I’ve read Proust. And I’ve read Siegel and Shuster. Like someone who appreciates both steak and sorbet, I understand the value of a palate cleanser. Eric S. Brown’s The Weaponer (Grand Mal Press, 2013) will probably not end up in the canon (though it has a cannon in it). But if you’re looking for action and horror with the fun of a comic book and the punch of a Grindhouse film, then it’s hard to imagine a better value. Welcome to a near future, where “old west” meets “zombie apocalypse” tale.
Alan builds weapons. He has a gun collection (antique models like the Glock and AK-47), but replacement parts are no longer manufactured. A craftsman, Alan builds six-shooters for nearby settlers, who are rebuilding after the zombies destroyed most of the world. It’s said that a thirty-foot construction called “the Wall” kept the hungry hordes out. But now, settlers face a new threat, and Alan is dragged (kicking and screaming) into the fray.
Alan is a loner. Not the Clint Eastwood cliché—he’s picky about his company and a little bit judgmental. He’s inept in social situations (“He’d never understood women, not like he did guns…”) He spends much of the novel frightened out of his gourd. All in all, a very believable and oddly appealing protagonist.
The novel has some secrets to reveal. Is the Wall real, or a legend? Who’s begun attacking the settlers? As I discovered the answer to these questions, I had to marvel at Brown’s imagination. The zombie sub-genre has always been somewhat limiting—the virus begins, survivors scramble to, well, survive, and then things end badly. This western/horror mash-up breaks the pattern, to surprising effect. Instead of characters coming to grips with what the reader knew before the book began (zombies on the cover tend to give things away), there’s a surprisingly touching scene where hardened New World pioneers speculate over a campfire, wondering what it must have been like for people waking up in the Apocalypse.
I found novel to be fast-paced, clever and endlessly imaginative. Warning—the novel has some gore. And Brown has never been fond of happy endings. That said, if you’re looking for a palate cleanser that tastes like…never mind. The Weaponer is a fun read. (Five stars out of five)