I went into this novel with no expectations. Aside from the title, which promised Zombie Armageddon and rag-tag survivors battling for their lives, I didn't have any idea as to what the story might be about. I confess a certain weariness with the Zombie Apocalypse. As much as I love it, there's only so many ways to do the End of the World As We Know it. It's a story which can easily be done to death if you don't bring something new to the table.
I confess to being pleasantly surprised. First of all, the novel avoids the beginner's mistake of making any zombie book about the zombies. The main characters of John and Sarah Mason are the clear protagonists and the story is all about their struggle to make a life for themselves in the aftermath of civilization's fall.
Even better, author Todd Sprague does something I've always wanted to see in a zombie novel: he chronicles the attempts by one group to rebuild. Land of the Dead showed the evil Kaufman doing something similar but, aside from Ex-Heroes, I've never seen anyone depict the good guys doing it.
The final result reminds me very strongly of the video game series Fallout. Fallout, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is a surprisingly hopeful series about the aftermath of a nuclear war. Fallout's world is absolute crap but the most fulfilling way of playing the game, for me at least, is having your character methodically chip at the problems afflicting humanity.
That's pretty much what Todd Sprague is depicting. New Zed Order: Survive is about mankind trying to pick itself up after having the majority of the world's population eradicated by zombies. Humanity isn't completely destroyed, it may have as many as half-a-billion survivors, but its definitely taken a blow to the face.
The world-building for New Zed Order: Survive is well done. The book doesn't try to justify why zombies are appearing or pretend there hasn't been forty years of people making movies about them. Instead, it just states, 'okay, zombies have appeared. How does the world react?' and move on. Honestly, it'd be interesting to explore how zombies occurred in a world which is familiar with them. Did some guy in a lab think, 'Zombies are cool. I should make some?' It's food for thought.
Whatever the case, New Zed Order: Survive helpfully gives a guide to the 'rules' zombies follow in the world. For the most part, they're Romero-type undead shamblers with the fresh corpses able to run. No Resident Evil-style mutants here.
The story is really about the personal journey of its lead, however. John Mason is a hero tailor-made for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. He's a non-racist, non-sexist, survivalist science-fiction fan/geek who maintains his own little hideaway in the woods for when the world goes to hell.
This is less unbelievable than it sounds since I used to know someone almost identical to John who moved to Vermont. So, knowing the story takes place in the forests of said area, I was willing to give the author my suspension of disbelief. If anyone is going to survive the Zombie Apocalypse, it's going to be the folk of Vermont.
John's a bit too nice for me to get behind him as lead, unfortunately. He's not hyper-competent to the point of being boring and I actually found myself identifying with him at times After all, every geek likes to think they would be on top of the food chain in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Still, I would have appreciated if the author gave John a few more flaws.
As is, he's pretty much John Conner for the post-zombie world. I wouldn't be surprised if he eventually manages to retake the planet from the undead in the next few volumes of the series. This isn't bad, the Messiah is an archetype which can work exceptionally well, but I'd like to see some of his obvious weaknesses tested. John, obviously, would sacrifice everything for his wife. Likewise, it'd be interesting to confront him with a situation where his instincts are manifestly wrong like his oft-stated distrust of government.
More entertaining to me was John's brother-in-law Jose. Jose is a significantly more flawed character who is just as much a geek as John but lacks the later's Ubermensch characteristics. He's not very charismatic, prone to rash (even foolish) decisions, and may even be crazy. Yet, honestly, I loved the guy. I want to see more of Jose in future volumes and wish him to take a larger role as events progress.
One thing I was pleasantly surprised by was the book's direct confrontation of racism and hetero-normality. Amongst the survivors are numerous Mexicans and at least one gay couple. The Zombie Apocalypse has a tradition of breaking the lily-white heterosexual mold of protagonists and it's nice to see Todd tackle that head on.
A cool subplot of the book which will, presumably, be developed in future volumes is the existence of a group of high-tech paramilitary survivors. To make another Fallout comparison, they strongly remind me of the Enclave (more or less the American government's survivors having degenerated into Nazis). Todd Sprague mysteriously alludes to their presence for much of the book and it makes their actual appearance all the more effective.
Overall, New Zed Order: Survive is an action-packed, fun, geek-fantasy set in a zombie-ruled world. I am sold on the series and will be purchasing any future volumes produced by Permuted Press. There's definite room for further stories in the world and I am happy to put down my money for them.