Today I bring you a review of Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
Now I read a lot of zombie horror and such post apocalyptic texts. Why? I enjoy them, the idea of survival against the odds, fighting against an implacable enemy that is out to destroy the very thing that makes you human, all that 'good' stuff. This won't come as much of a surprise considering during my teenage years I read a lot of military sci-fi and have spent the last five years writing fan fiction for the deliciously dark universe that is Warhammer 40k, but more on that later.
Patient Zero is a book I have seen about on book store shelves for some time now, but after I finished reading Annie On My Mind, I went looking on Amazon's kindle store to find something new to plunge into and low and behold, Patient Zero was the result. Now I'm not going to spend ages going on about my thoughts of eBooks versus proper print here, I'll save that for another time, so I'll just jump straight into the review.
Patient Zero follows the story of Joe Ledger, a cop set to head off to the FBI training facility to start a career with them. However, as you might have guessed, things don't exactly go according to plan.
The book opens with a raid on a suspected terrorist cell operating on the eastern coast of the United States where Joe and his team encounter an extremely violent and deranged individual that tries to bite Ledger. Yes you guessed it; this is the patient zero of the zombie plague. After dropping it with a couple of shots in the back, Ledger is left to ponder his fate awaiting a review when he is bundled away by a bunch of feds and introduced to the mysterious 'Mr. Church' and the Department of Military Sciences, the DMS, which just happens to be a super secret military organisation with a blank check from the US president. Cue the guy Ledger shot reanimated and hungry for flesh.
The story progresses along the usual conspiracy and gory lines common to a hell of a lot of fiction out on the market these days with the author trying to legitimise his plot line by bringing in lots of high tech equipment and rare medical diseases that his whole virus is hinged upon. Strangely enough, Mr. Maberry is able to keep the whole thing both realistic and tied up well together for the main narrative following the exploits of Ledger, Church and the DMS as they seek out who and what is behind the plague and try to stop it from becoming the world ending pandemic in the vein of Day By Day series, World War Z and just about anything by George A. Romero.
Unfortunately, this is where his whole book starts to fall apart.
Clearly he had put in a lot of research to cover his virus and US sections of the story, and kept that working, but the author brought in elements both unnecessary and frankly, very poorly done. His bad guys are the classic Hollywood black hats of recent years, fanatical Muslims so dosed up on their twisted brand of Islam that they are quite happy to see the rest of the world burn, and what almost seems to be a requirement for undead media, a pharmaceutical company obsessed with money. Great, like we haven't seen that before! His villains are overdone, unbelievable and almost ruin the plot line with their antics. They make what was a good conspiracy read into propaganda bullshit. With these characters, the whole book starts to read like a recruitment drive for the US military and I can just imagine a bunch of people reading this book while saluting the Stars and Stripes and singing the American national anthem.
Now, I'm British through and through, cut me in half and you'll find the Union Jack imprinted in me like a stick of Brighton Rock after you get past the royal seal tattooed on my arse, and like most Brits dismissive of anything American (we're just painfully polite about it ;) ), but this kind of propaganda I'm seeing more and more frequently just makes me sick. There is no need for it and it ruins the effect of a narrative.
My biggest problem with this book however, is the way Maberry shoehorns the British military into the narrative. While research was done on the medical side for his virus, the author clearly didn't spent an second of his time while putting this story together to research the British military. He has come up with units, corrupted others, got equipment wrong, operating procedures wrong and created a fantasy version of the UK forces that all Americans seem to have brought into over the last few decades.
So let's go for a run down of his fuckups here shall we?
1: British forces use halftracks. - We have not used halftracks since the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War and most of those were American machines purchased through Lease Lend.
2: British forces always forget mission objectives to care for casualties - NO. Mission always comes first. The UK forces will leave casualties until the battle has been won. We are not driven by the almost suicidal addiction to 'No Man Left Behind'. That is an American ideal, not ours.
3: Bastion Hospital takes wounded from Iraq - NO! Oddly enough there were field hospitals in our area of control in Iraq during the years we were there. NO casualties would ever have been transferred between warzones, because that is A. stupid B. runs the risk of them dying during transit and C. would involve flying over hostile airspace! There is no link between Iraq and Afghanistan that doesn't cross the airspace of at least three other nations. The quickest route is over Iran and yeah, that ain't going to happen.
4: Bastion hospital cannot care for battlefield injuries - Fucking bullshit. Bastion hospital is one of the best facilities in the world and can care for almost any injury going. It has top of the line gear and top of the line staff.
5: A pediatric doctor put in charge of triage - Ok what the fuck? Why would a PEDIATRIC doctor even be doing in uniform? It's not like there's a big call for them in the army is it? Dumbass addition.
6: There's a unit called the Sixteenth Air Assault Brigade - Nope, it's just 16 Air Assault Brigade. We only have the one.
7: There's a unit called the First Royal Anglian Regiment - NOPE! It's just the Royal Anglian Regiment. It's got numbered battalions and we shorthand that to One Royal Anglians while speaking. Did he actually bother to check this up? Clearly not.
8: A pharmaceutical company can create a false identity for a terrorist as a British soldier so he can get in through the system. - Yeah just plain NO!
9: The Royal Navy operates hospital ships - Not since the Falklands. All casualties’ head back to Selly Oak Hospital.
10: Foreign nationals and Red Cross doctors operate on said hospital ships - No, guess again Mr. Maberry. ONLY British military personnel work in British military hospitals.
11: A Red Cross ship takes British military casualties around the world for treatment - Yeah fuck off.
12: There's a unit called the one hundred odd (forget the number he used) Armoured - NOPE! We have very few armoured units, even less now (thanks to the SDSR)
13: British forces worked in the area around Najaf, Iraq - No the yanks did. We operated around Basra, and if you get that wrong, you're really not trying.
14: Terrorists can plan and execute an ambush that would bring British troops running to their faked halftrack and casualties - Yeah no. Oddly enough you have something called a communications network that allows you to keep track of units in the field, and terrorists can access it because its known as something called a SECURE NETWORK!!
15: British casualties in Afghanistan are so high that whole units get wiped out and battalions have to be rotated rapidly to replace losses. - There is no excuse for this one. Ever. Maberry go cut your wrists you fuck. You do NOT make light of sacrifices made by soldiers and you NEVER write ANYTHING saying about losses being higher than in reality. You're on my list for this one, motherfucker.
16: Women serve in the SAS - No. Women do not serve in any branch that would lead them to the SAS. You have to be infantry of some form to have the skills to get there and to be in an infantry unit you have to be male. The SAS is and infantry unit (classed as by the MoD) so NO WOMEN ALLOWED!!! This is a popular one with authors and filmmakers, and one that is easily rectified. Get it right, fuckos!!
Well that's that rant over, but you can see the problem. If you're going to put that sort of thing into your story, you could at least spend a couple of days getting your research right, or in the case of Mr. Maberry, just doing some fucking research would be a starter for ten!
All in all, Patient Zero is a good read spoiled by unnecessary characters, poorly created situations outside the main plot line and hamstrung by piss poor research and stupid mistakes, and too many short, choppy chapters. If you can leave that to one side, the main plot line is a good read and is worthy of being held up there as one of the better pieces of zombie fiction, and would be there so long as the editor earned his paycheck.
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
eISBN: 978 0 5750 8694 4