XOM-B by Jeremy Robinson is a futuristic paranormal thriller about a unique young man with high-tech characteristics, who will find himself pursued by the world-enslaving Masters as well as masses of former slaves who've become zombies (available April 29, 2014).
The first thought that entered my head when I picked up Jeremy Robinson’s XOM-B was that this book was essentially Resident Evil-meets-the-Civil-Rights-Movement. I was… a quarter correct. I’m never quite certain what I’m going to find when I get into science-fiction, but XOM-B is a hard-hitting, fast paced and fresh take on zombie lore, and I was pleased to see it turn out to be so much more than I expected.
The narrative follows Freeman, a young man learning about the world in the wake of a dystopian society where people were enslaved to The Masters. Along with his protective companion, Heap, Freeman takes in what’s become of Earth, finding beauty in the reforestation of ruined cities The Masters once controlled.
I couldn’t possibly see the raccoons. Not because I have poor eyesight. I don’t. It’s just that they live on the forest floor and I’m sitting at the center of a rooftop. The old abandoned building, built from red bricks and mortar, is dilapidated, but still sturdy enough. The construction strikes me as flimsy, but it seems to be resisting erosion and the encroaching tree roots. I’m still learning, but I’ve come to one conclusion I’m sure of: the world is always changing, yet always fighting against that change. I suppose that is the nature of things...
… Perhaps the strangest thing about Heap is that I’ve never seen him without his armor, which is a deep blue exoskeleton. Like a bug. With round glowing white eyes, two on either side of his face. His mouth and chin are exposed, which allows him to speak clearly, and his four round eyes change shape with his moods, so he has no trouble emoting. But it’s strange to never really see him. I know there is a man inside the suit, but he’s a mystery … and he’s my closest friend. My only friend, I suppose.
He’s knowledgeable about the world as it is, and as it was, during the Grind—the time period when the Masters used people as slave labor—but he’s far from an expert on raccoons, or any of the mammals that populate the planet. But when he sits up next to me and says with uncommon reserve, “That wasn’t a raccoon,” I believe him.
When he raises his weapon slowly and stands, I ask, “What then?”
“Silence.” He thrusts an open palm at me with practiced efficiency, punctuating the command.
Of course, this happy study can’t last long, and soon after hearing a distress call from the forest, Freeman finds himself face-to-rotting face with several lumbering, flesh-hungry humans. Not exactly idyllic. When Heap insists Freeman run and save himself, Freeman ends up in a city vastly different from the ruins he’s used to exploring.
What I found interesting about Freeman’s character is his limited knowledge and the way he processes what he learns. He’s essentially a child discovering what’s left of civilization, with no knowledge of what happened in the past 30 years to bring society to this point. As readers, we’re confined to his point of view, learning as he learns. The space inside Freeman’s head alternates from wonder and curiosity to more logical assessments, creating a world that feels as uncertain as it appears, a world where zombies are definitely not expected.
He describes these creatures as “[a]n avalanche of humanity [closing] in on either side, like a zipper composed of bodies,”which is pretty cool and, from what I can imagine, accurate image of being surrounded by the undead. I really enjoyed Robinson’s use of decay when describing these monsters as well. It’s not just blood and gore, but a realistic system modeled on life. There’s a decay process in place, where the fresher, newly turned corpses have speed and agility the older, weaker, slower ones do not. After all, rotting bodies can’t stay spry forever.
Freeman’s goal veers from learning about the world to protecting the living and his new friend, Luscious. They will be rejoined by Heap, and ultimately find their way back to where Freeman came from: The Counsel Spire in the heart of Liberty City. When the zombies make their way into Liberty, Freeman and his friends are sent on a mission to stop the zombie horde before they destroy and consume those still alive in the city.
The action up until this point is mitigated by Freeman’s learning curve, but once you make it into the city, the story launches into full-swing action. The science-fiction elements add a new flavor to what’s generally just been horror. Sure, there are HoverCars, but there are also towering drones with guns powerful enough to shoot through buildings, wrecking-ball robots, and sentinels, all operated by people. The kicker is whether the drone is operated by a living being, or harboring an infected body trying to destroy you.
Though the science got a little weird for me in places, overall, it really enhanced the structure of the world Robinson built and the effect on the culture was very interesting. It was futuristic without being too out-there. That he chose a society which emulated the American Civil Rights Movement was something I’d never seen before (at least not in combination with zombies), and he managed to move seamlessly from a dystopian society to a utopia with some seedy undercurrents prepped and primed for another uprising.
Because we’re so close to Freeman throughout the story, we get to see him grow and begin to understand what’s happening with this world as he pieces together the purpose of the growing number of undead. He goes from a naive, sometimes confused boy to a fighter and survivor with a decent dash of attitude:
I try to keep my anger in check, but it’s difficult to have a conversation while civilization is being torn apart and the one person who can stop it wants to chat.
Though I didn’t truly connect with Freeman in the beginning, I found myself able to relate to him and understand why he thinks and acts the way he does as we progressed together through the story. This strong, confident character is not who we meet in the beginning, but watching him evolve, being with him through his development, was a nice change of pace from what I’ve seen in more “traditional”zombie survival stories.
I thoroughly enjoyed the unmasking of the villain, and the plot twist was so brilliant, I wish I could tell you about it, but I want you go pick up this book and find out for yourself. What I found incredibly clever was that Robinson’s science is entirely feasible. It makes sense. It works. I love the application of actual science in science-fiction, and the plausibility adds yet another dimension to this book. And trust me, it’s a terrifying realization.
If you are a lover of zombie stories, a science-fiction fanatic, or just someone looking for a change of pace, I highly recommend picking up a copy of XOM-B. There’s action, humor, a dash of romance, and of course, legions of the shambling undead in their endless search for human flesh.
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Meghan Schuler grew up in a small, awkwardly-named town in Georgia. She attended Brenau University, where she earned her BA in English and a minor in Graphic Design; she also attended the University of Cambridge, England, where she didn't quite master the perfect Oxbridge accent. She's an avid reader, writer, and fire spinner. She's currently working her first novel, a paranormal thriller. Visit her blog at ExquisitelyOdd.com.