Book Review – Surviving the Dead, Books 1-6.

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The Surviving the Dead Series, by D.J. Molles brings us in to another rendition of life in a zombie-apocalypse world, although here, the author had chosen to specify the masses are infected humans, and not the dead rising from the grave by supernatural means. This has become a mainstay of the zombie genre, authors taking the time to create a scientific reason for humans taking on a zombie-like state of life.
I’ve actually written this review before, but it was book by book. The series itself, taken as an entire novel cut in to parts is worthy of either means of review. In my review here, I’m taking the story as a whole.
We find ourselves following Captain Lee Harden, a U.S. Army Solider part of a Federal Government program that set up a contingency plan which allocated one person per each state in the union to act as more or less an advisor to what would be left of the U.S. population after any such society collapse situation. These advisers, or “Coordinators” as they are called, were given specific training, and access to hidden and protected stores of equipment and supplies to allow them the ability to help groups of survivors rebuild the country.
Harden is the coordinator for North Carolina, and this is where out story takes place, as he emerges from a survival shelter shortly after things have gone horribly wrong. I’ve always found the ZA genre having a particular comical element of the people living in this universe match reality almost exactly, except apparently there has never been any books, images, stories, movies, games, or any form of popular fiction about zombies and zombie-like behavior. This comes in to play when characters first learn about the problem facing them, and react as if this was new and absurd that such a thing could happen, but I suppose a world where this was a reverse would offer zombie insurance, and firearms laws would look very different than they do now.
As for our storyline in Surviving the Dead, without shelling out details or spoilers, Harden does exactly what he was trained and equipped for, and encounters exactly the things he was trained would have a high probability to occurring. As with any martial training though, when applied to the real world, its never as easy or simple. As one would imagine, Harden does encounter survivors, and groups of survivors, but the make-up of these people has no shortage of complications, and the groups are no different that any group one finds in any part of humanity, with common needs able to hold together those within the group, and the ideas they have about the best way to go about prospering vastly differing.
With any decent ZA works, members of the military or those with prior training end up in various roles in these worlds, and nearly always having some definition due to their experience. This of course is featured specifically with Harden, but while some authors give an invincible star, or danger sense to their key military characters, which allows them to live life with relatively few serious injuries, our author here appears to have specifically set out to ensure Harden can’t go very long without taking serious, often permeate injuries that redefine his life in the same way it would in the real world. My friend and I took great appreciation in discussing this fact, noting the shear drive and resilience of the character to endure sometimes very painful injuries in order just to survive to the next hour. You can also forget the movie-like “flesh wounds” of a bullet wound to the arm or leg’s perimeter. The injuries Harden sustains not only add to the vividness of the character, but they are tied to events within the storyline, and realistic for what would expect to encounter in such circumstances, as are the times when he receives medical care, which is to say its almost never immediate, nor ideal.
Another issue I liked about this series, is that any given group of identity is dual sided. For every instance of a military person helping out or doing good deeds, you’ll find eventually another military individual or group doing just the opposite. Take your pick here, the general public, males/females, children, religious people, animals, medical people, criminals, leaders, you name it, you get a good and a bad version of all of them. I don’t know if this was specifically targeted by the author, but its there, and its adds even more layers to this great story. My favorite has got to be religion in this matter. Yes, I’m no fan of it, but I’m very much more receptive to the members who actually live in and recognize reality. Early on in the series, Harden meets a local religious leader, although I’m not sure which specific group he belonged to, it was christian based. When talking with Harden, this character, Father Jim, was discussing Hardern’s relationship with religion in general, and says what I’ve come to understand is probably the best sentences possible to say to anyone like myself, paraphrased: I’m sure by now you’ve heard most of what there is to hear about it, and you’ve made up your mind on where you stand.
This could not fit the best possible way to approach the situation any better, as it allows everyone to accept the other person talking, and also allows nearly any direction for the conversation to go in without a sales pitch or verbal attack. It accepts the reality of the situation on both sides.
The lives of women in the ZA type books I’ve read are something I pay attention to. As the people who remade the Mad Max movie explained, the actresses playing the parts of sex slaves or warlord’s “wives” didn’t have to imagine what it would be like, they were given access to women who have actually lived it, mainly those from war torn counties, or where government was weak. They got to sit down and hear the stories from these women. In these books, the lives of women are similar to those found in other such works, and its bad all around. It was a rarity to find the lives of females who’s troubles were as they had always been, with the added issue of the walking dead. For the majority of females within these books, they have the added problem of other non-dead humans preying upon them. Within this series of books, it was a pretty even toss up, with all things being equal where a woman’s life would end up, yet much like the main character, it was the will to survive when faced with overwhelming despair that carried these women and girls in to each next day.
Before concluding, I just want to note aloud one of the issues I’ve come to find hampering ZA novels. The overly detailed description of weapons, and in particular, firearms. I understand that some readers may have little knowledge or experience with firearms, and these detailed descriptions of firearms give them exact information about what a character may be holding, but this often comes at the expense of the story’s speed or progression. While I do have much experience and knowledge about firearms, I get little from taking sentence after sentence making sure I know exactly what model, the barrel length, magazine capacity, etc. any given weapon has in the story. What I do like though, and is found in some movies, and certainly in comic books (do they even make those anymore) is a weapon that is matched up with the character. The person who is never found without there trusty and custom shotgun, or a unique pistol, the long gunner who’s rifle is very distinct to them, even a odd knife a character is never seen without. It helps flavor the character, and cuts clear images when you have a great deal of other characters running around.
To sum up the series, its brutal. While watching a season of The Walking Dead I hadn’t seen yet, I found my stomach turning as the torture porn movies that came out in the early 2000’s, Saw, and all its sequels, copycats, and associate genre began seeping in to the show, gore for the sake of shock value. I’m sure if this series of books ever became a movie, it would take on such scenes, but the brutality of Harden’s world comes in the form of the daily life, and the psychology. To think about people living in a ZA world, some of which might scavenge narcotics or similar chemicals to zone out the horror of daily life, or the point where nearly everyone, at some point is going to break down and ask themselves why keep fighting to live in such a terrible world, any number of the shitty facts of life that would become everyday life in such a world, and how we as humans would cope with it. Its simply brutal having to live it, having to raise kids in it, and know there is no escape from it.

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