Working Stiff by Rachel Caine
Working Stiff: A Revivalist Novel
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I wasn’t much for zombie novels not that long ago. It’s probably because I’m not someone who really enjoys horror. My imagination is far too vivid for me to want to watch films with gore and nastiness. I have come to find over time that some zombie stories aren’t gross and, in fact, are really good reads. But I’ve also found that a writer walks a fine line in making their main character one of the undead. Rachel Caine tries this with Working Stiff, with mixed results.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Bryn Davis was killed on the job after discovering her bosses were selling a drug designed to resurrect the dead. Now, revived by that same drug, she becomes an undead soldier in a corporate war to take down the very pharmaceutical company responsible for her new condition…”
One the one hand, this story has some very interesting elements. There’s a covert agency attempting to exploit the resurrection drug, there’s the creeping horror of their using it on human test subjects, and there’s the natural curiosity the reader will have in finding out (in tandem with the main character) exactly what’s going on.
However, I think the author made a mistake in having the main character be a victim of the drug. According to the story, the drug must be administered every day, or the person’s body will begin to break down exactly like that of a normal corpse. Because of this, readers are aware that Bryn is constantly one step away from a truly nasty fate. And Caine makes sure that you understand what that fate is by having a couple of scenes that highlight the “breakdown” process. Those scenes are incredibly horrific, as the victims are perfectly conscious of what’s going on.
My other concern is that the drug will become the equivalent of Star Trek’s communicators. I remember reading something by David Gerrold, in which he describes how the original series’ scriptwriters had to constantly find ways to separate Kirk from his communicator in order to keep him in the middle of the action. Here, it would be all too easy to separate Bryn from the drug in order to spur the plot along. Given that the drug is in limited supply, I unfortunately foresee exactly this circumstance.
Overall, this is a gloomy book. Seriously gloomy. A “don’t read this if you’re depressed” gloomy. After all, how can readers be expected to invest their energy in a character who is already dead and could rot spectacularly at any given moment? It may seem counter to the fact that some of the best zombie novels have zombies as the main characters, but in this one, all we have is a woman whom we will likely see decompose messily and noisily. It’s not the most cheerful of prospects.
I don’t think I’ll be continuing with this series. As much as some of the plot elements intrigue me, and as good as the writing is, this book is just too dark and dreary for my tastes. Working Stiff isn’t quite a zombie novel, and it isn’t quite a fantasy novel. And it just doesn’t quite work.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on October 20, 2011.