Written by: Josh Black
I’ll be the first to say I’m not a big fan of zombie novels (not the most popular opinion, I know). Looking at the cover I figured that’s what this was. Luckily I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s more than a trace of that subgenre here, but Paul Kane’s Sleeper(s) is unlike anything I’ve read. Part medical thriller, part zombie story, part fairy tale and part sci-fi shlockfest, Sleeper(s) is a unique beast that genre fans of all sorts will enjoy.
It starts with a virus. The citizens of Middletown are quickly overtaken by it, but it doesn’t make them ill. Instead they fall into a deep sleep, their bodies blanketed with a strange cobweb-like secretion. The city is quarantined to prevent this “sleeping sickness” from claiming the rest of the world. Dr. Andrew Strauss, a sort of super virus buster, is called in and enters the city with a joint force of U.K. and U.S. troops. Strauss’ ostensible goal is overshadowed by his search for a woman he’s been dreaming about his entire life, a woman he’s become certain is in the city.
I was drawn in immediately by the general conceit, and drawn further by the great characterization. Strauss, his assistant, and the group of people they’re with are all three-dimensional personalities, flawed (sometimes deeply) but with understandable motivations.
The atmosphere is brilliant as well. It’s utterly creepy. Kane does a great job mixing tension with a sort of hazy, dreamlike quality that appropriately matches the story’s events. It’s got the feel of a modern dark fairy tale, partly inspired as it seems to be by Sleeping Beauty. The first act is all mystery, and really keeps you turning the pages.
The zombie aspect comes into play with an interesting twist, which I won’t spoil here. Not technically zombies, and certainly not mindless, the affected are nonetheless violent and nearly unstoppable. The creative action sequences have a cinematic feel and they’re a lot of fun.
Another nice touch was the fact that certain characters referenced so many sci-fi and horror movies, books and tv shows. This kind of thing is often just an irritation, and it’s not something I’d ordinarily bring up. It works well here, though, as a tip of the hat to genre fans, without quite breaking the fourth wall.
I won’t spoil plot details or get into the origin of the virus. All I will say is there’s a lot to like here, and I very much recommend it. It’s a cerebral take on the genres it culls from, but it’s fast-paced and always entertaining. Think of it as the written equivalent of a B-movie with brains. Good stuff indeed.