September 26, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Fields" by Ty Schwamberger

The Fields
The Zombie Feed (Apex Books 2011)
82 pages
ISBN 1937009025

It turns out that one way to go forward with the zombie genre is to go backwards--in time, anyway. Ty Schwamberger's novella, The Fields, offers up the story set in the days following the American Civil War of Billy Fletcher, a young plantation owner in dire need of help to keep the farm going before the tobacco crop dies. He inherited it after his father passed away, a cruel slave-owner who didn't just exploit those indentured on his farm, but tortured them as well, even burying slaves behind his expansive tobacco fields. Even his son wound up the receiving end of more than a few beatings for showing sympathy for the slaves and other deeds considered sins in his father's eyes.

But despite vowing to run the plantation differently from his father, to work the land himself rather than resort to slave labor, the young man is failing. Enter a man named Abraham who knocks on Billy's door one day and offers him a solution. There's no real telling where Abraham came from, but he sure seems to know a lot about Billy and his father, and assures Billy that what he needs to do is follow in his father's footsteps. And that's something that Billy is adamant about avoiding, because he doesn't want to be a slave-owner like his father. But what if the slaves are already dead?

This was a tremendously creepy zombie story, due mainly because of the racial current running through it. The idea that a person would only be enslaved during when they're alive, but when they're dead as well, is an unsettling one to say the least. One thing I had trouble envisioning as I read the book was the farm. Billy, Abraham, and the zombies jumped off the page, but the plantation itself felt very much like a stage-dressing when I was expecting something much more vivid. But, maybe tobacco fields just aren't that much to look at.

Apex seems to have a knack for showcasing books in the zombie genre that stray from the road most traveled, though it's sad to here the Zombie Feed imprint is no more.

Ty is an emerging talent in the horror genre, to be sure. I'd only read some of his short fiction prior to this, so it was nice to sit down with a longer work and see how he brings a story to life when there's a little more room to breathe. I've got a couple more of his novellas on my to-be-read pile, and I'm definitely looking forward to checking them out, too.

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