Friday, July 4, 2014

Dead Tide Rising review

    "The dead rule Saint Petersburg, FL. The living come to save it are worse."
    -My tagline for this book.

    There's two kinds of zombie novels. The first kind of zombie novel is the disaster story. The second kind of novel is survival horror. There's significant overlap between the two but it'll give you a rough idea of the two major trends in these kinds of stories.

    Disaster stories are about the apocalypse itself. We get it from multiple perspectives, angles, and how it makes characters feel. While not a zombie story, you can look at things like The Day After Tomorrow to get a sense of what I mean. World War Z is, of course, the definitive work of disaster story zombie fiction.

    Survival horror focuses on the troubles of a small group of individuals as we deal with them in a closed situation. This is the more Romero type of ordeal and thus the more common of the two stories. It requires a lot of effort to do the kind of multiple perspectives and global scale necessary to really get a sense of the apocalypse.

    Dead Tide Rising exists in the middle of these two types, leaning towards the former. We get dozens or so accounts of survivors trying to live through the horrors of the Apocalypse but, in a real sense, it's all about their individual stories giving us perspective on the event itself.

While the new cover is badass, I kind of like the old one.
    Dead Tide Rising is the sequel to the original Dead Tide (reviewed here) which had a similar approach. The book was criticized because it had dozens of characters and very short chapters dealing with their reactions to events as they unfolded, switching rapidly between perspectives. Some wished he could have made a smaller cast or, at least, taken more time to give a stronger sense of each individual.

    I think this is unfair because it misses the point. In addition to having several very memorable characters, this is not a series about the survivors like say The Walking Dead or The Becoming. This is a series about the end of the world. We get lots of action and personal tragedies but this is to let us know what the apocalypse is like. The citizens of Saint Petersburg, FL (like those in every city across America by this point) are losing their loved ones and watching their world end one person at a time.

    I actually like the rapid switches between characters and the short chapters because it contributes to the general sense of chaos which the story is all about. We see people struggling to survive from every walk of life. Trish the Stripper, Mills the fireman, Jacob the psychopath, Tallaski the cop, Natalie the teenaged girl, and even the President of the United States. The event is happening to them and their personal melodramas from before are less important than the grand guignol going on around them.

    It's kind of refreshing really.

    Stephen Spielberg's War of the Worlds was a controversial movie but it had a similar idea about it. Cloverfield too. The situation is incomprehensible to the people on the ground and all they can do is try to get to safety.

    The chaos, confusion, survivor's guilt, anger, and emotional trauma runs high throughout Dead Tide Rising. People say things they don't mean, do things they never would under normal circumstances, and make mistakes because they're not thinking clearly. After just three days of hell, all of the cast is running on no-sleep and is half-crazed.

    One thing I liked in Dead Tide Rising is we get the government's perspective on the zombie problem. Jokes about the Pentagon's zombie preparation plan in real-life aside, it's fascinating to watch them portrayed as human. Given a completely out-of-context problem, they struggle to find solutions but make mistakes in the process which wear on them.

    At one point, someone in the government (no one knows who) decided shooting everyone who might be infected was a good idea, only to find out the disease didn't work like that. The government forces in Saint Petersburg have to deal with the fact everyone now considers them butchers and doesn't believe them when they claim they're now evacuating survivors. This is in addition to guilt and trauma the people who did the shooting may now feel.

    I also liked the depiction of the military. As a zombie-fighting force, the military is depicted as extremely good at their job. The problem is their orders are confused and muddled in a situation no one is prepared for. Also, which many military science-fiction authors forget, they're human.

    Stephen A. North makes a commentary about class-relations in America while also throwing in a realistic subplot. Like in so many countries throughout history, when the military starts resenting the upper-class they're defending--the upper class may not survive very long. When the VIPs start evacuating their families while soldiers' own families are left behind, to say the latter are resentful is an understatement.

    Of the characters in Dead Tide Rising, I think I enjoyed Trish and Natalie's the most with President Foster's story rounding them out. Their reactions to events were touching and I was quite concerned for the characters. Mills the Fireman, also, is the breakout star of the series and a character I'd like to see more of in the future. In a real way, I think I liked this better than the original Dead Tide. It's not going to be to everyone's tastes but what is?


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  1. Thank you, Charles! You made my day!

    1. I'm just telling it like I see it. It's nice to see a zombie novel which comes at the problem from so many different directions.