Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: "Patient Zero" by Jonathan Maberry

     "Yeah, I know Rude, but it's not like we're talking about the Mark of Cain here."
     He gave me such a long withering look that I wanted to squirm. "No? Look, I'm not pointing a finger at any country, any faith, any political party. This is a failing in the whole species. We, the human race, have committed a terrible and unforgivable sin; and before you embarrass us both by asking-- no, I'm not having a Catholic moment. This is far more fundamental than church or state. This is ours to own because we know better. As a species, we know better. We really do understand right and wrong, same as we really do grasp all the subtle shades of gray. We have had thousands of years of religious leaders and political scientists explaining the cause and effect of destructive behavior. You'd think by now, at the point where we are this technologically advanced and where communication between all races is not only possible but globally instantaneous, that we'd have learned something, that we'd have benefited from all those previous mistakes. You'd think we'd have become more forward-thinking and farsighted. But we're not. With computer modeling we can virtually look into the future and see how things will go if we follow these courses, and yet we don't do a thing to change direction. Maybe the true human flaw is our inability to act as if the next generation matters. We never have. Individually maybe, but not as a nation, not as a species."
~Excerpt from Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

     Zombies, zombies everywhere. You'd think I'd be getting tired of them-- but I'm not. Inexplicably I am still entertained and fascinated by them. If I had to guess I'd say it's because zombies are a surprisingly malleable monster. There are so many ways to write about them. So many ways they can be created and turned into a monster that could really exist-- especially in the modern world of chemical and biological warfare.
     Joe Ledger is a Baltimore detective who has worked on loan to the Department of Homeland Security. He has the useful skill set of speaking a few Middle Eastern languages fairly well and being a complete badass in Jujitsu. Having already been accepted into the FBI training program, Joe is ready to move on to bigger things in his career, but after being approached, and almost forcibly drafted into, a mysterious organization known as the Department of Military Science (DMS), Joe learns that the 9/11 brand of terrorism is nothing compared to the biological and chemical threats that have been created since that fateful day. It isn't about Anthrax anymore. There's a new weapon that can turn people into the walking dead. It's fast-acting, easily spread, and  in the hands of a madman who is ready to unleash it on an unsuspecting America.
     "Patient Zero" is a book that is pretty easy to describe stylistically. Basically all you have to do is take James Bond, make him American and have him fight zombies. I don't know if "Patient Zero" was meant to be a deliberate homage to James Bond since there are several pop-culture references sprinkled throughout the book, but I suspect there was a conscious intention to write a story in the Bond tradition. Joe is a tough-guy with a ruthlessness that makes him nearly unbeatable, but with an ethical code that makes him virtually incorruptible. He has a wise-cracking sense of humor, very little fear of his superiors, and an easy way with women. He even has a mysterious boss, Mr. Church, who has virtually unlimited assets and access to a very Bondian array of gadgets.   If that sounds good to you-- then I expect you'll like this book. I know I did.
     Because of the stylistic set-up "Patient Zero" couldn't be described primarily as a zombie book; they're really just the main threat in this book. The bomb that has to be defused just before the clock counts down to zero. But oh what a threat they are in this particular go-around.
   There were a lot of things I really liked about "Patient Zero." Like a lot of action-oriented books, it isn't a hugely deep story. But Maberry does what I don't see a lot of writers doing right now in the realm of scifi by acknowledging the real-world threats of terrorism that exist right now. He isn't skittish about mentioning 9/11 or Al Qaeda, though he isn't making any political statements by doing so. It's just that the set-up of the story requires us to recognize common motives for attacking the United States and the need for a guy like Joe Ledger. There is a small amount of philosophical musings, like the excerpt quoted at the top of this review, but Maberry does a fantastic job of just telling the story and not pushing a point of view. I also like the science that is used to explain the creation of the zombies that play such a huge role in this book. The details are given in a slight info-dump fashion, but it's easy to forgive as it adds a lot of credibility to narrative by including it as part of the story.
     I'm still debating with myself about whether Joe's character is a little too perfect, and whether it would be a bad thing if he was. He's clearly an idealized hero. An updated, non-sexist James Bond who also has the capability to be a team player. If he has a weakness, I haven't found it yet. At the same time, it was a lot of fun to follow the exploits of a guy like Joe and the fairly black-and-white world of good and evil that exists in this particular story. Sometimes you just want an unambiguous hero who doesn't waste too much time on personal angst. The villains are also somewhat simplistic, but convincing. After all-- how many motives can one really have? Politics, religion and money are all thrown into the mix and it works very well.
     There are times when the dialog feels slightly cliché, as if it was written for a big-screen action film, and the violence has the same over-the-top feel. But "Patient Zero" is clearly written to entertain and it absolutely succeeds on that level. A popcorn flick in book form.

4 out of 5 stars.


Budd said...

it sounds interesting and what a great blurb.

SQT said...

That is a good blurb isn't it? I liked Maberry's style. Thoughtful, but not preachy. And lots of action.

Charles Gramlich said...

I just bought this recently. May move it up on my reading list.