purpose).

Another thing that makes this book ineresting is that it, like Brooks' World War Z, is set on a global stage, spanning an ocean and two continents.

Go for it. If you like well-executed zombie stories, you'll devour this book.
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The MorningStar Virus - a not-So-Friendly strain that has been likened to the next "Eboli" has spread across Africa like an epidemic and shows no signs of slowing. First there were the random reports, then the confirmations of the attacks, and then the footage of people trying to make it to floating salvation only to find themselves eaten alive by "packs" of ravenous carriers on national TV. Making it worse is the hushed tones of the government and their attitude toward the virus, thinking it will never make off a continent placed on lockdown. Seemingly containable at first, the MorningStar Virus nonetheless has a fast incubation rate, rendering its victims raging beasts that seem to press on with insatiable appetites, and it doesn't seem to understand the extent of juristic ional boundaries. Even worse, when a carrier dies they don't stay dead for long.

I have to admit that I've been reluctant to by zombie books as of late. Often they follow a predictable format and, worse still, they end up with predictable endings. Still, in this market flooded with books on the dead coming back to life, Z.A. Recht has more than taken the subject and run with it by adding a little something extra. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you p-l-o-t. Yes, by adding in realistic elements and fundamental questions about the problem, Recht went passed the problems of older books and instilled a genuine feeling of panic in the characters abounding in the book. The writing in the book is done with a great deal of talent, too, and the pace of the book is fantastic and allows the reader to keep a brisk pace while tracking the virus and the efforts to contain it.
By drawing the battlelines this book really does hit on the elements you need to make a complete novel about the undying - it touches on the human element, it mingles some ideology into the fray, and it adds in the ghastly for effect. This gives the book something that newer successes have had; zombie stories with actual teeth.

If you are a fan of zombie books or are a person that is trying to find a new way to look at the zombie question, this book is a good place to play. It has all the elements you need for a great tale, it showcases the overconfidence that humanity has, and it has some of the most adorable flesh-eating cast of characters you'd ever want wrapping their gums around you.
I highly recommend the book, thinking it is a step in the right direction.
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on December 19, 2006
I previewed some of the material of this book online, and couldn't wait for it to come out in book form. Thanks God I wasn't dissapointed. The combination of medical thriller with the zombie word is a winning formula in the hands of Z.A. Recht. Great charaters, fast moving story, great book even if not a zombie fiction fan. For those of us who are, this book is some of the best work in this area. Z.A. Recht and J.L. Bourne (Day by Day Armageddon) are two new writers who's careers I'll be following in the future.
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VINE VOICEon February 18, 2007
I am more interested in character development than I am in raw visceral appeal that is related to the horror in horror novels. Give me some folks to root for and I will read with baited breath every last bit of their stories. Sad when they died, thrilled when they live. Don't get me wrong, the raw fear and emotions, the violence and excitement of a zombie tale are what makes them appealing. It is just that without the first element listed above, the story is nothing more than just a gory bloodbath that has little to no meaning to it. This story has a good handle on both areas fortunately and keeps you entertained at every turn.

Z.A. Recht has spun a tale worth reading for both zombie enthusiasts and those who enjoy thrillers in general. Two seperate stories are told here, one of the military troops stationed in Africa and the Middle-East attempting to contain a new strain of virus which has infected millions. The other part of the story is of a government doctor working desperately to try and understand the virus and hopefully find a cure for it. Morningstar is not your simple zombie virus; the dead do walk, for certain, but the living who are infected are also a menace. The virus and its impact is well thought out, plausible, and quite interesting.

Our two main characters, Lt. Colonel Anna Demillio of the US Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and General Frank Sherman who is initially stationed in Africa, begin this story swapping emails about the virus and its spread. We return to their correspondence in the early stages of the book to further develop the tale but much of the book is of their actual experiences. General Sherman must face off against the plague with his troops on land and later at sea, trying desperately to get back home to the U.S. Anna is fighting her own battles with the government as well as the virus in a laboratory environment. The virus is spreading globally but the government wants to keep the public unaware that it has reached our shores or that any of them are in danger.

Both sides of the tale are intriguing and have some good, solid action sequences. Mr. Recht did an excellent job of researching viruses-how they spread, past history with them, etc. He also has a solid understanding of the military and the hardware they use. Even more importantly, he gives us compelling characters in a well written story. This is an excellent first chapter in what I believe will be a trilogy of books on the Morning Star Virus.

This book goes on my list as a "must read" for enthusiasts of Zombie fiction. There are plenty of zombie books out there, ranging from some really bad fan fiction to top quality stuff that matches up with any other horror writing. This is one of those top notch ones that I heartily recommend.
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on January 12, 2007
This combination Hot-Zone/End Of The World/Zombie Thriller sinks it's teeth in to your throat in the first few pages and doesn't let go. Following the interwoven stories of a military doctor trying to cure the epdemic know as the Morning Star Strain and a General who are trying to prevent the it from become a worldwide pandemic, this well paced, well written novel is hard to put down.

As a fan of the Zombie genre, I can say without a doubt this is one of the best Zombie novels I have ever read.

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on February 14, 2007
I'm not sure what reviewer "dooker 'erf'" is talking about (especially throwing out just a single star - angry person?). The writing is solid and well thought out. It's a Zombie book, and anyone expecting more than just a story about the walking dead and survival will be disspointed. It's not classical writing, but it is very fun! It's a good story that I'm sure will be continued, and personally, I'm looking forward to the next one!
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on May 18, 2007
This Book has provided great characters and the storyline is excellent.Francis Sherman reminds me of Ben Raines of William Johnston "Out of the Ashes" and the struggle to survive is realistic with the sudden loss of known people.The character of N.S.A. agent Mason had me thinking of the actor,who played Fox Mulder on X-Files,as the renegade trying to redeem himself and help the one scientist to find a cure for the disease.The Book gives us a ground zero for the disease to spread over the world and is a great prequel to "World War Z".
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