Posthumous, the first book in what will ultimately be The Cadabra Rasa Series of novels by David S.E. Zapanta, is one of the most original and creative takes on the zombie genre I have ever had the pleasure of delving into. If you are looking for a survivalist guide on how to take out the undead hordes… look elsewhere, because this novel subverts every notion you may have about what a zombie story is and can be.
Set in a world where zombies have been a part of society for centuries, death is not just something that occurs, it has become a choice, and our history is radically different as a result. Instead of the undead being mindless flesh eaters, they are part of everyday life; able to talk, work, love, and emote, thus becoming part of the social fabric and forcing society to adjust accordingly. The world that Mr. Zapanta has created is a fully developed place that is unfurled throughout the novel in clever and remarkably creative ways.
Trying to encapsulate what Posthumous is about is difficult because of how much world building exists, and how much of the novel is allegorical and parallel to our world. A good place to start would be a brief explanation as to how these zombies work and how they are different from anything you’ve seen before.
Thanks to a system of talismans, shamans, and witch doctors, anyone who has died can be resurrected in whatever state they happen to be in. If you are recently deceased, then you will be reborn in a fairly healthy state, decomposition held at bay via the talisman you hold and the strength of the magic behind it; if you are an older corpse that has been in the grave for over 50 years, you will be reborn in a very advanced state of decomposition, but still functional through magic and available upgraded organs and limbs for those who can afford it. When anyone is reborn, their previous memories are erased and they are given a new name… and this is the basis behind “Cadabra Rasa“, the mind of the cadaver wiped clean.
Naturally, people are people regardless of whether or not this is a fictional universe, and not everyone is pleased to live in a world of the undead mingling among the living. We may have two World Wars in our history, but in this world, there were two Cold Wars, and as a result, the United States has been divided into The Living States and The Havens. The Havens is located in what is now California, but a ravaged version of the state after a massive earthquake, and separated from The Living States by a giant imposing wall, The Burly Gate.
On the outskirts of The Burly Gate, in what is now Death Valley, is a movie studio… and it is in this studio that the story begins. We meet Damon Grayson, the biggest A-list movie star in the country… and he is set to appear in a film with the reanimated corpse of Audrey Hepburn. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Damon is a bit squeamish when it comes to working with the undead… especially when it means sharing a love scene with the aforementioned Miss Hepburn.
In the world of Posthumous, it is politically incorrect to have any negative feeling towards someone simply due to their living status. In fact, the word zombie is viewed as pejorative slur, and we immediately begin to understand that being necrophobic is a problem. For every politically correct and incorrect thing you can imagine in our world, the analogy is made for this one.
There are different belief systems based on which option for the afterlife you believe in; Resurrectionists believe that death is only the beginning; Cremationists who find that it is one’s patriotic duty to allow yourself to be used as fuel (the power supply is based on the burning of corpses); and Burialists, those who don’t agree with resurrection, yet have a more traditional view on disposal of a person’s remains.
It is the battle between the Resurrectionists and the Cremationists that leads much of the tension in the novel. On one hand you have those that believe we all have a right to lead whatever life, or afterlife, that we choose… and on the other you have the Neo-Lifers, those that believe that once you are dead, you stay dead.
George Gleeson is one such Neo-Lifer. A veteran of the Battle for Burly Gate, Gleeson leads a militia group determined to take out the undead one zombie at a time. The mastermind behind various clinic bombings, his story is one of three major plot lines running throughout the novel. The third, in addition to Gleeson and Damon Grayson, is Barnabas Hardy… the real heart of the story.
Hardy, currently working for the government finding corpses who haven’t paid their talisman taxes, is a former fountain dowser… someone who, through some sort of psychic ability, can find anyone anywhere in the world… and Hardy was the best. His story takes on a pulpy noir feel… divorced, somewhat estranged from his daughter, Sofia, and brought back into dowsing in search of the Corpse Whisperer, a mysterious figure only talked about in hushed tones. Darla, his former wife, has made the choice to end her life and to be reborn… Sofia has become a staunch Cremationist… and Hardy, caught in the middle, wanders from town to town with a heavy heart, trying to reconnect with his family while doing his best to uncover the secrets of who, or what, the Corpse Whisperer really is.
Posthumous is an incredibly rich and complete story that gripped me from the moment I began reading it. It took me a while to understand that I wasn’t going to be spoon-fed at any point… there is very little in the way of exposition, and much of what I’ve described in terms of this world, was meted out in small doses throughout. Mr. Zapanta puts enough faith in his readers ability to suss things out for themselves that he never seems to feel obliged to lay it all out for you… you have to put the pieces together.
In addition to this incredible world building, you also have three amazing arcs; each with a complete set of peripheral characters and motivations. Some stories, such as Damon’s, are hilarious and dig into how the entertainment industry works, both in ours and their universes. There are some things that never change… and publicists, agents, and actors are all ripe for some amazing satire… living or otherwise. Other arcs, such as Hardy’s, will tug on your heart and make you care for the big lug like you would any noir anti-hero who is put upon at every turn, and always wanting to do the right thing. Gleeson’s arc, rife with anti-immigrant and right wing agitprop, is a shameful mirror into the hatred and bigotry inherent in such views.
If you believe that a zombie novel should only contain the slow shambling consumers of flesh that we all know so well… novels that have to constantly hit the thesaurus in order to come up with as many adjectives to describe the eviscerating of the human body… then this book may not be for you. If you enjoy an incredibly intelligent, witty, and thought provoking novel that makes the idea of zombies as allegory for whatever social ill you which to ascribe it in wonderfully creative ways, then you should really grab a copy of Posthumous. By the end, you will not only care about the fates of each of the characters, you will also be chomping at the bit for the next two installments in the series.
To purchase a copy of the novel in paperback or digitally, visit posthumousthebook.com. There you can read the prologue, see what other offerings are for sale at Melancholy Press, and purchase an autographed copy of the novel directly.
Death is only the beginning,
Cornelius J. Blahg