One of the (many) benefits of blogging about zombies from time to time, is being sent books to read on the subject. Just as I cracked open The Zombie Bible volume What Our Eyes Have Witnessed, Permuted Press sent me an ebook of Suzanne Robb’s Z-Boat for comment. Z-Boat is an action novel with a strong female protagonist, that sets two naturally phobia-ridden subjects together: submarines and zombies. Since zombies, whether they acquire their undead status by vodou or by infection, are inherently a religious creation, they find their way onto this blog often. Unlike Stant Litore’s zombie universe, Robb’s is solidly secular, no mention of deities or demons anywhere. Set in a post-apocalyptic future (aren’t they all post-apocalyptic these days? We have difficulty envisioning anything much better), the crew of the submarine Betty Loo has to fight off a host of zombies intent on eating, and yes, converting, the living.
Zombies, whether conjured by spells and concoctions or by a contagious organism, while unthinking, always appreciate converts. The age-old human fear of being overwhelmed by swarms pertains just as well to the undead. We tend to avoid cemeteries at night, but death has a way of seeking us out in any case. I knew when my wife received a rather unsubtle flier in the mail advertising a local mausoleum that I too was likely on the list. Isn’t being a zombie all about the desire to survive, no matter what the cost? Still, it’s nice to know your custom is valued, right down to the end.
As I’ve mentioned before, zombie stories are difficult to take seriously in any rational world. Why a corpse with no stomach and no tongue would want to eat baffles the quasi-scientific mind I’ve installed. The Zombie Bible suggests that it’s hunger, and a metaphor is always appreciated in a room full of zombies. In Z-Boat the drive is more along the lines of the plot. You wouldn’t have a story without the undead. A potboiler, this is a page-turner, or, if you’re reading an ebook, a page-swiper. And although the function of a submarine is inherently like an ark—the preservation of breathing animals when overwhelmed by water—when the zombie organism eats its way into the crew, the only safety is found in escaping that ark. Robb’s tale is rollicking and rough, but her female Noah gives us all ground for hope.