I don’t get to review books that often, mostly because I don’t have as much time to read them as I’d like, but recently, I sat down and read I, Zombie by Hugh Howie. It’s a story about a bunch of individual zombies following some undefined apocalypse in New York City. What’s different about these zombies is that they retail their memories and personalities from before they were turned, they’re just trapped within their minds and can neither communicate nor control their bodies, they’re just along for the ride, horrified as anyone else would be at the legion of walking dead.
First, I have to say that this a great concept, the idea that somewhere deep inside of those zombie brains rides the original occupant, often scared, disgusted and suicidal, hating everything that their zombified body is doing, yet powerless to stop it. That’s a perspective that we rarely see in zombie stories, where the undead are usually depicted as a shambling killing machine where the lights are on but nobody is home. I also get a kick out of Howey’s official name for a group of zombies: a shamble. That’s great!
However, for all of the great parts of the book, overall it just doesn’t hang together and, unfortunately, it really makes no attempt to do so. It’s just a series of vignettes, following several individual zombies as they wander the city, eating the unwary and generally falling apart. There isn’t a central plot and there’s no attempt to have one. There is no beginning, no middle and no end. It is just a running internal commentary by the individual zombie we’re currently following. None of the stories collide, none of them experience the same things, and although we’re led to believe that people from the outside world are trying to cure the zombies, except in one sub-story where one zombie is taken aboard a barge and examined, the reset never get to experience that and certainly, no cure is ever found.
Now I know what Howey is trying to do, this is ultimately an homage to 9/11, but there isn’t much within the book at all to lead you to that conclusion. Sure, one zombie thinks about his father that worked at the World Trade Center and he experienced 9/11, but for most, it’s not even an issue. All of the zombies are different. Some are heroic, or at least try to be. Some are downright evil, some are bothered by the carnage, some seem to revel in it. You can’t really say that the zombies are supposed to be a stand-in for any particular group on 9/11, such as the firefighters or the bystanders, it seems like 9/11 was a kernel at the center of the story and then it took off from there.
Artistically, the book is great, but this comes from Hugh Howey so it’s to be expected. Anyone interested in what might be going through a zombie’s rotted brain would love the depictions here. Howey makes the zombies come alive, in a manner of speaking. It’s also a very graphic book so if you’re not interested in scenes of people being dismembered, torn apart and devoured, you might think twice about this.
Overall though, I must say that I’m a bit disappointed. None of the zombies ever meet, there’s no plot, we know nothing about the origin of the zombie plague, we don’t get to see how it ends up, it’s just shambling corpses wandering around New York City eating humans and hating themselves for doing it for 216 pages. I understand why Howey did it, I just wanted more. That’s not a reflection on any of his other books, I love Hugh Howey, I’m a huge fan of his Wool series, I just finished Half Way Home and thought it was great, I highly recommend him to anyone who likes science fiction and even though he tends to write generally dystopian near future, it’s more thoughtful and encouraging than many other authors. Go get his Wool Omnibus right now. Go. I just wish there had been more to this particular book because it’s not really a book, it’s just a series of vignettes that don’t lead to anything greater and that’s a shame.
If you’re into zombie fiction with a really cool twist, this is a great book for you. Just don’t think that it’s going to go anywhere later on in the book like I did. I kept waiting for some grander meaning and greater storyline and it just didn’t happen. The individual stories were engaging and interesting but they didn’t merge into something that I’d call great. Your mileage may vary, of course.
I, Zombie by Hugh Howie
$5.99 (digital version) $11.99 (paperback)