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It's yet another zombie story, yet its not just another zombie story. Its the zombie story that just might cannibalize all other zombie stories. In fact, it's not really even about the zombies.
It's... O_O! ZHackers! ("Okay calm down, calm down" I hear you saying).
Written by David Jordan, ZHackers was the first novel to be sold on the Ubuntu Software Centre, a bold move in a market normally dominated by games and utilities. Hard copies are also available, of course, but the Ubuntu Software Centre version came with the added benefits of an HTML powered "presentation-style" option as well as a PDF, plus continual updates to keep you on the edge of the curve.
What's best, is that it's released under a Creative Commons license, and derivative works are actually encouraged.
If you haven't read it yet, this may spoil your lunch a little, but I'll try to avoid that ;)
First of all, ZHackers starts off with a pure geek (as they're called these days, sigh). He also happens to be our "hero". Not your typical ex-con with years of hunting (er, killing) experience and assault rifles to hand. For a sci-fi story tackling the popular concept of a zombie apocalypse, this is really taking a risk.
As the name suggests, what most sets ZHackers apart is that it is relatable to me, as a computer "hacker" in the true sense (not someone who breaks into banks). I'm also guessing this may refer to actually hacking zombies, judging from the cover ;).
From references to downloading the latest source code for the Linux kernel, to the social ineptitude I'm sure most of us computer guys are familiar with, ZHackers feels realistic enough to put you in the action, but not overkilled with the typical pointlessness of most other zombie stories. When reading ZHackers I felt as though "this could happen for real", even though I'm well aware (and very glad) that a "zombie virus" doesn't exist (and probably never will).
One of the things which jumped out at me (as a fellow writer), was the attention to detail regarding the thoughts and reactions of the survivors. As a reader, this makes for a more wholesome experience. It is important to me that a story does the work of making itself believable for me, while leaving enough room for my imagination to run wild on its own. If you're like me then, you'll find ZHackers to be quite satisfying in the that regard. There was enough mystery (What happens to those who were injured/bitten? Is Samantha in love with Daniel?) to keep me guessing.
One of the most annoying things about most zombie stories is, well, the zombies. Like aliens, they tend to fit within the standard mould, function the same way, eat the same thing (people) and be no more interesting than the Sunday Morning newspaper... after you've spilled coffee all over it. Fortunately, in ZHackers, the focus is less on the zombies (whew), and more on the survivors and their coming to grips with what is happening. When the zombies do appear, their appearances are less pivotal than the methods used to escape them, or the effort placed on understanding them. For someone who's more into the science behind them and less into the fear factor, this was exactly what I was hoping to see. BUT! If fear is what you're looking for, you won't be disappointed, as there is just enough "eek" to titillate your seat-belt strapping mind :).
First things first, let me just warn you that there was some unexpected bad language, which for me personally was a bit of a disappointment. I took this up with the author, who assured me that this is more "realistic" in his mind. Of course, we can agree to disagree here. For some readers (and for younger teens especially) I would say that this could be a turn off/red flag. It did put a slight damper on things for me, but it didn't ruin everything (as you can probably tell).
It goes without saying that zombies are a controversial topic, from a "moral" standpoint. For some readers, this may be an absolute no-no. For me, it's a toss up, as "zombies" are somewhat okay if you're premise is science fiction, as it is here (not just pure, pointless, evil... horror). Others may disagree, and my suggestion as such is to find another book to curl up with. Again I would warn that it's not the kind of thing you want to give to your child or teen, though otherwise ZHackers has been above board so far IMHO.
Whether you're in it for the Zombies or not, ZHackers is a pretty satisfying read, and will leave you chomping at the bits for more. There are a few minor niggles, such as the use of foul language (maybe we can convince the author to change this ;)?), but for mature readers who understand what to expect, this should not ruin everything.