David Wellington,
Monster Island
(Thunder's Mouth, 2006)

Amazingly enough, something good has finally come out of the UN. Well, sort of, anyway. I'm talking about Monster Island, a whale of a good zombie novel written by David Wellington, an archivist at the UN.

I should admit that, while I strive to be an epicure in the macabre, I've never been a big fan of zombies. They're ugly, they stink (luckily, this is not a scratch-n-sniff book), they never even eat brains anymore and -- most importantly -- they are just incredibly stupid, mindless creatures. Obviously, I'm not naturally inclined to be impressed by any zombie novel that just happens to come my way. I am impressed with Monster Island, though, largely because of the science and imagination Wellington applies to create something more than your average zombie.

Life as we know it is no more -- not since the Epidemic killed the vast majority of life on the planet, then brought it back in the form of the walking dead. Things are so bad that Somalia is one of the few refuges remaining for living human beings in the world. It is there that former UN weapons inspector Dekalb seeks safety with his daughter Sarah -- and, in exchange for that safety, agrees to accompany members of the Glorious Girl Army of the Free Woman's Republic of Somaliland (teenaged girl soldiers) to New York in search of the AIDS-related drugs Mama Halima and her people need in order to stay on the living side of existence. That is what brings him to New York City (there are plenty of drugs in the UN Headquarters), which, with its teeming zombie minions, has definitely earned the name Monster Island.

Not all zombies are created equal, as a fellow named Gary proves. All alone now, Gary knows that he cannot avoid becoming yet another zombie in New York City. He has a plan, though, based on his theory that the cut-off of oxygen to the brain in the minutes between death and reanimation is what make zombies totally brain-dead. Putting his medical training and some borrowed medical equipment to good use, he kills himself in such a way that the flow of oxygen to his brain is uninterrupted. So, even though he does become a zombie, he's a speaking, thinking zombie. Not only that, he soon acquires the ability to compel all the mindless zombies around him to do his bidding.

With Dekalb fighting to keep himself, his team of soldiers and a small society of New York humans alive on an island roiling with tens if not hundreds of thousands of zombies and a veritable zombie king whose power seems to grow by the minute, Monster Island does not want for action and a healthy degree of gore. There's just no way to kill a zombie that doesn't leave behind a mess and -- let's face it -- zombies eat people. That is what they do.

While the reader must suspend a great deal of disbelief while reading Monster Island, it is still a refreshingly intelligent entry in the zombie fiction genre. It even manages to deliver a really good ending, which is particularly remarkable given the fact that it is the first book of a planned trilogy. As such, it does leave a number of questions unanswered, especially in terms of the cause of the zombie epidemic, but that is the subject for book two (which I, for one, am quite anxious to read). It's about time that someone took the zombie genre to bold new heights, and I think Wellington is just the writer to do it.

by Daniel Jolley
3 February 2007

Buy it from Amazon.com.