Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dead Earth: the Green Dawn by Mark Justice and David T. Wilbanks

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2007. Reprinted with permission.

Mark Justice and David T. Wilbanks were fairly new to the horror scene when they wrote Dead Earth: the Green Dawn, their first published novella. In between the time they wrote it and when it was accepted for publication, however, Justice began the Pod of Horror podcast and brought Wilbanks on as his co-host. The show took off among horror fans, and the pair quickly made names for themselves. Their chemistry on the show was so natural and easy-going that it's no surprise to find that their writing styles mesh well.

The morning sky is green over Serenity, New Mexico, and Deputy Jubal Slate knows that's just wrong. Locals have heard rumblings about a secret government project that has created a gruesome effect: a "dead army" of local residents who get mysteriously ill and soon die ... but get right back up again, with a hunger for human flesh.

Slate (along with his fiancée Fiona, the town pharmacist) appears to be the only hope for Serenity, which is quickly turning into gray-skinned, red-and-yellow-eyed zombies. Armed with a Mossberg and a sharp sense of irony (Slate has seen this kind of thing happen in too many movies), he is more than up to the challenge — even if he knows he might not survive to see another verdant sunrise.

Justice and Wilbanks take this time-tested premise and run with it, offering some twists and surprising emotional depth along the way. In fact, it's in the characters and other details that Dead Earth: the Green Dawn truly shines. The relationships between the characters feel real, and we are given a chance to care about people before they start dying off. Slate, a small-town mama's boy whose boss is also his father figure of choice, is one of the more complex personages I've run across lately. The fact that he appreciates Beethoven makes him just that much easier to admire.

With the exception of one short scene that lacks the confidence of the rest of the book, the duo’s writing is smooth and assured, not at all like the product of most relative beginners. The authors have created a paean to the old pulp-style adventures, only with dead instead of living foes. I would advise readers who wish to retain any suspense regarding the survival of the main character to skip the introduction by Gary A. Braunbeck — though he does seem to know his way around the post-apocalyptic subgenre. Leave his commentary for after, and enjoy the straightforward, cinematic prose style that Justice and Wilbanks offer up in Dead Earth: the Green Dawn. It's good old-fashioned storytelling, the loss of which is often lamented by today’s readers.

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