So seeing as last week’s review of Imogen Rose’s Portal was somewhat negative (“Harsh!” was the one-word email I received from my husband after he read it), I thought this week’s review should be a bit more positive.
I came across R.A. Seckler’s self-published Containment Zone on his blog where he has been posting one chapter a week since the start of the year. I got through the prologue and decided that I wanted to read the story in its entirety. Rather than wait for all 33 chapters to be posted, I shelled out the $3 for it on Amazon.
Author: R.A. Seckler
Published: December, 2013
Bizarre, but in a good way is the best way to describe this story. It’s a new and much more disturbing twist on the zombie/living dead stories we’re used to. There’s no mutant disease or rogue monkeys escaped from labs responsible for this dystopian world. The cause of this one is a true mystery.
In the year 2021, death takes a vacation. One day people suddenly stop dying. Their bodies no longer function normally – eating, breathing, and healing are all things of the past, but the soul remains present in the body. While people are initially thrilled about this new lease on life they seem to be getting, it quickly becomes evident that even though it seems like people are going to live forever, that’s not entirely the case. Although the soul remains present and the body walks and talks like the living, it continues to decompose just as a dead body is supposed to. Once brain decomposition reaches a certain point, it loses the capability for human emotion and reason and what’s left is a violent shell of what was once a human being. The person deteriorates into what we now think of as the “living dead.”
To combat the violence that stems from the undead as well as the massive population increase, the government has built Containment Zones, which are essentially nursing homes for the dead. The deceased become classified as Stage 1, 2, or 3 – 3 being the most severely demented and decomposed. These are the ones who are eventually thrown into “The Ward,” the final place where the most violent of the dead go to finish out their days.
This story focuses on Parker, a man who was killed while trying to save his daughter from a fire. After a year and a half of waiting and hoping for his wife Kara to come and take custody of him (much like a family member might take custody of a mentally ill relative), he discovers that she has moved on and is planning to get married. He decides it’s time to break out of the Containment Zone in the hopes of winning her back and living out his remaining days at home – even if it means being chained up in the attic for the rest of his life to keep his inevitable violent demeanor in check. He concocts one scheme after another to escape, from upcharging for library books to causing stampedes of the most violent dead. Due to his declining mental faculties, the catastrophic effects of some of these things don’t seem as morally wrong as they might have two years past, so things get pretty ugly at times.
What I Liked:
1. For a self-published book, I was really impressed. More often than not, the self-published books I come across tend to fall a bit flat, either in terms of plot or character development. In this case, everything was very well-developed, making the story easy to follow.
2. I absolutely could not stand Parker, which is a sign of great character development. Everything he did was motivated by his love for Kara, but the lengths to which he went in attempts to win her back were just wrong. I would blame it on the deterioration of his mind, but in all other aspects he seemed relatively clear. At the very least, his morals were still present.
3. The prologue to the story laid out everything that happened leading up to death’s hiatus really well. It was very cut and dry, at times sounding scientific, at other times like a history book. There are two reasons I liked this. First, the voice of this section of the book was completely different than that of the rest. It almost sounded as though someone were narrating a documentary on this bizarre moment in history. Second, because all of the questions about the origin of the Containment Zones were answered in the prologue, there was no need for the annoying explanatory interruptions that normally occur throughout books.
4. It was told from the perspective of a man who was quickly losing his humanity rather those being affected by him. The clearheadedness he possessed was often interspersed with the bizarre tendencies you see in zombie movies, like the incessant need to bite or attack. Normally it’s the other way around and we see the undead through the eyes of those they’re attacking, so this was an interesting change.
What I Didn’t Like
1. Sometimes the voices of the characters were off. For example, Alm, a crotchety old man who befriended Parker, came off as just that at the start of the book. However, as he and Parker got closer, he started to sound more like a younger man and less like a curmudgeonly senior.
2. The grammatical errors were pretty bad at times. They weren’t so bad that they distracted from the story, just a random comma or missing punctuation here and there.
3. It was super gory. This has nothing to do with the author’s abilities; I just didn’t care for the visuals. Sometimes they were right up there with some of the True Blood episodes on HBO which get pretty nasty at times. It wouldn’t keep me from reading the book a second time, but I’d just make sure to skip the descriptions of maggoty brains and festering sores.
This was definitely one of the better self-published stories I’ve read. More often than not there is one major factor that takes away from the entire story for me, making it difficult to finish or enjoy (see my post on abandoned books from 2 weeks ago for more on that). But that wasn’t the case here. There were grammatical errors, but the story itself was good enough that they didn’t really affect it. I noticed them because they were there, but not because they were in the way. The plot was very strong and well-rounded, there were well-spaced and drawn out questions that kept me guessing (e.g., where’s Emily?), and I was completely satisfied with the ending, which is something that doesn’t happen often for me. I didn’t find myself saying, “Oh, I liked the ending, but I kind of wish this, that, or the other thing had happened, instead.” Of course, part of me always wishes for the ideal ending where everything is perfect, but that’s obviously not realistic, especially with zombie stories. This one gets 4.5 stars and I absolutely recommend it for anyone looking for a different twist on a traditional concept.