In New Novel, it’s U.S. Army vs. Zombies

03.07.10

Categorie: Kyle Mizokami, WIB Reads |
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by KYLE MIZOKAMI

The current horror zeitgeist, the zombie apocalypse, is arguably a product of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism. Zombie books and movies take place in the mundane places of everyday life and reflect a horror that has come home, attacked ordinary people and altered the landscape in some permanent, unwelcome fashion. The enemy is a familiar but a completely new creature, unfathomable in motivations and in many ways indestructible; kill one, and another takes its place.

That nobody has bothered writing a novel about the U.S. Army fighting zombies is a bit surprising, but that’s been fixed now.

The zombie sub-genre is glutted with bad fiction, with many titles poorly written recycling tired story lines. By this time next year another dozen zombie books will have been published, but none will probably be as good and ultimately satisfying as Craig DiLouie’s new novel Tooth and Nail. It’s the Black Hawk Down of the zombie genre. It’s that good.

Tooth and Nail is the story of a U.S. Army light infantry platoon that has been quickly deployed from Iraq back to the United States. The world is in the grip of an influenza pandemic and millions are dead, with millions more infected. In order to secure the homeland, the United States begins a massive operation to redeploy American forces from every corner of the globe. “OIF is over,” the military announces, rather abruptly. Relief gives away to unease among the infantrymen: if they’re sending everyone home from Iraq, what is home like?

Second Platoon, Charlie Company, 1-75 Infantry has just been redeployed from the outskirts of Baghdad to a hospital in Manhattan. They are stuck in the bottom of an urban canyon of concrete and glass, watching helplessly as society unravels in front of their eyes, held back by a lack of manpower and, more importantly, the Rules of Engagement. Strange characters haunt their perimeter at night; as it turns out, the flu turns some victims into violent, mindless killers, known as Mad Dogs. Even worse, there seems to be more of them with each passing hour.

Tooth and Nail breaks new ground in realistically depicting how soldiers would react towards combat on their own soil, against their own citizens, with modern weapons. They can’t believe it either. If you think the ethical dilemma of fighting guerrillas among civilians in a foreign country is unnerving, imagine what it’s like when the enemy is among your own people, naked and bleeding, an eyeball swinging from its socket, drooling, clawing for your throat. Gradually as the gravity of the situation dawns upon them, their reticence to shoot other Americans — even infected ones — is overtaken by events.

DiLouie is a gifted writer and the book moves along at a crisp pace. There is no camp or tongue in cheek — the book is played straight. One of the great strengths of the book is the characterization. You get to know many of the characters, and you care about them. There is no cloying prose to describe the soldiers and their ideals, their honor and their patriotism. They are simply professional soldiers trying to do the best they can. The officer-NCO relationship between Second Lieutenant Todd Bowman and his platoon sergeant, Kemper, is dead on.

The book shines in other ways. Dialogue is realistic, lively and devoid of cliches. The culture of the infantryman is portrayed well. Comms chatter sounds authentic. Weapons are generally described accurately but not overemphasized and fetishized like they are in many techno-thrillers. The newest high-tech weapon system isn’t going to keep the platoon alive. The sergeants will.

DiLouie nails the fighting man, particularly the American fighting man. He gets him, from the banter between soldiers to the outlook on the average joe’s life. In-between the relentless zombie hordes, you could forget this is a horror novel and imagine these at Valley Forge, Chickamagua, Belleau Wood, Hue City or Fallujah. Tooth and Nail is a tribute to the fighting man, the kind of book that will be passed around the FOB or barracks until it falls apart.

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8 Responses to “In New Novel, it’s U.S. Army vs. Zombies”

  1. windex says:

    Err, what?
    “The current horror zeitgeist, the zombie apocalypse, is arguably a product of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism.”
    Wha? It’s been popular since the 60s, 9-11 has more to do with icecream production than zombie movies.

    “That nobody has bothered writing a novel about the U.S. Army fighting zombies is a bit surprising, ”
    Once again, whaaa? There are *literally* dozens of books that use the U.S Army during the zombie apocalypse.

    “The world is in the grip of an influenza pandemic and millions are dead”
    How is that not a tired storyline in itself?

  2. Prestwick says:

    1. Yes it has remained popular, almost cult-like but it went out of fashion in the late 1980s and 1990s as slasher horror became vogue. It only came back into popular culture in the 2000s and only after 9/11.

    2. You’re missing the point, yes there are many if not loads of Zombie movies involving the military (28 Days Later anyone?) but this one focuses exclusively on the military, not civilians, not individuals stuck in a shopping center but the grunts and grunts themselves and how *they* react to the apocalypse.

  3. Graphomaniac! says:

    You just got schooled!

    Really keen to get my paws on this book. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. windex says:

    Many things have become popular after 9/11 — doesn’t mean it became popular because of 9/11.

    Youtube exists solely because of 9/11, without it it’s popularity would never have existed.

  5. Dave says:

    Not to nitpick, but didn’t Max Brooks’ WWZ to a large extent fill the military vs zombie gap? It wasn’t purely a military story, and certainly not purely American at that, but it seems quite similar in theory. It was based on The Good War, to, burnishing it’s military feel.

    Amongst other story arcs, it details a group of American soldiers fighting the zombie apocalypse. The “Battle of Yonkers” segment, which narrates the initial encounter between a fully networked, JSOW lobbing, Abrams driving, thermobaric bomb dropping US military and the typical zombie horde, has clear references to contemporary CT type operations. The other military story arcs (a PLAN SSBN crew, a German colonel, French forces clearing the Parisian sewers, Israelis enacting a quarantine of their country and the hordes of Russian conscripts basically living shitty lives) all use the zombie vs military plot device to reflect on relevant social issues as well.

  6. Graphomaniac! says:

    Windex, you’re still missing the point. Read Prestwick’s first point carefully.

  7. Kyle Mizokami says:

    “Not to nitpick, but didn’t Max Brooks’ WWZ to a large extent fill the military vs zombie gap? It wasn’t purely a military story, and certainly not purely American at that, but it seems quite similar in theory. It was based on The Good War, to, burnishing it’s military feel.”

    It’s funny, of all the things I’ve ever written for WIB, it’s the ZOMBIE BOOK REVIEW that people want to discuss the most!

    WWZ sort of did the job for me, but like you said, it was a novel with a lot of overlapping stories. WWZ flits around and tells its story with a lot of characters you don’t get to know. Every time it touches down, it does so only to make a strategic point about the war before zooming off to someplace else. It works in its own way, but I appreciated the fact that Tooth and Nail was a small story that stayed with a single U.S. Army platoon, populated with believable characters, with the grit of true-life war account. Tooth and Nail is also all U.S. Army, all the time. (With the exception of a subplot involving a scientist.)

    Speaking of WWZ, Brooks was also clearly influenced by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka’s Warday (which is about two journalists who criss-cross America several years after a limited nuclear war), their novel Nature’s End, and General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War and The Third World War: The Untold Story. (Hackett was a Para at Arnhem.) If you liked WWZ and read WIB, you’d enjoy any of these other books. They’re all about 20 years out of print, but easily available on Amazon. It’s about time I re-read all of them.

  8. Davw says:

    ^
    zombies are definitely “in.” I even had to do an essay for an IR course on the zombie apocalypse & how countries would react to it, and this is a legit university program! Thanks for the heads up on those other books.

    Could you see any parallel between The Walking Dead series and post 9/11 USA? That seems to be a pretty big part of the zombie revival.

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