Zombie Book Review: One Undead Step

I’m pretty conflicted about the premise behind One Undead Step. On the one hand, I love historical fiction, even when it’s completely ridiculous. There’s just something inherently interesting about looking to the past and wondering, “What if?” On the other hand, I am a hardcore skeptic at heart, and things like the moon landing conspiracy make my blood boil.

Here’s the book’s premise: in the late sixties, zombies are very real, except the public at large has no idea. If anything, they vague remember Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which only came out the year before. That’s because the government isolates these incidents and covers them up. And it’s not just our government, the Soviets are doing the same thing. So just how do they manage all these cover-ups? By the classic magician’s tactic of misdirection.

In this case, the misdirection comes in the form of the space race. You see, for each major advancement on either side, from Sputnik on, was done not to beat the other side to the moon, but to distract the public from the various zombie outbreaks happening in that country.

Now, I will admit that this is as fine a hook on which to hang a story on as any other, except that it bothers me because it lends credence to notion that the United States government fakes the moon landing, a theory I find both ridiculous and insulting. Take this quote from back of the book “Many people know that the 1969 moon landing was faked, but are unaware of the actual circumstances.” It operates on the presupposition that the faking of the moon landing is accepted fact, which is just ludicrous. Of course, the book is also liberally peppered with humor, so it might be that I’m reading too deeply into things.

My personal prejudices about the premise aside One Undead Step is a fine enough zombie book. There is plenty of action, lots of zombie getting killed and people getting devoured. The central characters are an odd mix. You have a few down to each characters, like the bartender Will and some of his customers. The rest of the cast is made up primarily of broad caricatures, from mobsters and corrupt rich people to military cliches and sleazy Hollywood also-rans.

The authors makes excellent use of the time in which the novel is set. There are a lot of interesting racial and gender politics that crop up in the margins of the story. At various intervals throughout the story we get to enjoy a brief chapter that isn’t focused on one of the main story lines. In these chapters, we explore the often forgotten characters in zombie stories: those of the anonymous victims. This is where One Undead Step is at its strongest. In these vignettes, we get brief glances at extremely well developed characters that are incredible symbols of the “others” of the day. Rape victims, minorities, and homosexuals are the most compelling stories here. They show us the dark side of the world. In only a brief few paragraphs you come to care for a lot of these people, only to have their stories come to sudden, terrible ends. I was immediately reminded of similar chapters from The Stand, which I also found incredibly affecting.

I feel a little bad focusing so much on the premise of this otherwise fun and well-written book, but it’s what stuck with me the most throughout. You mileage, of course, may vary.

Grade: 4 zombies heads out of 5