Archive | June, 2011

Book Review: ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ – Wayne Simmons

21 Jun

 

If 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 Flu, I think it took out some delayed and uncalled for vengeance on me, halting my reading of Drop Dead Gorgeous with a case of the sniffles. But I wasn’t kept away for long! This book has been on my (unrealistic) reading list for a while now after picking up my copy at P-Con earlier this year. Like with his last offering, it was well worth the wait.

 

 

The plot of Drop Dead Gorgeous is all in the title. One fine and average Sunday morning, all but a small few of the population of Belfast, and possibly further afield, suddenly drop dead. The ‘gorgeous’ part makes more sense a little later. The book opens in a very easy going way, just some people going about their lives. A few pages later comes the crashing down of the world around those who were left standing. We see the world slowly drain of power, life and control. The fact that it’s set in Belfast helps to make it that much more real, despite the fact it’s shelved under ‘Sci-fi’. All those apocalypse and zombie movies and novels set in Anywhere USA seem so far away and very much American. Just one big city, with reference to the rest of the country, brings it a little closer. It can be open for interpretation to any readers’ city, even though the language is distinctly Northern Irish – which is fantastic, might I add. As well as the main characters’ individual stories, I enjoyed the snippets of other survivors. Simmons shows us a few shots of scenarios we may not have thought of; dependant people suddenly alone after the world comes to a stop.

DDG is a little different from your average zombie novel, in that it’s not all about the zombies. I’ve read a review – one in particular that tickled me for many a reason – that called this a major flaw. For me, I would much prefer to spend page after page getting to know and care for characters before the big bang. What’s the point, otherwise? I don’t want a book of limbs being torn off for the sake of gory goodness. That may just be me being a delicate little snowflake or something though… If you think of it more as an apocalyptic story and can patiently wait for your zombies – and they’re unlike most you’ve seen – then you’ll be pleased with this.

There is slicing and dicing a plenty that work the final chapters up into a frenzy but it’s the characters that are the heart of the story – and as a girl raised under the greatness and cruelty of one Joss Whedon, characters are important to me. Simmons knows his characters well and more importantly, they’re real. Throwing a bunch of stereotypes into a post-apocalyptic setting does not a good story make. Pooling together some developed and flawed – some heavily flawed – people and seeing how they react to a world torn asunder does. That’s one of my favourite things about reading Simmons’ books.

Among those left behind are a foul mouthed tattooist, aging radio DJ, two teens, a troubled young man, a former IRA member, an RIR soldier, an elderly acrophobic and the overzealous Preacher Man. There’s also a few others we meet along the way. Although scattered throughout Belfast, there’s a purpose to each group and things tie together to help move the story along. As I said, they are certainly not shining examples of the human race. They all respond in different ways to the crumbling of society and don’t make the best decisions. If they were all Mary Sues and Garry Stus then how exciting would that be to read? People aren’t perfect and everyone is expendable, no matter how attached you may grow.

I found that the human characters were not the only to feature in the story. In a world suddenly devoid of life, Mother Nature takes a step into centre stage. The world around them appears to be a character all on its own. The Rain makes as much a noise as the hedonistic trio in the Europa do, and The Silence is as unnerving as the survivors are unnerved. This gives the book a rich atmosphere. There’s a definite difference between reading this on a busy bus, and later in a silent room.

There’s some awful stuff that happens – which I’m going to be terribly vague about so I don’t ruin it – but it is all ultimately necessary. I’ve read people complaining that it’s something that apoc writers throw in for shock value, and though it is horrific it has its place within the story and needed for character development. There are also some laughs from characters and Simmons’ wonderfully crafted narrative alike. And lest we not forget the refreshingly muted romance from our young lovers, who at one point reminded me of the budding and brutal romance in The Hole (I swear I wasn’t just daydreaming about Desmond Harrington).

On a brighter note, one thing I can always seem to count on Simmons for is a delightful reference or two. In Flu it was Red Sonja and here I do believe I spotted a little Who. The description of one character just screamed David Tennant to me. Please say I am not wrong.

I can’t recommend Drop Dead Gorgeous enough. We see our own fast paced world come skidding to a halt and allowing you to become invested, only to gallop off full speed with all that you thought you knew. The characters grow as close to your heart as they’ll allow and the corpses that litter the streets rival the sheer amount of skeletons that come tumbling from closets. It’s dark, unrestrained, vicious, broken-hearted, dangerously beautiful, and it’s got a foul mouth.

 

You can buy Drop Dead Gorgeous, and his other apoc-shocker Flu, from amazon and Book Depository. You can also follow Wayne or like his fanpage on facebook, or go to the one stop horror shop, his site. And if you really want, check out my interview with Wayne from P-Con over on Geek Girl on the Street here and here (part 1&2).

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