Wayne Simmons, Flu (Snowbooks, 2010)
I have seen a few reviews of Wayne Simmons’ Flu that take it (and him) to task for not pushing the envelope here. Most of those reviews gave no indication if the reviewer in question had read Simmons’ first novel, Drop Dead Gorgeous. If they had, well, I can kind of see where they were coming from—for that is very much a book that pushed the envelope, zombie lit-wise, and to this day it’s one of my favorite novels in the new wave of zombie lit. And no, Flu is not that. It’s a straight-up homage to classic zombies.
You know what? I don’t have problem one with that. Drop Dead Gorgeous is what it is, and if Wayne Simmons had never written another word, I would have still been praising him as one of the most original lights in the genre. But Flu is what it is as well, and when it comes right down to it, style will out—Simmons is a good, solid writer, and it doesn’t matter if he’s pushing envelopes or not. Hell, he could write a chick-lit novel and I’d give it a go, because I know it will have the same mix of quirky characters, graveyard humor, and situations that will make me say “what the hell were you smoking when you came up with this?”, and I can be reasonably certain I’ll have a great time with it.
Such is the case with Flu, which seems to have had its genesis (though we’re only talking about the preface here) in Paco Plaza’s flick [REC]; we see a couple of cops attempting to impose a quarantine on a block of flats where it’s been reported that one occupant has come down with a particularly virulent strain of the flu that’s been assaulting Ireland. And it’s not your run-of-the-mill flu, neither—after it kills the victim, it wants to spread itself by having the victim rise and spread the infection…
skip forward a few weeks, and Belfast is, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. We re-focus on Geri McConnell, a lone survivor who’s taken to moving very quietly, attempting to survive by raiding the local grocery stores and staying out of the way of hordes of the ravening undead…until she finds herself raiding the same grocery store as another obviously-human raider wearing a ski mask. (Trust me, the ski mask becomes important.) After one of the more amusing car-chase scenes I’ve read in recent memory, Geri becomes—uncomfortably—part of a band of survivors who are, basically, living the same way she was—but there’s strength in numbers, right? Right?
I’ll lay it out for you: if you like zombie novels in the classic zombie vein, <em>Flu</em> is going to work for you. Simmons leavens things with a little more humor than, say, John Russo did, but the focus is the same—the zombies are the external force, seen every once in a while, that keeps the survivors face-to-face with one another, leading the book to be more of an examination of human foibles exposed when people are cramped together than a book about the undead munching on body parts. And that’s what zombie books, the good ones anyway, have always been about—us, not them. *** ½