Undead, But Not Really All That Lively: Dana Fredsti’s Plague Nation

Is there any narrative structure more predictable than that of the classic zombie story? A small band of the few, the brave, the lucky fight to escape or to contain the mounting zombie threat. Our heroes’ numbers keep diminishing, and meanwhile, the shambling armies of the undead keep growing. Even if our heroes survive/clear/escape the quarantine zone, it’ll only be to discover that the zombie threat isn’t over.

Marry that to a shallow, mouthy college student protagonist, straight out of the wish-fulfilment school of character creation, whose on-again off-again love interest is dark, brooding, and intermittently an asshole, and you add the predictability quotient of pulpy urban fantasy to the predictability quotient of zombie plague.

Plague Nation is Dana Fredsti’s second novel from Titan Books, sequel to 2012’s Plague Town. Ashley Parker is a wildcard, one of a handful of humans immune to the zombie virus. After fighting off the infection, she’s stronger, faster, and has sharper senses than the general run of humanity. Recruited to a shadowy organisation dedicated to fighting the zombie menace, Plague Nation opens with Parker and her few fellow wildcards engaged in zombie extermination duties in the quarantined town of Redwood Grove, where the outbreak that caused Parker’s exposure occurred.

My problems with this novel didn’t really start with the pointless italicised prologue. But they did start on the second page. You see, the shadowy anti-zombie organisation has a Greek name. And as it happens, I speak modern Greek. Very badly, but I speak it. And I noticed that the Dolofónoitou Zontanóús Nekroús has a little case-agreement problem. Quite aside from the consistent mashing of tou, the masculine singular genitive article, into dolofonoi, killers (plural, masculine, nominative), zontanous nekrous, living dead, is an accusative plural. The phrase as it stands makes no sense. It should be Δολοφ?νοιτων ζωνταν?ν νεκρ?ν, instead, if you want the phrase to mean “Killers of the Living Dead.”

Native Greek speakers, please correct me if I’m wrong.

In the grand scheme of things, linguistic carelessness is a minor (if insulting) crime. But it’s a telling marker of the slipshod, slapdash approach to narrative coherence, characterisation, and line-of-direction taken by the novel as a whole. In place of characterisation, we’re given mannerisms and a constant, incredibly irritating name-dropping of geek-media-culture-cred (“Think the X-Files under the auspices of the U.N.,” “the ROTC’s answer to The Big Bang Theory,” and “‘Classic case of Pon Farr,’ he said. ‘Get him to Vulcan, stat!’” are the three examples which occur within the first four pages of the first chapter, and they don’t come noticeably less thick and fast thereafter); in place of narrative coherence, disjointed incidents separated by italicised interludes which recount events from the spread of the zombie plague outside Parker’s immediate vicinity.

When the Redwood Grove lab facility is attacked by a mysterious enemy and progress towards a cure for the zombie plague is destroyed, Parker and her band of the brave and the few are tasked with transporting a scientist (whose greed-inspired screw-ups led to the plague’s outbreak in the first place) to a secret lab in San Francisco. A city now under quarantine because the zombie plague has spread there, too. When sabotage downs their helicopters short of their destination, they have to fight their way across a city where the hungry dead are rapidly starting to outnumber the living, only to be ambushed on the very doorstep of their destination. Despite their losses, will they triumph over their mysterious enemy—and get Parker’s boyfriend back—in time to save the USA? Since the next novel’s entitled Plague World, I’m betting against it….

And, honestly, I could care less. There are bad books, and there are tedious books, and there are tediously bad books with a desperately sad lack of redeeming value or artistic merit. The best I can say about Plague Nation is that it aspires to be popcorn reading, a low-rent version of Resident Evil with more boyfriend angst and pop-culture quotes. It’s boring, folks. Go watch Zombieland again, or reread Mira Grant or Max Brooks instead.

It’ll be more entertaining.

Liz Bourke is a tired cranky youngish feminist. Find more crankiness at her blog and on twitter.


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