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Monday, April 12, 2010

Generation Dead by Dan Waters

Title: Generation Dead, first in the Generation Dead ttrilogy
Author: Dan Waters
Reviewed Format: UK Trade paperback
Release Date: July 7, 2008
Pages: 400

Oakvale High has one of the highest concentrations of the living impaired--zombies, if you will--in the greater Connecticut area.  When the school gets the opportunity to host a program by the Hunter Foundation for the Advancement of Differently Biotic Persons, Phoebe Kendall signs up right away.  She convinces her best friends, Adam and Margi to join her, but neither is as enthusiastic or as politically-minded as Phoebe.  Will Pete Martinsburg--the resident Bad Apple--make high school even more miserable than it already is?  Or will the contentious integration fail before it’s even had a chance to get off the ground?

Generation Dead is an ambitious social commentary on prejudice and discrimination.  As if high school wasn’t difficult enough, Dan Waters contemplates the consequences of random zombification--a phenomenon singular to American teenagers where death is not the end, but rather the beginning of an entirely new set of problems.  So many rights end at death that some legislators argue the “living impaired” should have the same designation as illegal immigrants, with all the inequality and intolerance that provokes.  No one can really explain why some teenagers, and only American teenagers, aren’t staying dead.  Of several theories (mold spore, too much junk food, Chernobyl fallout video games, signs of the coming Apocalypse, religious fervor), only one thing remains true: zombies need a brain to survive in their new state of being.  This makes them a bit more vulnerable than one might imagine.
Waters’ narrative is ever so careful of the socio-political implications of several phrases when seen from the perspective of zombies.  The words life and living, for example, are a no-no.  Asking where one lives is to recognize the meaning behind the word--zombies aren’t alive, so they can’t live somewhere, but they can reside, or stay with someone, somewhere.  This careful dance of social sensitivity brings an awareness to the idea of what Waters wants to do, that unfortunately, is overshadowed by the relationship between two Trads--traditionally biotic persons--Adam and Phoebe.

There are many light-hearted witticisms that ignore the careful verbal acrobatics encouraged by the Hunter Foundation and reclaim pejoratives for minority empowerment.  Rebirthed teenagers prefer to be called zombies--and why not?  It’s much better than the alternatives: living impaired, corpsicle, dead heads, or the syllabic-happy term: differently biotic person.  The term zombie doesn’t have to be explained.  On the same note, even traditionally biotic--or living--teenagers are susceptible to the anger of their dead counterparts.  Blood bags, beating hearts, the breathers--the names are no less creative or hurtful.

Generation Dead attempts to consider these differences in a larger scale as well.  There’s even a proposition to issue rebirth certificates to zombies, allowing them the same rights they had before they died.  All around the country, zombies are being, for lack of a better term, murdered (can you murder something that isn’t living?), but the news fails to report these second deaths.  Conspiracy theories abound between the local zombies and their sympathizers in the Hunter Foundation’s program at Oakvale High.  Some students are so in tune to their zombie classmates, they’ll even go out on dates with them or bring one to prom.  As expected, decisions like those bring protestors and negative attention that threatens the safety of students who haven’t died yet.

While Generation Dead does take a lot into consideration, I was frequently reminded that this is only the first book.  It serves well to introduce us to the characters and settings of Oakvale, Connecticut.  What ultimately brought the plot around was the relationship between Adam and Phoebe.  Tommy Williams or Colette, two zombies, were only two components influencing an already established dynamic, a brief interruption that for the moment, was sidelined--an affect that weakened what could have been a much stronger and consequential book.  Because Adam and Phoebe stole the show, as much as Waters placed Tommy in the foreground as a distraction, some of the zombie-related concerns began to resolve themselves--especially those regarding zombie-Trad relationships.

I did, however, really enjoy reading this book!  I’m eager to read Kiss of Life and the upcoming, Passing Strange.  Generation Dead ended in such a way that I can’t help wanting to find out what happens next--between the characters themselves and the unexplained experiments to increase zombie functionality.  If you want a different perspective on zombies, especially of the teenage variety, you should consider Generation Dead.  Some might call Waters’ message too heavy-handed, but the book was pleasant enough that his commentary appeared in keeping with the atmosphere of the rest of the book.  If you think you can handle a few bad puns and some esoteric Star Wars references then I’d recommend Generation Dead.

How many Jawas recommend this book?

Thank you to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy!


Anonymous said...

Although you make parts of this sound fairly interesting, I'll be passing on this one. Still, I'm glad to see such an enthusiastic review and look forward to seeing what you think of the rest of the series. :)

Erika said...

@TJ: It's a fun book, but I don't think it's the right fit for you. Better you pre-order Feed. :)

Lily Child said...

Definitely sounds interesting. Like TJ, I'll most likely pass on this one for now. :)

Erika said...

@Lily Child: It was a neat book. I'm very curious about the sequel, which I do have. :)

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