Book Review: ‘FLU’ – Wayne Simmons

21 Feb

You know that old saying: Give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day, give a borderline mysophobe a copy of Wayne Simmons’ FLU and she won’t be able to take a comfortable bus journey for a week. You’ve heard that one, right? Well, it proved true for this unsuspecting reader!

I had bought my copy from the man himself at Octocon last year but put off reading it out of a mixture of being in the middle of the first book in the Millennium Trilogy and the minor panic that accompanies reading about a mutated flu virus during winter. Well, February rolled around and I was stuck with my reading, only in the middle of the second Millennium novel at that point and getting nowhere! Deadlines were halting my reading and I needed a change. Luckily, or unluckily, I rediscovered the joy of reading on the bus some months ago. It used to make me feel ill reading in a car or bus, which majorly sucked on long journeys, but now I can while away the time while I travel.

This all seemed rather pleasant, flicking through a good book and blocking out the children and conversations around me. And it was until I decided to slip this particular book into my bag. The monotonous drone of a conversation in the background is much easier to ignore than the occasional sniffle, cough or sneeze. It just so happens that those three little guys are star players in this story.

Okay, enough back story ramblings, time to get to the books itself. I loved it.

From the get go we’re on a different playing field – Belfast. The opening line grabs you roughly and drags you through that crowd with those first two characters. The way it’s written, rather cleverly I must say, leaves it open for interpretation. Have you been plopped down into a crowd of the undead before you’ve even read a paragraph? You’re surrounded, your breathing’s heavy and everyone appears to be pissed with you.

What a lovely welcome, eh? Well, don’t expect it to let up from there.

As you’re introduced to the other survivors you gather up more of the story, of what happened to our cheery green isle. This collection of remaining souls is as varied as they come, too; two cops, a punk, a young woman, a  guy in a ski-mask, a churchgoer, an ex-IRA gunrunner and of course the army. A veritable Breakfast Club… Or so the undead think, anyway.

The characters are as real as they come. Heavily flawed, prone to erratic behaviour and some swearing enough to make a sailor blush, but at times charming. Human, essentially. It’s basically how any one of us might act if our world was suddenly void of life and overrun with the sniffling and shuffling of the recently deceased.

There’s points when you hate them or what they’re about to do and wish that your shouting into the book would actually do some good. But there’s also moments where you find yourself smiling over their actions. I found this a lot with Lark, the tattooed punk with enviable footwear. He’s also got a foul mouth and manners that leave a lot to be desired but at the same time you don’t want him to get hurt. I also liked Geri for selfish reasons. Is it so bad to hope a leggy redhead would survive a zombie outbreak? And many brownie points to Simmons for using Red Sonja in a simile, a literary rarity.

I’ve ignored it enough, time to talk mucus. The undead are just plain nasty and they get nastier. As if a lethal dose of the flu wasn’t a bad enough way to go, these guys return to unlife, hacking up vital organs and other unpleasantries as they drag themselves around town. Needless to say I gave myself plenty of time between eating and reading, just in case. Unlike most zombies, their post-life shenanigans aren’t anything to do with genetic experimentation, a satellite that’s crashed to earth or some ancient voodoo. It’s the flu. See, a little too realistic, right? This book was released just in time to play off the fears of the flu pandemic – take your pick of which animal is the source. It’s even dedicated to “the birds, the pigs, the mad cows”. Vampires have lost much of their gravity where horror is concerned, but terror grounded in such truth as this cannot be so easily pushed aside. You’re left wondering how things would play out if this actually happened. Of course, it didn’t help that a show was on television recently telling us how to act if there is a global flu outbreak… I could have done without that!

The setting definitely added to the overall anxiety and scare-factor of the story. Most zombie apocalypses seem to be focused on the heartland of America and not Northern Ireland. I’m not overly familiar with the geography and landmarks of Belfast, but Simmons so ably paints a map for you as you read that you know just where you are. The housing estates and apartment blocks are a welcome break from the usual safe houses occupied by survivors as well as creating a rather dreary atmosphere. For any readers in Ireland or England, this really brings the terror home.

It’s not only the change of scenery that adds something new to the story; it’s the history and politics that go with that scenery. The opening scene could have just as easily been on the news during the height of The Troubles. The tension between the cops and some of the other characters is well founded, as is the concern regarding the IRA and the authority of the Army.

I love to be scared or made uncomfortable by a book or film – and instantly regret it, especially later on when I’m alone in the dark – but this book hits you in a whole different way. A ghost story can be batted away with disbelief. A monstrous tale laughed off with recollections of bad make up in old movies. But something so deeply set in reality, that’s a discomfort you have to fight to shake off. I really liked that the story didn’t revolve around a group of survivors setting out for some uninfected haven, which is so often the case. It was just them. Don’t take that to mean it was a snooze-fest – it was anything but. It was real, as much as I’d like to say it wasn’t. Since we’re dropped down into these different groupings of people, we’re as much in the know as they are. There’s no real explanation given for the source of the virus or how the  final days of humanity played out. The reader has to trust in the characters and hope for the best. But the news of a coming sequel, Fever, leaves room to delve deeper into this post-apocalyptic world.

The ending was a real treat. For me it was a torturous treat though, having finished all but the final chapter before reaching college. Two hours later, I got to finish it. It was well worth the wait, and I’m talking about since October.

It may be short, but it’s a non-stop thrill ride stalling only to lull you into a false sense of uninfected security. Well written and action-packed, cruel and sentimental, FLU is a must have for all lovers of horror, zombies or those in search of something a little scary and sweet.

You can buy FLU, and his other apoc-shocker Drop Dead Gorgeous, from amazon and Book Depository. You can also follow Wayne or like his fanpage on facebook.

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4 Responses to “Book Review: ‘FLU’ – Wayne Simmons”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. New reviews! « - February 27, 2011

    […] ‘…a non-stop thrill ride stalling only to lull you into a false sense of uninfected security. Well written and action-packed, cruel and sentimental, FLU is a must have for all lovers of horror, zombies or those in search of something a little scary and sweet.’ (READ MORE) […]

  2. Geek of the Week: Wayne Simmons, part I | Geek Girl on the Street - March 8, 2011

    […] last year, but the time gave me the chance to read one of his books, and anyone that reads my blog knows what a fan I am of his work now  (it helps that he’s just a really nice guy, too). […]

  3. Items 39, 40 & 41: signed copies of FLU by Wayne Simmons | Genre for Japan - March 25, 2011

    […] Bewitched, Bothered and Bespectacled […]

  4. Book Review: ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ – Wayne Simmons « Bewitched, Bothered & Bespectacled - June 21, 2011

    […] you suffered through my long and winding review of Simmons’ other apoc-shocker, Flu, then you’ll surely know that I’ve got nothing but admiration for his work. Although I loved […]

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