Writer of Horror Fiction

Review of Eloise Knapp’s “The Undead Situation”

Cyrus V. Sinclair thinks he is a sociopath.  And perhaps he is, though it is hard to be certain.  What is for certain is that he is an overly confident loner who seems ideally built for the end of the world, at least in a situation where the dead rise and the living become fodder for them.  He lives alone in his soundproofed and reinforced apartment in Seattle, and given his lack of interest in anyone except for his pet ferret Pickles and mentor, Frank, he is okay watching the world fall apart outside his window.  He is not the man with the plan; he is the man with a lack of concern about his fate, or the fate of anyone else.

This story starts with him doing nothing for the most part except sitting back collecting rainwater and reading old copies of guns and ammo, though he does venture out to a corner store to grab, of all things, candy.  Cyrus has a sweet tooth, and while he works hard to stay in shape, has stocked up on MREs, and has a small arsenal in his apartment, he has a penchant for sugary snacks that is extreme, and we are reminded of that on a regular basis in this story.

Things get shaken up in Cyrus’s world when Gabriella, or Gabe as he dubs her, shows up underneath his window, fleeing from a pack of the undead on the street below.  Young and tough, she fascinates him enough with her false bravado that he lets her into his apartment, though it becomes clear quickly that he is none too fond of her or her attitude toward the world.  Soon, after a few misadventures, the two of them decide to leave the apartment on a hunt to find Frank, Cyrus’s only human friend in the world.  Through several more adventures with both the dead and living, the trio happen upon Blaze, a tough as nails ex-marine that fascinates Cyrus for her ruthless nature, which is also why she is also despised by Gabe, who still believes that the world, and the human race, is worth saving.

The story progresses with the objective of getting to Frank’s cabin in the woods-a hideaway built for survivalists that is far removed from the undead world that surrounds the quartet at every turn.  Naturally, along the way they find numerous others trying their best to survive-from the desperate, to the crazed, to the innocent and weak.  Through these experiences we get to know Cyrus and his compatriots, and what is revealed is often repellant-especially with Cyrus and Blaze.  We are not dealing with heroes here, but people willing to do what it takes to survive, often by dismissing others who plead for their help.

I know that this story has gone through some changes since it was originally written as a self-published work and then became a Permuted offering, though I can’t say for sure what all the changes are-I had a chance to check this story out in its infancy (approximately the first third of it) and even offered up some feedback to the author.  I have always felt that she had a compelling character in Cyrus V. Sinclair, though I questioned then, as I question now, as to what extent he is a sociopath.  Granted, he seems to kill with ease during the apocalypse and does relate an early experience where he killed as a child, though in the telling of the tale it seems that Cyrus has convinced himself more of his homicidal nature than perhaps what actually occurred-we as readers of this first person chronicle have to take his word on how things went down.  Or so it seems to me.  Cyrus is rather boastful of his ability to remain impassive and lacking in any sort of human compassion and yet he can’t deny the bonds that form between him and the other members of his small company, including his pet, Pickles.

I think the author has done a excellent job in creating a despicable and yet very much human character that despises weakness and vulnerability while displaying it himself quite regularly.  And when he contrasts himself with Blaze even he realizes that he is not nearly as tough and callous as this woman with a scar and a nasty streak a mile wide.  Cyrus plays at being superior to all around him (except perhaps for Frank), but time after time he makes mistakes, nearly getting himself killed over and over again by the undead and the living.  In these instances he typically requires someone else to save him, but brushes over it like it isn’t a big deal.  I think it would have been fascinating to read this same story in third person, without the biased viewpoint of Cyrus clouding the picture of him.  We see this dead world through his eyes, which is fascinating, but I also think it would be fascinating to see it from an outside perspective.  I think much would be revealed about his true nature, and not just what he wants us to believe.

This is a unique story in the zombie genre.  My tendency is to prefer works that are character driven like this one.  The author has created a very intriguing character to examine and wonder about.  On that level, the story is a winner.  With that said, I feel it only fair to point out a couple of issues that I had with the telling of this tale.  I really don’t feel the change in perspective to another character for a single chapter was necessary.  It was like a hurdle that slowed down the tempo of the story and served as an unneeded disruption in my opinion.  I feel that what was revealed could have remained a mystery that was slowly unveiled through Cyrus’s suspicious eyes, as needed.  I also feel that what occurs in that particular chapter needed to be further elaborated upon (once again, through Cyrus’s eyes).  It changes the course of the novel profoundly, and while more may be revealed in a sequel, I think more needed to be devoted to that storyline within this book.

Overall, this is a great first effort from Eloise Knapp.  It takes guts to craft a main character that is, for the most part, a despicable human being and then craft another character that is, on many levels, even more despicable.  It takes a certain level of skill to make readers grow fascinated with these two, as I did, while I am sure there will be some folks who just despise them and will leave it at that.  I’m not sure that I could say I ever grew attached to Cyrus or Blaze and like them all that much, but I have to admit they are a pair of very interesting survivors that will likely draw me in for the sequel.

The Undead Situation can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Undead-Situation-Eloise-J-Knapp/dp/1934861588/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1324743397&sr=1-1

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