Thursday, May 20, 2010
Valley of the Dead by Kim Paffenroth
Zombies are to horror fiction what mosquitoes are to my backyard in August (i.e., everywhere). Some fans gobble the latest zombie novels and wash it all down with undead anthologies and poetry from beyond the grave. I'm not that fan. I have nothing bad to say about the shambling meat-bags; they just don't poke my brain in the right places. And face it: a good portion of zombie fiction these days is pretty derivative. (and derivative is boring in my book)
So yeah, I don't usually read much involving zombies.
Unless Kim Paffenroth writes it.
See, Paffenroth has a way of exposing the selfish, greedy, lecherous horrors of the living as even worse than the mindless hunger of the undead. Valley of the Dead asks "What if Dante Alighieri witnessed a zombie plague and based his Inferno on the horrors of said plague?"
But Valley of the Dead is more than a zombie book. It's more than a "travel story", too. (The episodic nature of Dante's experiences with different groups reminds me of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.) Yes, it is both of these things, but a lot of "big questions" about human nature arise through the narrative. Dante and his companions (a pregnant woman, a monk of sorts, and an AWOL soldier) run across a rather sorry lot of (living) human examples of the seven deadly sins and more. He ponders the big questions about suffering, evil, and God while trying to escape a valley of pain, sickness, and death. All too soon, the reader is aware zombies are the least of Dante's problems.
Grab a copy. Give it a go. If you like to think along with your gut-munching horror, this is for you.
Next in the reading que: At the End of Church Street by Gregory L. Hall.