In Beauchemin’s debut sci-fi thriller, a specialized military unit aims to protect the world from recurring zombie outbreaks.
Military personnel assemble in Texas to take part in a mission whose details are secret—even to them. The group includes the story’s narrator, a U.S. Navy petty officer known only as Fritz, and Armstrong, an Air Force senior airman who can’t pronounce the protagonist’s never-stated French name. The assignment turns out to be a training school for the 1st Joint-Service Counter-Zombie Operations Division; its purpose: to contain undead outbreaks that have been happening worldwide. Head instructor Gunnery Sgt. Gunny Riley takes the trainees through standard zombie fare: zombification is caused by a virus, bites are infectious, and anything other than a head shot is a waste of ammunition. The training consists primarily of simulations involving swarms of “notional zombies”—people wearing rubber masks. These exercises aptly demonstrate what could happen in the field, as the slow-moving living dead are revealed to be highly dangerous en masse. As the typically stoic protagonist gets closer to his fellow soldiers, he starts having anxiety attacks, possibly triggered by the idea of inevitably losing someone. When they go on a real-life mission, mental collapse proves to be just as much of a threat as zombie mastication. Beauchemin’s tale is an engaging interpretation of a familiar subgenre. The focus shifts between the undead and the military unit, and the soldiers deal with issues beyond the zombies, such as a hazing incident that lands some men in trouble. The prose is befitting of a naval officer, with its thorough descriptions of weapons and military engagements. But there’s humor here as well, chiefly in the sarcastic—and generally graphic—dialogue, which even includes a few references to walrus genitalia. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t dig very deep into the personal lives of its protagonist or other division members, giving the later, plentiful deaths little emotional impact. The action, however, does get increasingly more intense, resulting in a final act that’s nothing short of exhilarating.
An unorthodox tale in which battling zombies is just one of many tribulations for troubled soldiers.