Travel Documents 65: Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead

Jason Dias

Genre: near-future, post apocalyptic, dystopian, zombie attack

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The Dust Cover Copy

It’s the end of the world. Lucy is the last living human. She’s surrounded by corpses that won’t lay still. And she has a cure. She can cure seven people. Out of the millions of dead–doctors, teachers, sinners and saints, mothers and grandfathers and children, she can cure seven. How will she choose? Something out there doesn’t want her to wake the dead. A malicious mind controls them. And Lucy is afraid it’s her best friend and former lover.

The Deets

The Scene

World building

Oof. What a time for this book to come out. It was a hell of a read, I’ll tell you that. And you think the cover makes you uncomfortable? Buckle up, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

So, I will say a personal and straight out honest note here before I get into the world-build. I generally kind of hate the zombie genre. It’s both squicky and boring. It’s visually gross, and the plot is dull. Horror and fear and run run run away. Fountains of blood. Blah, blah, blah. Oh, and I have hypersensitive hearing, annnnnd zombie movies are all screaming. Noooooo thanks.

This book is not that. It is still viscerally disturbing. I have a pretty embodied experience of story, and I’ll tell you, there were one or two scenes that gave me a couple seconds of gagging. But this is a deeply philosophical book that questions what is valuable. It’s a book that asks you to choose to make meaning in the midst of unbelievable chaos. It’s a powerful story of resolution, decision, and resolve. This is a story of the sheer will to choose your life, and the way in which it will be lived. In spite of incredibly grim circumstances, these characters–each in their own way–choose to continue to work for a life that is worth living. And there is great hope in that.

The world-building is disturbingly accurate. A strange disease swept the world in a matter of three days. People fell ill, suffered, went mad, and began to attack one another. Began to rot. The dead simply walk and eat. There is no human sentience in them now.
Lucy doesn’t know why she isn’t particularly affected, but she has guesses. And they disturb her. A trained doctor, a survivor of disasters, and a very clear thinker, Lucy applies the clear-eyed algebra of survival to her situation. She has several doses of a medicine that can bring the dead back to themselves. She has the skills to repair their wounded bodies. Therefore, she goes choosing the best candidates to build a viable team: a mechanic, a farmer, so on. It’s a great plan. But once she brings them back, she suddenly has to deal with people. People traumatized by what they’ve been through. People with bodies that have scars they don’t remember incurring. People who have been through horror.

What I love about this near-future dystopian setting is the accuracy. This team doesn’t just worry about the walking dead. They worry about the degradation of the molecules in gasoline and the breakdown of rubber in tires. They’re concerned with real urban survival. They don’t worry about stocking ammo. They worry about stocking painkillers and antiseptics. This story I can believe. This team I can understand. And they’re doing amazing things with what they have.

The Crowd

Characterization

After the sheer sense of the world building, you get down to the emotional layer. Each character is a complex galaxy of pain, hope, and coping strategies, and they often come into conflict like planets crashing into one another. Some coping strategies suck, and some are great. But this team is united by the need to make something worthwhile out of this new, brutal world. It’s a gorgeous tapestry of resolve and breakdown, needs and agonies, comradeship and rage.

The showcasing of coping under incredible stress between different personalities was masterful, and it created the meat of the story, elevating it out of the zombie genre and into a powerful story of sacrifice and choice.
Seeing Lucy, particularly, as she works through her issues is pretty amazing. Her icy calm is great armor, but it does have cracks. And watching her cope is stunning.

I’m also going to shout out the fact that there is truly amazing LGBT representation in this story. It’s woven so seamlessly into the story that you don’t blink when the dots are connected. We need more stories like this.

And at its heart, this is a story of people, and of resolve. Do not go gently into that dark night. Stay human. Stick together. Light candles in the dark. Even when you’re running out of matches, light one another’s candles.

The Lingo

Writing Style

Crisp and clean in style, this work is a clear-eyed and unflinching work of post-apocalyptic fiction. Its style is clean and its descriptions are powerful, concrete and completely believable. Memories are woven into the story as perfectly flowing threads in a tapestry, with none of the jarring ‘oh no a flash back’ element that some stories which try to use past as part of the narrative contain. It’s the kind of story that pulls you on and keeps you turning pages.

The Moves

Plot

This story is deceptively simple as an origami flower. Layer by layer, discovery by discovery, it unfolds and shows you truths about society, humanity, the characters…and maybe even yourself.

Overall Rating

This powerful and visceral tale is one you need to read. Yes, it’s a dark book coming out in a dark time. But this book holds a hidden light. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.