Amber Whitley’s new novelette "Blackout" is a rarity among zombie stories. It’s an uplipting tale focusing on family, spirituality, trust, and the love of life.
Mikal was the first zombie, reanimated - after his accidental death dozens of years earlier - in an experimental process, which has since become commonplace in his world.
As the story opens, Mikal has decided to attempt new human connections by going on a blind date, during which he is attacked by a suicide bomber from a fanatical organization called The Naturalists which is calling for the destruction of the Center, which produces and maintains the supply of nano-bots needed by the reanimated citizens.
The challenge comes when the naturalists destroy the Center’s facility, and the reanimated are left with little supply to maintain them, a condition which can cause outbreaks of extreme violence, including the urge to eat humans and other reanimated.
Mikal and Lilli, who turns out herself to be a reanimated, must find a way to survive in this drastically altered world, where zombies are becoming unthinking violence machines, and backlash against the reanimated community puts everyone in danger.
The story is presented as scenes of Mikal and Lilli alternating with news stories covering the attacks of the Naturalist, giving the reader a good sense of what’s going on in the setting outside, without breaking up the story with lots of forces exposition.
This, combined with Whitley’s economy of storytelling, makes for a very dense reading experience. Though the book is short, readers still get a good sense of what kind of world the characters are living in, with little extraneous detail.
It could, however, have done with a bit more. Being only a few chapters long, the characters don’t get time to really gel in one’s mind, and some sympathy and immersion is unfortunately lost in the rapid progression of the tale, which takes the characters through their terrible ordeal with no time to breath.
The pace is both exhilarating, and unsatisfactory, as Mikal is swept up mostly in events he cannot or will not control, making only a few real decisions for himself.
While it’s far from a horror story, it’s still strange to find oneself cheering for the zombie, and hoping to find at the end a repaired man in a repaired world.
All told, the small book is well worth the $3 pricetag, and the only genre fans who might find themselves disappointed are those looking for a gorefest, as the typical violence of a zombie tale is missing entirely.
Blackout can be purchased on Amazon in ebook format.