Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Richard Brown, Titanic with Zombies

Title: Titanic with Zombies

Author: Richard Brown

Publication Information: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

ISBN: 1-479-20-739-X (i.e. 978-1-479-207-39-8)

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Zombies—Fiction
Titanic (Steamship)—Fiction
Plague—Fiction
Shipwrecks—North Atlantic Ocean—Fiction

Okay, this is a cute book. It’s not a great book, but it is enjoyable.

I read this book on my Kindle. The drawings of the characters, especially the zombies, adds to the fun. Richard Brown wrote an interesting slant on the sinking of the Titanic—that while the ship sank, a plague broke out on the ship that the infected died and returned as zombies.

How do zombies end up on the ship? A poor, young Irish woman is infected by someone on the dock; he injects her with the virus before she boards the ship. She chases her attacker but he gets away. This is the most improbable part of the plot—who developed the virus, why and to what end—is never really explained. Also, the book ends with Charles Lightoller, the highest-ranking officer to survive the sinking, in London on the witness stand at the British Board of Trade inquiry. Big surprise that he has no plans to mention the zombies.

The prose is somewhat irritating in spots. Having written stories (unpublished) years ago, I used to do this as well. The following passage is one I bookmarked because it stood out:

“The water was up to his [Lightoller’s] waist now, and so cold he felt like he was wearing a pair of ice undies. If he didn’t get moving soon, he might never be able to have any more children, or worse yet, see the ones he already had ever again.”

Ice undies? Lightoller thinks of this while trying to escape a bunch of zombies as the ship sinks and he’s on a water-filling deck. One Amazon.com critic called this a “rolling of the eyes moment,” and I did.

Lots of historical figures known to be on the ship appear: Lightoller, Margaret Brown, Thomas Andrews, Madeline Astor, John Jacob Astor IV, Captain E. J. Smith—to name a few. One problem I did have is that some of the corpses that were found floating in the Atlantic were still moving although dead. The temperature of the North Atlantic Ocean at that time of year is below freezing; could a frozen zombie move? Perhaps more accurately, how could a frozen zombie move? This is splitting hairs, since we know that there are no zombies, after all, how could desiccated bodies even stand let alone walk? Also, if they could move, this means that the zombies were still able to infect the living who were pulling them out of the drink. (Sequel?)

It cost me 99 cents. It was a quick read and fun. Another Amazon critic could not finish reading the book because of the gore. Who in their right mind buys a book with zombies on the cover and does not expect blood, biting, disembowelments, eating of flesh and all the rest?

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L. Sprague de Camp, Lest Darkness Fall

De Camp-Lest Darkness FallTitle: Lest Darkness Fall

Author: L. Sprague de Camp

Publication Information:  New York: Ballantine Books, 1983

ISBN: 0-345-31016-0 (i.e., 978-034-5310-16-3)

Library of Congress Classification: PS3507.E2344

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Time travel–Fiction
Rome–Fiction

This is an old one, and a good one.

When I was young, I used to be an avid science fiction reader. I remember L. Sprague de Camp’s The Tritonian Ring fondly.  I still have the book. It was so much, with the protagonist being a cynical hero that, in the end, just gave up and walked away from a potential drawn-out fight with his brother for the rule of their city.

The protagonist of this book is Martin Padway, an American graduate student in Rome doing research for his Ph. D. On the first page, the idea of time travel is introduced as Padway’s host, Tancredi, discusses his idea of time “pockets” simply appearing here and there and people, who just disappear and are never seen again, having fallen through and into the past. Thus the entire premise of the book is introduced.

Padway falls into one of these holes, going from fascist Italy (the original copyright is 1939 and explains why there’s a remark about Mussolini) into Ostrogothic Italy. Rome is in ruins and civilization is slowly sinking into the Dark Ages. Now known as Martinus–to the general public he will later be known as Mysterious Martinus–Padway begins his attempt to save Western civilization from decline.

The first order of business is to get money, so he sells the coins he has for their gold and silver, making friends with a Goth who knows Latin. Slowly, Martin learns the Germanic spoken by the Ostrogoths, and secures a loan (after teaching modern math to the accountants of the banker) at a high interest rate–far higher than today’s rates. With the money, Padway invents brandy, which quickly becomes a hit and makes him a wealthy man. Then Padway “invents” a printing press and then a telegraph.

Right away Padway runs into problems with religion. The Ostrogoths, converts to Arian Christianity, are heretics in the eyes of the the mainstream Christians, being the Romans and the Byzantines, who later enter the picture. Nonetheless, the Goths tolerate the range of Christians and their beliefs. Padway knows history, and he knows that Justinian, an orthodox Christian and a zealot, would be a horrible master. Also, the disastrous war waged by Justinian’s armies lasted two decades, bringing Italy back into the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire but at a terrible price. The peninsula was completely ravaged and it would be centuries before the damage could be undone.

Sorcery is leveled at Padway, so he has to fight for his survival, eventually using his wealth to bribe an influential bishop.  In the end, Padway ends up serving as the quaestor of the king whose life he saves. He’s able to defeat Justinian’s armies, throw back an attack by the Franks, and also crown a new king. He explains away his “gift” as not so much being able to see the future but to see “paths” that can be changed if those around him listen and act accordingly. He tells them his religion is Congregationalist, coming from America, which no one has ever heard of.

What is perhaps most interesting of all in this book is the alien nature of Ostrogothic society, and that of the last of the Romans living under Gothic rule. There is no sense of a nation-state as we are used to; identity at this time was very fluid. Vandals and Alemani serve in Italy under the Ostrogoths. The “kingdom” as such is held together by the nobles who follow the king; a council of nobles elect–and can depose–a king. The Goths overall distrust those who read and write; they are mostly illiterate.

The Ostrogoths have no idea of cohesion; the reason to fight is for honor and booty, nothing more. Padway desperately tries to introduce military organization and tactics from the far future, but the Ostrogoths do not understand the purpose. Even the idea of the early type of Roman government is alien; the Romans resent Gothic rule and refuse to help, preferring the orthodox Justinian as their ruler. There is no other word for it: these medievals are stupid by our standards, seeing nothing past what already exists. There is no interest in being inquisitive and no interest in discovering the unknown or questioning the status quo; religion explains everything.

A really fun book, and a quick read.