Xombies: Apocalypse Blues by Walter Greatshell
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Ace (September 29, 2009)
Louise Pangloss, called Lulu, is a seventeen year old girl with chromosomal primary amenorrhea. This means that although she has secondary sex characteristics, i.e. breasts and pubic hair, she has never had a period and may never do so. The reason that her rare condition is important to the story is because the Maenad Cytosis infection, the outbreak of which has caused the Xombie Apocalypse, is carried by menstruating women, or women who have reached puberty and are now capable of having children. The infection is also referred to as Agent X, because it is linked to the double X chromosomes that women carry. A man can be infected by any type of Xombie, male or female, but a woman can pick it up from the very air she breathes. Pre-pubescent girls and post-menopausal women cannot get it from the air, therefore, Lulu can’t get it.
After her mother succumbs to the Xombie plague, Lulu ends up running for safety with a man she thinks might be her dad. Mr. Crowper is ex-Navy and has been asked to help a select group of people and sensitive government materials escape to the Arctic via nuclear submarine. He decides, at the last minute, to take Lulu with him. This is how Lulu ends up on as the only woman on sub with about four hundred teenage boys and a hundred adult men, trying to escape the Xombie Apocalypse.
It’s an interesting premise executed badly. I very much wanted to like this book. It’s got some of my favorite things in it: a female protagonist, zombies, evil scientists, evil corporate men, and lots of bloody action. Unfortunately, Lulu is about as interesting as a goldfish. I don’t know if Walter Greatshell has ever met a teenage girl, but after reading this book, I seriously doubt it. She’s about as believable as the thought of me enjoying the next Twilight movie. Not to mention the use of women as a catalyst for society’s downfall. Like we haven’t heard that before?
Lulu comes across as a very shallow character. I understand that this the apocalypse, but she never takes time to mourn her mother, the only parental figure she’s ever known, and she talks like a college graduate. The language quirk would be much more believable if there were some kind of plausible explanation for it, such as a wide and varied reading interest. Instead, Lulu’s background consisted of her and her mother moving continually to escape creditors, and that’s about all the back story we ever get on her. The flowery inner conversations that she drags the reader through do nothing to make her more human. Many of them don’t even make sense.
Supposedly, Lulu is the hero of the book. But I honestly cannot get behind this girl. Where a real hero would take charge of events and try to steer the course of the story, Lulu merely rides along. She’s meant to come across as supremely intelligent and mature, but instead I get the feeling that she thinks of herself as superior to just about everyone else, without a whole lot of justification. There was one very memorable scene where Lulu is put in charge of being liaison between the Navy crew of the sub and the boys who were part of the labor force that refitted it. As a means to boost morale for the group of young men stuck in a sub on very little food and severely lacking accommodations, she decides to host a poetry slam, with an entry from herself in the style of Emily Dickinson. Really? That seemed like a good way to burn off steam and turn a bunch of hormonal, edgy, fearful boys to something useful?
The heroine aside, Greatshell also has a tendency to tell the story instead of show it. He very carefully lists the names and characteristics of the boys who become Lulu’s friends, one after the other, in an inner monologue of Lulu’s. Yes, we understand that so-and-so is full of bravado and really just a scared kid, but don’t tell us that, show it to us! That is the point of a good story. We learn about the characters through their actions and their interactions with each other. You’re missing something if you feel the need to explain to the reader directly about your characters’ personalities.
There’s a very unsettling scene at the end of the book that involves the Bad Guys and their final reveal party, where their evil plan comes to light. In a world where women are basically plague carriers, where do evil rich men turn to for companionship? Why, young men of course, forced dressed as women. But you must understand most of these men are definitely Not Gay. Cross dressing is portrayed as shameful and embarrassing, the thought of being gay is seen as something to avoid, and the most powerful man in the room is the one who has access to “real” women. Shall I even go into the scene where the evil scientists rip Lulu’s clothes off in front of the entire party crowd and strap her down naked to a table in order to…give her a shot? I think I shall not. And how about the very memorable scene where Lulu finally gets her first period? Again, no.
Avoid this book. This is an attempt to cash in on the zombie craze going on right now, with a book originally published five years ago. Greatshell’s sequel to Xombies: Apocalypse Blues is apparently coming out next year, and I advise you to avoid that book, too.