Abaddon, 400 pages
Review by S-J McGeachy
When a book’s prologue consists of quotations from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Eric Morecombe you hope for a healthy combination of grim despair and hearty chuckles. Thankfully, Nate Crowley delivers both in spades.
Schneider Wrack regains consciousness and slowly becomes aware that he is dead. His corpse has been reanimated so he can serve at sea, carrying out the tasks the living would really rather not. Having been executed for political dissension, he now finds himself aboard a megaship factory. His workmates comprise former military personnel, criminals and subversives, all of whom are as dead as he is. Horrified by the injustice of the situation and the society which condones it, Wrack heads up a zombie insurrection. First he must rouse his comrades from their post-death indifference.
This could easily devolve into clumsy political metaphor were it not for the nuances and complexity of Crowley’s writing. In a recent move away from the groaning brain-munchers of Romero movies, M. R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts has set the bench mark for sentient zombie novels. In a very different, but equally effective way The Life and Death of Schneider Wrack also manages to breathe new life into this undead subject matter. The story is broken down into two distinct sections which were originally published as two separate novellas. There are moments where the story is in danger of losing itself in a confused, surrealist soup – particularly in the second section. However, the skill of the writer just about prevents this. Strong characters and meticulous world building anchor the events in their own bizarre logic.
The wonderful use of language is one of this book’s greatest strengths; it is also one of its most understated attributes. The historical and mythological nomenclature walks a clever tightrope between the strange and the familiar. Crowley also engenders a sickening authenticity to the war-weary society and the effects of systemic conflict. To escape the increasing horror, Wrack loses himself in the beloved travel journals of his childhood. The tone of these encyclopaedic entries lies somewhere between Moby Dick and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
In the latter part of the story primary focus switches from Wrack to Mouana – a fellow zombie rebel. Her military past comes back to her in flashes of brutality and regret. Now is her chance to complete the unfinished business she has with the barbaric General Dust. The relationship between the two female soldiers, Mouana and Dust, is deeply refreshing mainly because their gender is not an issue in this world. They are simply well-drawn characters displaying a range of human and inhuman reactions.
There are many other supporting characters who add texture and colour to the narrative. Most notably The Bruiser, whose stilted journey back to self-awareness confines his speech to a single profanity. His attempts at finding subtlety in this one phrase provide some genuinely funny moments. Although, some readers have taken issue with the blurb’s description of the novel as a comedy, Crowley’s wit is always present to cut through the bleakness of the circumstances.
Arguably there are unresolved plot points, but this left me craving a sequel, so perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. In the postscript Daniel Baker touches on some interesting possibilities surrounding narrative creation on social media and it feels as though there maybe untapped potential here. This book is not going to float everybody’s zombie-crewed boat, but if you’re willing to resign yourself to the sheer weirdness of the ride, then there is much to enjoy.