Author: James Knapp
Published: ROC (2010), a division of Penguin Group
Genre: Sci-Fi; Thriller
What I thought was going to wind up being a strictly run-and-gun type of novel starring zombie hordes turned out to be a little more thought provoking than all that. I'm not saying this is the philosopher's approach to the undead, but the end result is a bit more elevated than, say: The dead are walking the streets! Shoot them in the head!
I also thought there was going to be a bigger horror element to James Knapp's novel, but the tone of the book falls more along the lines of thriller with a big emphasis on the science-fiction elements. The die-hard zombie fiction fans may be disappointed by the lack of brain-munching gore, but if they can let go of that demand then there's a different kind of tale for them to enjoy.
In State of Decay, what we might call zombies are referred to as "revivors"--corpses reanimated via electronic implants. And they're not an infestation or the sign of end times, but rather a new technological commodity. In an alternate, near-future America, society's class systems have really become a dominant factor in a person's life. Okay, they're important now for most, but the veils are dropped in this world. If you're Tier 1 you're basically golden, privileged in most ways imaginable. Tier 2, you're upper-middle class, but still better off than most if you know how to get by. If you're Tier 3, however, you're basically fodder for the rest of society and can look forward to likely having your corpse turned into a revivor by some corporation ... or maybe black market thugs.
While revivors are usually used as either a legitimate military asset or illegitimate sex-slave by organized crime, FBI agent, Nico Wachalowski, discovers there could be a third and more terrifying use for what he considers abominations. After busting up an inner-city nest of revivors, he's attacked and discovers smuggled revivors could be part of a terrorist plot. Along with Nico's story, we also dive into the lives of Faye (an estranged friend for Nico's) and her own strange investigation into the revivor incidents, Zoe (a drunk recluse with a unique ability) and her reluctant recruitment by Nico, and Cal (a Tier 3 pitfighter) with her dangerous association with a rich stranger on the run. All points of view are told through first-person, which was a tad jarring for me in the opening chapters, but I quickly acclimated myself to Knapp's writing.
Each character gradually becomes familiar and sympathetic, though I thought there were moments when their crossed paths felt a little too contrived. Thankfully, the action is taut and the mystery builds like a steam engine's momentum. The infusion of technology into the daily lives of the characters takes some getting used to, but I thought Knapp did a good job weaving it into the story and not making me feel like I had to Google a bunch of techno-babble. And some of the little gadgets and gizmos add their own tone to the story, especially Nico's surreal integration with his superiors via ocular implants. The part I had the most trouble taking at face value was the psychic element surrounding one of the main characters. Though, it winds up working pretty well with the reanimated corpse aspect (revivors don't have much of a mind to read or influence).
While the novel's ending certainly has that "stay tuned" flavor, the story is enough of a stand-alone that readers shouldn't feel aggravated by a cliffhanger. But the depths to which this story dives will require readers to navigate the first book--and I don't think it's unreasonable to assume this-- before attempting to read the inevitable sequel. And I have to say that the final small twist at the very end created just enough intrigue in me to consider checking out the second book whenever it hits the shelves.