Review of Suzanne Robb’s “Z-Boat”
Z-Boat tells the tale of the Betty Loo, an ancient heap of a submarine contracted out for search and rescue missions several decades in the future. The world has changed since the early part of the twenty first century, with massive pollution, tremendous political turmoil, deteriorating food and water supplies, and in general, a pretty messed up world. People do live longer and food is genetically enhanced, but large corporations run things along with the new superpowers: North Korea, Russia, and Israel. There is little in the way of freedom anymore, and the human race is starting to die out because food is losing its nutritional value and clean water is scarce. Missions to explore the depths of the ocean to find new solutions to the world’s energy and bio related problems are believed to be one of the few remaining hopes to the long term survival of the human race.
We are introduced to a decent sized cast of characters in this story: the members of the Betty Loo’s crew that have been with her for the long haul and the new members of the team who have signed on to join them for a search and rescue of a sub that is at a depth the Betty Loo has never gone to and perhaps can’t handle in her semi-decrepit state. It is clear almost immediately that virtually everyone who has been hired on for this mission has ulterior motives, and no one has any idea who to trust. No one really knows who has hired them for the operation, as that information is kept secret, even from the captain, though several grim facts have been shared with him that make him realize that this might be the last mission the Betty Loo ever undertakes.
The cast of characters is colorful, with several ranking high on the intrigue scale. Ally, the ship’s pilot with the cloudy past, is the captain’s right hand and is probably as close to a main character as this ensemble piece gets. Ivan, the newcomer who appears to be in charge of divulging information to the crew on a need to know basis, is an ominous presence along with the doctor and research scientist who have found their way onto this mission with him. Each has their own agenda, which the author doles out in bits and pieces as the story unfolds. The author also shares with the reader the perspective of virtually every character as key things happen, often switching from one to another rapidly to make us aware of some of the motivations that drive the different members of the crew, both new and old.
Oh yes, there are zombies in this tale, but this book is more of a thriller than a zombie story, with the gruesome gut-munchers not showing up until more than two-thirds through the book. When they do, they provide the level of gory entertainment that zombie fans crave. I didn’t see the build up to their reveal as a negative here-there was plenty to keep the plot rolling along in advance of their involvement, and even after they make their appearance, the elements that made the book a dark thriller remain in place.
Z-Boat was an ambitious undertaking. It blends elements of both horror and thriller effortlessly, and also gives the reader a solid perspective of life aboard a submarine without letting the technical details of such an experience become overwhelming (or boring!). We are given just the right amount of detail on the Betty Loo so we understand how she operates when things are working and when they are falling apart without feeling like we’ve read a technical manual. The twists and turns of the plot challenged me to keep up, but didn’t leave me scratching my head, which in some ways can be both a good and a bad thing. As I mentioned, the author reveals a great deal about each of the characters and what they’re thinking, so how they act and react doesn’t generate surprise or shock as we dig deeper into the story, which makes this one more of a thriller than a true mystery in my mind. Of course, the zombies themselves are always unpredictable and insert plenty of surprise into the story, giving us a pretty decent body count in cramped quarters-both on the mysterious vessel sitting on the bottom of the ocean waiting for rescue as well as the Betty Loo herself.
This was a fun read that kept me wondering how things would turn out from moment to moment, especially when the undead showed up and threw another wrench into the works for the crew just trying to survive each other as well as the constant array of mechanical problems the Betty Loo keeps having as she dives deeper and deeper into the dark depths of the ocean.
Z-Boat can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Z-Boat-Suzanne-Robb/dp/1467945749/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325460500&sr=1-1