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To Wake The Dead Paperback – April 4, 2006
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About the Author
The author is a research-trained laboratory scientist, and also has ample experience in telling good stories. He has always liked a good tale, and has decided to tell one of his own in his book. Just because he lives in the Midwest doesn?t mean it?s all flatlands and boring scenery; much can happen in the fields of a fertile imagination, and you?re invited to share.
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If I could suggest something to the author, it would be to work another couple of years on this book and make it the great novel it should've been.
The second part of the novel jumps forward several years, and includes harrowing imaginings of how the Talent might be used for altruistic- and later, more sinister- purposes. This is where Dr. Woeste tangles with ethical questions through the detached lens of his narrator. Ed Harris (later his last name changes in a minor editorial slip) is a departure from standard science fiction heroes. He's a creature of routine, rationally minded and a little bit misanthropic. He does his job, worries about the state of the world, and keeps to himself. Although Ed might not be to everyone's taste, I enjoyed reading the story through his eyes, because it allowed me to layer my own thoughts and feelings onto the situation- Ed became a camera recording events for me which I was then able to interpret as I saw fit.
In the end, I thought To Wake the Dead missed out a bit on some of its initial promise, leaving some of the juicy ethical questions hanging, but I still enjoyed where it led. Steven Woeste has told an engaging and creepy story. I can't help thinking that with some editorial assistance, it would have been even stronger- but I found it very enjoyable. I know Dr. Woeste personally, and he is a fascinating person, with a bone-dry sense of humor and a taste for good horror. I think he's a worthy new voice in the genre, and I hope he's picked up for wider distribution and gets the chance to further hone his storytelling talents. Well done!
The main character tells the story in first person, relating his experiences from the initial discovery of those who have the talent to raise the dead through the development of a government sanctioned organization that takes full advantage of this capability, with him as a Senior Agent who has the talent himself as the story progresses. The main character is certainly not someone you share any empathy with. He is cold and callous, wrapped up in his own world and lacks any desire to bring others into it at any time. His lack of awareness of things not important to him can be exasperating, but gives us a clear and concise focus in the book and we spend no time worrying about what will become of him or how he will grow or develop as an individual.
What this book dives into is the concept of government authorized Necromancy. While it does not delve into utilizing the freshly risen corpses for the purpose of espionage or other discrete actions (it is insinuated that there are more nefarious uses for them though) it does explore full public awareness of the use of the dead for criminal investigations, amongst other things. Most of the undead are kept blissfully unaware of their current state. The idea is that if they know they are actually dead they would be less responsive, rebellious, or violent. While this is mostly the case during the book, a few select undead do realize that they have been summoned back from the afterlife and all of them seem resentful, though somewhat docile unless provoked or instructed to do otherwise. Not all aspects of what they are capable of are explored here though.
The general public is almost uniformly opposed to resurrection and the undead appear to be in some agreement with them on this point. That is if they in fact realize they are actually dead and have not been otherwise convinced that they survived whatever catastrophe befell them. Elements of Big Brother totally dominate both those who have the talent to raise the dead and the reanimated dead themselves. This made me ponder who was better off of the two. You have very little choice but to use the ability if you have it as the government rounds you up and forces you to commit to that focus for the rest of your life. It appeared that while the undead can rebel, they have very limited autonomy in their actions and are put back "down" once their use has expired. There is some demonstration of irony though: with all the opposition to raising the dead, some who oppose The Institute and government are still willing to use the dead themselves in their rebellion.
I feel that while there was a distinct lack of likeable characters here, including the main character; that was perhaps the intention of the author. A government that appears to be on the brink of revolution and our main character is just a cog in their machine that the public despises. Even when he rebels and tries to escape, I could share no sympathy with his plight. Captured or allowed to flee, I could feel no emotion for him.
While some of the plot points were not totally fleshed out to my liking (an example: why was there a government parade with several undead in it, when it was well known that showing them in public would undoubtedly cause a riot?). But this novel does pose some intriguing points about what humanity is willing to do and willing to accept in life. Very little examination of the afterlife takes place here and I am not sure that the author wanted to go there anyway. It may have served as too much of a distraction from his main storyline or perhaps taken it in a completely different direction.
Overall I found the book a quick and efficient read. I am a fan of creatively diverging from the traditional and this story certainly did. Instead of being overcome by the undead, man finds a way to use them as a tool. Should the dead have rights too? Should they be treated with any less dignity than the rest of us? Those same questions are posed in our every day life with different cultural groups. What are we as a society expected to do and should our government be allowed to exert control over or limit the rights of certain people? As with all Science Fiction and Fantasy, big questions can be asked by using alternative realms, creations, and scenarios that still apply to us in the here and now. I believe the author has good vision, but my hope is that his writing mechanics continue to improve in future stories. I think he posed several interesting questions but did not make me feel invested in any of the characters. I feel that he did a good job with the concept and it was worth my time to have read the book.
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At the end of each chapter, I wanted to know what would happen in the next...Read more