Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Estuary review

    Vampire Apocalypse series' author Derek Gunn’s The Estuary is a novel that is both easy and difficult to describe. Effectively, if you were to say it was a Stephen King-esque novel set in Ireland with zombies you would have a fairly good estimate of what exactly the story is about. There’s a lot more to it but the fundamental premise is the same. Derek Gunn takes a bunch of small town residents, examine their lives in detail, insert a supernatural predator of some kind, and hit 'frape.'

    The crisis, in this respect, is an experimental Nazi biological agent was created in the last days of World War 2. An experimental biological agent which, apparently, creates zombies. You have to wonder if the Nazis would have won the war in fiction if they'd spent half of what they spent on occult weirdness on tanks.

    Still, Alfred Hitchcock was correct that Maguffins are ultimately unimportant. It doesn't matter how th zombies are created, the important part of the book is how their attack affects the town that our protagonists are from.

    Derek Gunn does an excellent job in setting up a large ensemble cast for the duration of the book. There's the Businessman, the Writer, the Wife, the Spy, the Prostitute, and so on. All of them have interactions before the zombie attack and plenty of them go through some pretty staggering changes once the action starts. As quoted by Shepard Book in Firefly, you never really know a man until you dangle him over a volcano.

    The start of the book is a bit slow for those expecting wall-to-wall zombie action from the get go. It's a much slower paced book than Derek Gunn's Vampire Apocalypse books. Really, they're two different genres and should each be taken on their own merits. I will say, however, the book reminds me more of Night of the Living Dead than Dawn of the Dead.

    The heart of the matter is that the zombies here are treated perfectly straight. They're not a metaphor for social change or something self-referential. No, they're actually monsters and their purpose is to drive the plot. In a way, if they're a metaphor for anything, it's a natural disaster that everyone has to struggle against.

    If I have a bizarre complaint, it's The Estuary is actually a little too short for its premise. It's a fairly typical sized book and not nearly the kind of door-stopper Stephen King is prone to writing. A lot of questions are raised in the book like, 'why is X doing Y when they don't know Z' which you know the author has an answer for but gets glossed over in the narrative.

    Bluntly, there's just not enough space to address everything. While it's a self-contained novel, I'd really appreciate either a sequel or some form of short story epilogue. I suppose it's a testament to the characterization that I care enough about the survivors to want to know what happens to them.

    Overall, The Estuary is a heart-filled tale of survival horror and an excellent entry into the whole 'Zombie Genre' of stories. I salute Derek Gunn for his work and hope he'll continue to write for many years to come.


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