Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: Raising Stony Mayhall

It's been mentioned around here before that I'm not the biggest fan of zombies, vampires and the like. I, apparently, am in a minority, because the fantasy world is teeming with the undead these days.  If a "hot" new release doesn't have vampires in it, then chances are there's a zombie to be found somewhere betwixt the covers. I'm so sick of those undead fuckers...

But then along comes this Daryl Gregory guy.  He writes two awesome books in Pandemonium and The Devils Alphabet, and then what does he do?  Writes a Dracula comic, and publishes a book about Zombies.  DAMN! Just when I thought I was done with the undead, I get pulled back in...

So with the genre being more bloated than a fat man on a bean and cheese diet, does Raising Stony Mayhall, a book with a zombie as the main protagonist, have anything new to offer?

Why, yes is does actually.

The world in which Raising Stony Mayhall takes place is one very similar to our own, with the biggest exception being that there was a Zombie outbreak in the 60's that nearly got out of hand and wiped out the entire human population.  Crisis averted, zombies are now public enemy number one, and are hunted and executed with impunity.  So, when Wanda Mayhall and her three daughters are driving home through an Iowan snowstorm and discover the body of a teen mom with a baby in her arms they are shocked to discover the baby is one of the living dead.

Rather than turn the baby over to authorities, they decide to keep the child, and strangely enough, the child begins to grow.  Not only does Stony grow, but he's also quite capable of thinking, learning, and do most of the other activities considered human.  For years, Stony was able to remain a secret from the world until a terrible event occurs and causes Stony to flee the only people he's ever known.  On the run and out of options, Stony quickly discovers that he's not the only living dead guy around.

It's pretty clear to see from the plot synopsis that Gregory's zombies aren't your typical brain dead shamblers.  The zombies of Raising Stony Mayhall are in fact much more than that. Like I mentioned before, they are capable of coherent thought, speech, and have the ability to learn. In fact, since they don't need to eat or sleep to stay alive, nor do they feel any pain; One could almost argue that they are kinda like an evolved species of human.  Granted, most of the zombies that populate Stony's world don't take advantage of this, and sit around all day smoking and watching daytime TV.  Still, for me this distinction was important, and a very interesting part of the book.  An interest that worked out well for me, because Stony too was interested in the science behind the zombies, and his search for the secrets of their genetics was one of my favorite aspects of the book.

As a group that is being hunted to extinction, the zombie underground network was another engaging aspect of this novel.  I enjoyed reading how the population managed to survive, and how the various factions within the group tried to gain sway over the zombie people. (Big Bite anyone?)  The political wranglings were quite fun to read, and the giant zombie meeting at a warehouse in the middle of nowhere made for a fantastic scene.

More than anything though this book is the story of Stony Mayhall's life, and his life is a pretty fascinating one.  We see all the events of the story through his eyes, and his struggles to not only help his species survive, but also gain acceptance by the rest of the world is quite amazing.  The fact the Gregory actually got me to root for zombies is no small feat.

As impressive as that is, I was also impressed that Gregory was able to once again deliver a story with a pretty powerful emotional punch, on top of an engaging story.  I think I was less moved by the emotional aspects of Raising Stony Mayhall than I was by the emotional bits in Pandemonium and The Devil's Alphabet, but I think that stems from Stony being a harder guy for me to relate to or connect with than Del or Pax.  Still, there's no doubt that Gregory is one of the sharpest writers going these days, and I love him for the fact that he can write fantasy that is fresh and different than most everything else on the shelves.  Gregory is a writer that deserves to be read.

Grade: B-


Justin said...

Never heard of this writer until your review but now I'd definitely like to check out his work. The horror genre could definitely use some fresh ideas. There's a lot of crap out there right now, especially related to zombies and vampires. Not sure if you've read Justin Cronin's "The Passage" but that's a fun post-apocalyptic vampire epic.

Ryan said...

Yeah, you should definitely try and squeeze a Gregory novel into your reading this year if you can. I've enjoyed all his stuff so far.

My favorite was Pandemonium, then Devil's Alphabet, then Raising Stony Mayhall.