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Friday, November 5, 2010

Warm Bodies - book review and contest

(A note from JasonWhile those of us in the US will not see this book published until next year, it is currently available from Amazon UK.  However, UK publisher Random House has been kind enough to offer ZT readers a chance to win a copy!   There are several copies flying their way to me as you read this!  Additionally, Summit Films has grabbed the film rights!  You can read the interview we posted with author, Isaac Marion, here.  We will be featuring a follow-up interview shortly.  Contest details will follow the review.)

Sara Ross

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion is in the process of publication, and unfortunately, won’t be available to purchase until March, 2011 (Atria Books).  It is a shame, because it is a very good work of fiction that draws the reader in and makes him or her really enjoy the characters.  There is less of the adrenaline rush from chasing humans (zombies) or killing zombies (humans) that seems to be a focus in many other novels of the zombie genre.  Instead of guts and violence, Warm Bodies emphasizes raw emotion and hope.  As an alternative of watching a downward spiral into zombie-ism, Marion focuses on an ascending battle to regain a previous existence.  The hero of Warm Bodies, R, is a zombie in the lesser stages of decay, who still has the stirrings of feelings, memories, and life buried in him somewhere just beyond his grasp.  It is by getting to know R that the novel begins.

R is R because his name has been lost…somewhere between death and undeath, most facts like names have simply slipped away.  Memories, feelings, and vocabulary are also among the casualties.  They appear in tiny, fleeting glimpses from time to time, serving as reminders of life before death that leave R feeling frustrated.  R is rather verbose for his species, and when speaking can muster a several-word sentence in addition to his grunts and groans the rest of his peers are able to manage.  However, the reader is given access to R’s mind, where he is much more eloquent and his ideas don’t have to be vocalized. 
After explaining day-to-day activities, for they can hardly be called “life” if you are undead, R provides his version of some concepts that provide structure in zombie society.  Marriage, school, church, and home still exist in their culture, but have mutated, mirroring the transformation of the zombies themselves.  Families and relationships in R’s world have taken on different forms, but serve to create an illusion of structure and routine with which to pass the time.
Once the reader is thoroughly introduced to R and what it is like to be R, an empathetic relationship forms, for he is probably the nicest zombie around.  Surely R’s enjoyment of simple pleasures such as listening to his vinyl collection, driving a convertible, and traveling on the people mover in the airport is indicative that he is not completely “gone” from the word of the living.  Even as R must go on hunting trips to feed, as it is only human flesh that will satisfy a zombie’s hunger, the reader notices that the activity is not fun or pleasurable for R.  He dislikes having to injure people, and hates their pain and screams.  It is on one of these trips that the reader develops compassion for R, and realizes that he has the stirrings of a conscience.
One of Marion’s greatest ideas in Warm Bodies is what happens to zombies as they eat the brains of their victims.  R and his cohorts are able to relive the experiences and memories that once belonged to the person whose brain they are savoring.  It is these moments, where R is rationing the brain of his victim in an effort to make the sensations of being alive again last as long as possible, where the reader can see that R has not completely lost the ability to feel, and that maybe he is different from the average zombie.
The brain of a young man named Perry serves as the most important catalyst for R in rediscovering his human roots.  While eating Perry’s brain (which R decides to ration out so he can keep enjoying vicarious experiences), R is taken back, briefly, to memories so vivid they seem real—despite the fact that they belonged to a stranger who was dinner.  After each morsel of the brain that R eats, he is drawn a little bit closer to life, and has a harder time relating to zombies.  It is also Perry’s brain that makes R feel as if he knows a young woman named Julie so well.  These feelings for Julie give R the desire to not only not eat her, but protect her.  He takes her back to the zombies’ airport and continues to keep her safe—clear evidence that R is overcoming the urges innate to a zombie to consume human flesh.
As R earns Julie’s trust, bit by bit, a friendship develops, and their feelings for one another become stronger.  R and Julie are able to teach each other different skills.  R helps Julie see that zombies are not all horrible, have their own personalities, and usually act how they do not from desire, but because of the changes that becoming a zombie impose.  Through her stories, questions, and laughter, Julie helps R get closer and closer to life.  The unlikely duo spread their knowledge and original ways of approaching their situations in society by making waves around them.  In the end, R and Julie demonstrate that willpower, ingenuity, and trust go a long way in spreading change. 
Isaac Marion’s unique take on zombies creates a novel with surprisingly likeable characters and refreshingly less blood and gore than many zombie novels.  Marion is able to make the reader care about and relate to even the zombies.  He will get the reader’s wheels turning about morals, what it means to truly live, and what it would be like if all your cherished moments came from living vicariously through someone else.  In the end, the reader will be pleased to see the changes that R and a gradually increasing number of undead begin, along with the aid of Julie and inspiration from Perry. 

As mentioned before, Marion’s novel will not be available to enjoy until spring.  In the meantime, check out Burning Building for a taste of what Warm Bodies will have to offer!

"A Mesmerising evolution of a classic contemporay myth" - SIMON PEGG

For your chance to win a copy, email your name and address to  Winners will be selected at the end of the month.

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