Craig DiLouie is a horror author that means business. Having never read one of his novels before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but as I made my way through The Infection I found him to be a horror author capable of creating a world, a horribly grim world that you would never want to live in, but a place that is a blast to explore with the band of characters he populates it with nonetheless. The Infection is sort of a zombie novel, but it is a zombie novel not at all concerned with the “rules” of such a genre, abandoning the cliché tropes of it to go its own way, resulting in something unique and great. The Infection stands above many of its peers in the post-apocalyptic/zombie genre for two big reasons: the exceptionally strong characters and the evolution of the zombies into monsters that bring a whole different level of peril to the picture.
The basic story for the novel is rather simple—an infection wipes out a large segment of the population only to have them rise days later with an insatiable need to feed on human flesh. Through this dark world, we follow a band of survivors who meet by happenstance, moving along with them as they traverse the collapsing world. While this sounds like the exact arc of most novels of this kind, DiLouie has his own unique take on these story elements that take this basic premise and turn it into something much more unpredictable.
The group of strangers that we follow throughout the story each symbolize a unique portion of society, and for the most part each of them represents, in one way or another, figures in society that bring order to it. We have Sarge, a hardened member of the military; Wendy, a cop; Ethan, a school teacher; Paul, a minister; and Anne (you’ll have to read to find out her background); and, finally, there is Todd, who is an average, geeked-out teenager (the only one that does not fit into the category of those who influence the shape of society directly). The way DiLouie presents these characters lends so much depth to their portrayal. We are thrown into their struggle immediately as the world starts to fall apart, but then interjected between chapters depicting how they are surviving, we get flashback chapters where we learn all about who they are and how they reacted when the outbreak hit. This method of delivery works so well as we really come to understand why these individuals act the way they do, and, by the end, you will feel like you know each of these characters like real people.
Those infected by the mysterious virus are rather unique as well, and the threat they present is overwhelming. When the virus begins, things start off like a more typical zombie tale. The virus strikes and the dead rise, and the world that springs from this rise of the dead feels a lot like most zombie worlds from other fiction—desolate and bleak (really bleak) with scattered survivors navigating a now burning and destroyed city. However, as time passes, things rise to a new level of terror as the survivors we follow begin to encounter terrifying monsters that we later learn are the risen dead transformed beyond their human body. Things like giant worms and strange monkey-like creatures with spindly legs and even more bizarre things that present themselves as the novel progresses create a real living hell on earth. This evolution of the monster from zombie to something else really serves to make the chance of survival seem even less likely than in other zombie tales, and it creates plenty of opportunities for high octane action scenes that DiLouie seems to deliver with glee.
As the story proceeds, there is very little time to feel comfortable for the reader and the story’s characters. Whenever a moment of rest seems to present itself, things quickly escalate into a new dangerous scenario. Because of this fact, The Infection is a novel that moves along at a quick pace. There is a real overwhelming sense of gloom that hovers over the whole affair, a sense that borders on complete nihilism, yet, there is also some hints of hope mixed in as well. There is plenty of violence and gore, great characters, moments of suspense, and great monsters, making The Infection a unique brand of zombie/post-apocalyptic horror that genre readers should not miss.
If this sounds like your kind of tale, learn more about its author by reading my interview with him here.