Review of Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo (Baen, September 3, 2013 hardback)
Under a Graveyard Sky is John Ringo’s contribution to the zombie-apocalypse genre. In this story the zombies are not hordes of shambling undead, but the living victims of a viral plague brought about by a bioterror weapon, and Ringo uses real science to explain why the infected people act like zombies.
The Smith family (husband and wife John and Stacey and their daughters Sophia and Faith) are doomsday preppers, people who are trained and ready for almost any emergency, as well as any conceivable end-of-the-world scenario. When John and Stacey receive the “Zombie Apocalypse” code from John’s brother Tom, they walk away from their jobs, pull their daughters from school and allow them to contact no one, load up their supplies, steal a boat, and head out to sea to wait out the carnage.
The family travels up the coast to New York, where Tom is located, but after some adventures in his office building and receiving some vaccine, they head out from the city into the ocean. They end up traveling down the Atlantic seaboard salvaging from groups of zombies and saving non-infected people. Their boat and the salvaged ones travel in a loose fleet of survivors.
Along the way the survivors encounter some larger ships that are infested with the “infected”, but they hope some survivors might be holed-up in some cabins so they fight cabin to cabin. At the start of the emergency, middle-school-age daughter Faith had been very excited to learn that their foes were rampaging zombies and had been very impatiently looking forward to shooting them. Wreaking such havoc loses its charm after doing it for seemingly endless days, however, and Faith and her teddy bear are not nearly as happy to be shooting everything.
John and Stacey Smith love their daughters dearly, but they also know that they need to keep gathering supplies in order to survive; Faith is the one best able to deal with the weapons and tactics needed, and Sophia is needed to drive the boat, so putting their children in harm’s way is unavoidable; Their survival, and possibly that of the rest of humanity, is at stake.
The family dynamic depicted in the story is very believable, with Ringo clearly stating that Sophia and Faith are based on his own daughters.
Under a Graveyard Sky is very much a Swiss Family Robinson-style adventure at sea with most of the other boats being full of monsters. It is a well-researched, plausible look at survival during a bioterrorism emergency. There are realistic gun battles with accurately described weaponry, and naval operations akin to those of the Coast Guard. The Smith family and their traveling companions are well-developed and all very strong characters. We will be seeing more of the Smith family in future volumes. If you like a good zombie tale, then this book is for you.
Review of the Undead Hordes of Kan-gul: Book 1 of the Shadow Warrior by Jon F. Merz (Baen, September 3 release, trade paperback)
Ninjas, samurai, zombies, evil wizards controlling nasty weather and tortuous landscapes, all components for an enjoyable weird fantasy tale with a strong Eastern feel to it. Sort of a literary version of a samurai and ninja buddy movie crossed with a Ray Harryhausen monster movie. Not much gun use, but many sword deaths, so definitely a normal Baen high body count. There are quite nice descriptions of sword fights without being overly detailed to pull the reader out of the battle. There is a female warrior and a female wizard (not the evil one) in the supporting cast and their relationship to the male characters is done well: everyone acts like colleagues, not silly people letting their hormones run their lives.
The plot in this volume is only the beginning of the Shadow Warrior’s wandering quest to prove he is ready to be a full member of his clan, so while the evil wizard and his zombies are dealt with, it is not the end of the quest. This will continue in Slavers of the Silk Road and The Temple of Demons.
Ran is an interesting character who is obviously a bit naïve about the world outside his clan, so he is learning how to deal with other people as he travels. The continuing relationship of the characters will be an interesting component of the later volumes. The landscape descriptions are quite vivid, with everything in the evil wizard’s lair being quite travel-unfriendly due to nasty traps, wild creatures, zombies, and magically-generated bad weather.
If you like a good adventure tale, a quest story or appreciate a good zombie/monster tale then this book is for you.