Despite what you may read elsewhere, Suffer the Children is not a novel about vampires. In a strict sense, there is little in the way of monsters. Compared to Craig DiLouie’s earlier work, there are significantly fewer zombies and bullets, less blood mist and cordite in the air. The action is subdued. Your ears will not ring from explosive charges. But there’s a lot of heart. You can all but feel it thump as you turn the page (or press the e-reader button).
Where Suffer the Children distinguishes itself is not in attempting to recreate or contrive a monster myth, which is something many authors are trying to do these days because the prevailing thought is that doing so is the key to success. In fact, Suffer the Children succeeds in innovating a classic monster myth. And it surely is interesting, but what makes it truly intriguing is that Suffer the Children is about the *people* first. This is something that makes Craig DiLouie somewhat of an exception in the horror genre. His books aren’t about zombies. They aren’t about vampires. If there are monsters in his novels, they are the monsters *within* the people that are expertly and lovingly conceived. He makes you sympathize with and fall in love with his characters. Many of them have humanizing and redeeming qualities. And when he’s finished showing you these people and what makes them as intriguing and sympathetic as a friend or even a sibling, when he’s dug his author pen into your chest, piercing your still-beating heart, that’s when he twists it.
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The idea of a viral outbreak isn’t exactly new, but The Flu by Jaqueline Druga is anything but typical. It maintains a level of distinction even beyond the apocalyptic and outbreak thriller genres.
A particularly deadly strain of the flu escapes a facility in Alaska, and by chance and relayed through expertly executed dramatic irony, the virus makes it to Barrow. Then it hitches a ride with a journalist to LA, and well, you know how this goes. Druga spares us an attempt at building suspense through being coy here. We know there’s an outbreak, and she spends only enough time to set it up and make it feel legitimate and authentic without feeling tiring or exhaustive.
Meanwhile, in the small town of Lodi, Ohio, people are going on about their lives, feeling safe from the events they’re hearing about on the news but which are thousands of miles away. And here is one note of distinction for The Flu. Unlike a typical thriller, Druga features a strong character element, ultimately making the story exceptionally relateable. Titling the novel “The Flu” is almost a tactic in misdirection in that this is not so much a story about a viral outbreak as it is about lovably crafted characters and how they fare in the face of that challenge. You might think this isn’t such an important distinction, but it is. There’s depth here. Druga makes us fall in love with the people she’s created, and as a result, we feel their pains as they suffer, their joys as they succeed. As a result, The Flu is an exceptionally powerful entry in the genre.
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For a post-apocalyptic zombie novel that is set after the zombies have won and humanity isn’t just trying to survive but salvage some kind of lower existence, Tankbread would seem to present a story with nowhere left to go but into a bleak future; humanity has no existence left to fill except to serve the upper class, now comprised of zombies that have managed to sustain themselves and elevate their intelligence to near full capacity by feeding regularly on human stem cells. In this vein, Tankbread presents an interesting comment on class in our present, not-yet-apocalyptic society.
The story begins with a courier that remains unnamed throughout. He is being patronized by an evol, one of the upper class of zombies that is intelligent enough to lead. The courier’s charge is to go to the Sydney Opera House, where some of the last of humanity have set up a protected community, and pick up a package. There we learn the secrets of Tankbread and the morally questionable pact humanity has made with the evols for survival. Essentially, Tankbread are human clones the surviving humans create to feed the evols in exchange for an agreement that they will leave the humans in the protected communities alone. As the courier is learning all of this, feeling safe in this Australian landmark, the Opera House is attacked, but the courier escapes with a Tankbread he later names Else and a charge to get her to a research facility across the country.
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Like most sequels, it’s difficult to discuss Craig DiLouie’s The Killing Floor without at least mentioning its predecessor, The Infection. Unlike most sequels, however, DiLouie makes it easy to focus on this work by surpassing the original in almost every way.
The Killing Floor picks up right where The Infection leaves us, bringing back all of the characters who survive the first story, even one special character whom we think is doomed when we leave The Infection, and introducing many new characters. Like Infection, itself, DiLouie allows his zombie mythology to evolve and adapt, and therein he finds the central plot of The Killing Floor. It threatens to become hackneyed, but DiLouie jumps in with both feet and develops it enough so that it feels legitimate, natural, and unique.
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