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Review by
Steven Woeste
The Rising
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THE RISING - 2004
By Brian Keene
Publisher: Leisure Books
PB $5.99

I don't often read new authors, either those publishing their first novel, or one of their first; I like to stick to the masters, who either have a long and successful track record, or those at least whom I know consistently write what I like. Still, once in a while I'll try something new, and my latest sampling is the subject of this review, THE RISING, by Brian Keen. One reason I tried THE RISING is it fit with my current interest, which is probably more like a minor obsession; zombies, which I got started on recently with the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD (but that's another story).

THE RISING is about the resurrection of the dead to some form of mobile existence, which includes hunting and devouring the living. All very familiar and comfortable territory to those who like zombie stories. However, there are some new wrinkles. These living dead can speak, they even use sarcasm. They can drive cars. They can use guns. They can plan. They can organize. That makes it tough for the remaining living, who would have their hands full with hordes of the regular, brain-dead kinds of lumbering zombies, but who have it much worse with opponents who are their intellectual equal. Just to stack the deck even more against the survivors, zombies aren't limited to just the formerly human. There are animal zombies, and plenty of them. Dogs, cats, birds, snakes, even fish. Worse, they, too, are intelligent. You see, all of the living dead have come back from death as much more than they were when alive; each rotting body is home to a spirit, with a malicious intelligence, and a hunger for human flesh.

With such a robust backdrop, is there a story here? Somewhat. It starts well enough; Jim, a survivor in an underground bunker, is wondering what he's going to do as his supplies dwindle, and as communications from the outside taper down to nothing. Blow his brains out? Walk out into the zombies on the surface? The decision is made for him when the dying batteries in his cell phone last just long enough to take a message from his son, Danny, calling from New Jersey where he now lives, after Jim's divorce (His son went with his former wife, and her new partner). The living-dead things are in New Jersey too, and his son needs him.

With that, the journey begins. And it's here that the story changes significantly. The character development that started with Rick, Danny, and to a smaller degree, his post-divorce companion, Carrie, mostly ends. Though bits and pieces are added to what we know of, and about, Rick, through the rest of the novel, he's still not a fully developed character by the time the story ends. His son, by comparison, is not much more than a name, though we do know that he and Rick are close. Carrie is briefly described as a sympathetic character, only to become a zombie, and quickly disposed. All right, you might say, they're not the only characters in the novel, and you'd be right.

Rick pairs with Thomas Martin, a preacher, at the beginning of his journey to New Jersey; he also meets a former scientist, William Baker, a drug-addicted prostitute, Frankie, and a mentally-challenged boy named Worm. While there are numerous other characters, they drop in and out of the novel quickly, as disposable zombie fodder. And despite lasting for most or all of the story, the few "regulars" don't get a lot of development; Martin is just a preacher who can handle a shotgun well; Baker is a bland and colorless "scientist", and Frankie is a street dweller with the potential for redemption. For the most part, despite having different names, the characters are interchangeable, and do the same things, fight with the zombies. You also get a rather awkward introduction to "Eddie", a Texan with a hot temper, an appetite for dirty sex, and sporting a tattoo on his arm labelled "Feo Amante". At least with this character, you have other means to find out what he's really like.

And speaking of fighting with the zombies, that's about 90% of the story. Of course, that's what you should expect, since it's a zombie novel. But the settings and situations don't change much. The main characters run to escape the zombies. They meet more zombies. They kill the zombies. They run some more. One variation on the cycle is Rick, Frankie, and Worm meet a remnant of the Army National Guard, commanded by the nutjob Colonel Schow. It seems they want to retake a research center, now controlled by zombies, that somehow caused the dead to rise when a physics project went wrong.

What exactly happened? It seems the project opened a passage that allowed the entities inhabiting the living dead to enter our world. And it's here you meet probably the most interesting character, Ob, seemingly the highest order entity to get through. He explains some of what's going on, and what they want with our world. However, you don't get a lot of time with Ob. My biggest complaint about THE RISING is the ending. While I won't give it away, it looks like there's going to be a sequel. Argh!!! I would like to have had a clear resolution. What did I think of THE RISING overall? While it's a fair read, both its characters and plot can be skeletal at times (no pun intended), and a bit over complicated. I give it 3 bookworms.

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This review copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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BRIAN KEENE BOOKS





TRIVIA
The Rising won the Bram Stoker Award for best First Novel of 2003.

This is Brian Keene's second Stoker award. The first was for a short-lived newsletter Jobs In Hell which he published in the early 2000s.

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