Dead Inside


Before Shaun of the Dead employed brilliant wit and endearing characters to mock the relentlessness of death in a surprisingly warm homage that my brothers and I will forever quote back and forth to each other, before The Walking Dead created a substantial drama with unforgettably wrenching, tension-filled moments that take all of your strength just to keep watching, I never gave much of a thought to the zombie genre. It could be slightly entertaining if October didn't feel creepy enough, but I never cared about zombies or their fictional survivors at all beyond that. It was just an unnecessarily bloody and pointless joke to me. There was never any substance behind them that I could care for, never any heart...unless one was ripped out. And then a few people with talent decided to take a crack at it and I noticed. Now I look forward to these stories, because any one could have an interesting new idea. I hope they don't wear out their welcome with me the way that many vampire tales have done that are not from the imagination of Justin Cronin, who weaves together pre- and post-apocalyptic lives spanning decades and makes their losses feel significant, or Joss Whedon, who has always shown incredible depth and humor and infuses a sense of reality and humanity in the craziest of situations.

I have a feeling that Miranda Doerfler will make her own mark before too long and it starts with a novella called Dead Inside, the culmination of a first step that includes a number of short stories preceding it. I don't want to give it all away, so I can't say too much. What I can say is I read most of it in one night, went to sleep, woke up, and devoured it before breakfast. That's not just because of the brevity, but due to the author's flowing prose, a style that graces all her work. The natural dialogue and detail developed the scenes like a Polaroid in my mind. In fact, days after reading it I remembered a moment and mistook it for a movie sequence. There is an instant feel for the characters, but I would have liked more time with them. Also better would have been for the concerns of the more level-headed scientist to his casually sociopathic co-worker's "for science" justification for murder to be more forceful, an "I can't believe I never realized you were this evil" objection rather than a "this seems wrong but you're my buddy so I'll go along with it" non-objection. Those are small concerns, though, that soon took a backseat when the pace swept me up into a world being swiftly torn down, overrun before its inhabitants can understand what's happening.

Dead Inside is an interesting take on the zombie genre, treading familiar ground but adding new twists, and I would like to see it explored further. With a small group of people who can bring the dead back to life, there is a supernatural component to this Michael Crichton-esque science-born terror. I like the mix. And these aren't your typical shambling bags of bones, who mindlessly impale themselves or are thwarted by an elevator. A zombie making a conscious choice is a scary beast, indeed. Where normally presented purely as unrelenting eating machines, motivated by hunger even after disintegrating, there is a surprising look into the mind of the undead, memories of who they were competing with what they've become. It reminds me of Warm Bodies in that way, but don't for a second think this is a sweet rom-zom-com. With a rage brought on by a virus that works it's effects in moments, these are monsters in the vein of 28 Days Later. The living are in big trouble, turned in the blink of a eye. This is the kind of book where I'd advise against eating while reading, and if you're plagued by dreams that don't feature kittens snuggling with puppies then it might be a good idea to curl up with Dead Inside in the daylight.

This is an admirable first novel from a promising young author. Give her a shot and you will find yourself anticipating what's next. Then follow the author on Twitter and spend a few more dollars on her other work.

*As of this writing, the Kindle version (the one without a price) is $4.99.


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