Book – Living on an illegal mining colony in the middle of nowhere makes for a pretty boring life. Until, that is, a fleet of ships from BeiTech Industries show up out of nowhere and start blowing everything up. Seventeen-year-old Kady is one of the survivors, picked up by the science vessel Hypatia, and her recently-ex-boyfriend Ezra has been conscripted aboard the warship Alexander. But the Alexander‘s artificial intelligence was damaged in the battle with BeiTech, and it’s getting a little trigger-happy. Meanwhile, a disease is spreading through the fleet, one with disastrous consequences. Frustrated with the lies and misinformation being spread by the fleet’s commanders, Kady starts hacking into the ships’ networks, trying to find the truth, and she winds up much deeper in the intrigue than she ever expected to be.
Illuminae is an intense, cinematic science fiction novel that’s got a little bit of everything: spaceships! Explosions! Corporate intrigue! Romance! Plague zombies! I love a good epistolary novel, and this one is killer. The variety of document types allows for great character-building dialogue and action sequences both, and also builds in some great opportunities for unreliable narrators (of which there are plenty). I loved the relationship between Kady and Ezra; it’s not often in a YA novel that the love interests already have an established relationship, and it was a nice change from the more common will-they-won’t-they romance. If you like this, you’ll also enjoy the Expanse series (both the novels and TV show) by James S.A. Corey, another science fiction series that subscribes to the Rule of Awesome.
Book – David Moody’s Hater isn’t really a zombie novel, but it’s got a lot of similar trappings: friends and strangers turning on one another, individual survival becoming much more important than the trappings of modern life. It’s firmly in the “survival horror” genre, of which zombie novels are only the most popular form. The point of a survival horror story has nothing to do with what the monster is or why it’s dangerous, only whether or not the main characters are going to survive.
Moody’s concept is original and interesting. Instead of turning into zombies, people just become murderously violent, for no reason at all. We eventually find out that the “Haters,” as they’ve been dubbed by the media, aren’t driven by hate at all but by fear – a sudden, crippling fear that they’re going to be attacked and they have to defend themselves first. “Haters” can’t deal with normal people, but when they get into a group of their own they’re perfectly fine, because they know they’re among their own kind. It makes more sense than zombies, to be perfectly honest, and has the added benefit that the Haters are intelligent and can be interesting point of view characters.
I can’t uncritically recommend Hater. I thought the writing was stilted and the characters predictable. If you are looking for something to indulge a survival horror buzz, though – for instance, if you’re going into withdrawl from The Walking Dead – Hater will keep it going for you.
Book – Stony Mayhall isn’t like other kids. His skin is cold and grey. He doesn’t hurt when he’s injured. Oh, and he’s been dead since he was born. On a cold night not long after the zombie uprising. Wanda Mayhall found the body of a young mother by the side of the road, but the baby in her arms reached out when Wanda came close, so she brought it home and raised it as her own. No one knows why Stony grew up, even though he was a zombie, but they know they have to keep him a secret.
Unlike most zombie stories, Raising Stony Mayhall isn’t really a horror novel: it’s a story about family, and finding out who you are. Stony grows up in isolation, but his discovery that there are other living dead folks walking around brings his life into a new perspective. The point isn’t to scare you but to make you think. Daryl Gregory calls the genre he writes in “anti-horror,” a story that starts out seeming like horror but which turns into something much more positive. Even if you’re sick to death of zombie stories, give this one a try: it’s not at all what you’ve become used to.