"Juggernaut" Book Review
Written by Adam Baker
2013, 320 pages, Fiction
Released on April 2nd, 2013
I don’t think I’m a zombie snob. Hell, I gave The Walking Dead two seasons to stop being about Andrew Lincoln staring hard into the distance and saying something in a gravely drawl. But we’ve had brilliant zombie creations over the past few years, and while Juggernaut is an inspired reinvention of the zombie virus epidemic, its dry and technical nature can’t compare to the more fulfilling stories of 28 Days Later and even Warm Bodies.
Lucy Whyte is a mercenary on a mission: get the gold, get the money, get out. When rumors of an abandoned convoy of Saddam’s secret stash reach her ears, she tracks the source to a former regime member who promises to lead her out to secluded Valley 403, where she and her aging team of elite guns for hire can have their fill of gold and retire in luxury. Unfortunately for Lucy and her comrades, they’re not the only ones trying to retrieve something valuable and dangerous from Valley 403.
Baker has some great ideas. His conception of the zombie pandemic as an alien virus that fuses metallic tendrils with human tissue is profound. The descriptions of the virus overtaking the pitiful war prisoners captured for human trials is devastating and chilling. His knowledge of military protocol and jargon is abundant. His ability to make you wonder if anyone is ever on anyone else’s side is keen. His capacity for writing full characters with emotional lives is a bit lacking.
When I say Juggernaut is dry, it’s dry. There is little to no mention of how anyone feels at any particular moment. I commend his choice of a female leader with nerves of steel and a mind like a textbook, but it’s hard to understand why Lucy would be so emotionally cold when she’s there with old friends and the woman with whom she plans to spend the rest of her life. The absence of compassionate introspection does raise the excellent book club question: Is this Baker’s attempt to parallel our desensitizing response to violence with a brainless, hungry zombie? Is this a hidden message of the inhumanity of war? Are we all shells of our former selves since 2001? Since the Gulf War? Since Vietnam? Since Grand Theft Auto? In the vein of storytelling, it’s kind of boring.
Boring still is the repetitive nature of Baker’s adjectives. Within three paragraphs he’d used the phrase “paint scorched with corrosion” twice. If I read the phrase “tumorous growths” one more time I was going to throw the book onto the subway tracks. Why didn’t an editor loan him a thesaurus?
My other complaint deals with the biology of this particular zombie virus. BEWARE! SPOILERS BELOW!
When the alien virus inhabits a human, it replicates in crystalline form like metal. Spines grow from bones, lungs, out of eyes, out of gums, it’s disturbing and brilliant. The severed limbs and vertebrae stored in the lab of Valley 403 are infected and move on their own. However, when Lucy or a team member smash the skull of a zombie soldier, he dies. But didn’t the lab prove the virus doesn’t need a functioning medulla oblongata to move the host corpse around? The soldiers that reanimated were firebombed multiple times, some trapped in burning trucks before “dying”, and they came back. If beyond that damage, which would have destroyed brain tissue, they could still attack, I’m not buying that a simple bullet to the head would stop these guys. For the most part, they have an entire second metal skeleton under their remaining flesh. They’re an undead Wolverine, for crying out loud.
On the other hand, this will make a great movie when it’s optioned. The setup is so technical that all a director (cough*Kathryn Bigelow*cough) needs to do is secure a location and give the script to some actors to flesh out the characters’ hearts and souls, and I’d watch it in a heartbeat.