Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Quick reads are big right now. Novellas are in some ways the grown up equivalent of comics. You can knock one out on a flight, during a day at the pool, or just over the course of a week’s pit stops. No large commitment needed. In a world of epic stories that seem to have no end such as George R. R. Martin and Stephen King, it is a breath of fresh air.
Plagued: The Rock Island Zombie Conteractant Experiment, by Better Hero Army, is the second novella in the Plagued States of America Series. Who or what is the Better Hero Army? Their website proclaims that they are a collection writers, editors, artists, and other multimedia specialists focusing on short novels between 150 and 200 pages in length.
Plagued: The Rock Island Zombie Conteractant Experiment, henceforth referred to as Plague II, follows Lieutenant Mason Jones. Jones has recently been removed from duty in Egypt after killing a soldier under his command. He has been transferred to the Rock Island Prison Defense Facility in the Plagued States of America. The prison is one part containment center, one part defense structure, one part research facility, and one part slaver camp.
Jones isn’t exactly sure why he is there. Most think he is a spy and perhaps he is. He has been tasked with contacting a Doctor Kennedy, but he has no idea how to find her. In the meantime, Jones has been assigned to the lowest of low duties: cleaning the zombie cells. Before he can think about getting to the doctor, he has to insure he doesn’t get bitten.
Zombie stories are a dime-a-dozen. Who hasn’t heard the story about a group of survivors journeying across an apocalyptic landscaping fighting hordes of mindless zombies? That is not the setting of Plagued II. The apocalypse has come and gone. Life goes on in the Plagued States of America.
America is divided between areas filled with the infected and safe zones. The zombie threat has been held in check. They are being rounded up. Surgical processes can remove glands which cause infection. Zombies can be “slab” trained, hence the thriving slave market. There are even rumors of a cure.
World building is limited by the length of the novella, but Plagued II is part of a series. While it contains a stand-alone story, the setting in which it takes place is much bigger. The story, itself, is also rather compelling. However, it reads more like an adventure novel than horror.
The emphasis on domesticated zombies and action sequences may be a negative to many horror fans. Yet, for those who like zombies and are looking for something a bit different, Plagued II comes on strong. Read it as a stand-alone or part of the Plagued States of American Series, along with Plagued: The Mid-America Zombie Half Breed Experiment (Plagued I) and Plagued: The Ironville Zombie Quarantine Retraction Experiment (Plagued III, out October 10).