Review: Outpost / Author: Adam Baker / Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Come on, we all love a good Zombie apocalypse and, if you’re tired of all those cheapskate straight-to-DVD releases which clutter up the shelves of our lovely supermarkets every week (Zombie This, Undead That, running time 82 minutes….you know the score) you could do a lot worse than settle down with one of the many Zombie novels which seem to have started popping up lately as regularly as…well, Zombies in an apocalypse I suppose. These tend to be trashy, disposable sloppily-written gore fests, of course (‘Zombie Britannicus‘, that’s you that is). Some try to do something a bit more literary within the sub-genre (JL Bourne’s ’Day By Day Armageddon’ series, Stephen Jones' unsubtly-titled ’Zombie Apocalypse’ and the really rather excellent and poignant ’Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion which takes a Zombie’s eye view of the end of days). Then there’s ’Outpost’ by Adam Baker, in which the world ends off-stage, the Zombies aren’t exactly Zombies and, in the best traditions of the genre, we follow the trials and tribulations of a group of disparate survivors struggling to stay alive in a hostile environment. And what an environment...
’Outpost’ is set in the Arctic Circle on the drilling oil rig Kaskar Rampart somewhere smack in the middle of nowhere, its crew cut off from a civilisation which is dying and whose death they can only observe with mounting horror via increasingly-infrequent TV and radio broadcasts. Then nothing. With their supplies and power dwindling, the crew must work together to find a way back to what’s left of the world. But can they work together or will human nature ultimately cause the demise of humanity itself? Battening down the hatches and ready to ride out the winter with what supplies they have left before battling to find their way back to whatever's left of home, the fifteen-strong crew are heartened by the sudden arrival in the distance of the Hyperion, a vessel which apppears to be an abandoned luxury liner. A scout party boards the liner to find that its crew and passengers are very much (un)alive and that their passage home might not be as easy as they'd suddenly hoped.
New writer Baker has crafted a fast and furious little horror thriller which is actually a bit lighter on the gore than many of its type, and whilst Baker's not big on long descriptive passages - changes of locations are heralded with just one word descriptions - he's certainly been able to conjure up a chilling and all-too believable setting. Most impressively, in a Zombie virus which appears to be of extra-terrestrial origin and has the unfortunate side-effect of causing its victims to sprout metal from their skin whilst still maintaining a healthy lust for blood and flesh, he's found a way to actually bring something new to a very old, groaning Zombie table. While it's true his characters are little more than sketch-notes, his story rattles along, peppered with action set pieces and explosive incident. There's a real sense of fear and desperation as escape avenues disappear into the snow, and the crew begin to distrust and turn on each other.
'Outpost' is hugely cinematic in scale and whilst none of the protagonists are especially likable and Baker's often spartan writing style takes some getting used to, it's a real page-turner and if nothing else it throws a few new ideas into the big melting pot of contemporary Zombie fiction.