Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Rebirth, by Sophie Littlefield (review by DeadVida)

By Sophie Littlefield

Books set in post-apocalyptic worlds tend not to offer shreds of hope. In fact, that seems to be something of an antithesis in modern zombie lit. The characters are often as lifeless as the doomed planet. The world Sophie Littlefield created in Aftertime, and now revisits in Rebirth and Survivors, a short story bridge between the two books, is a bit different. Instead, she gives us a compelling protagonist, Cass Dollar, who effectively shows the parallels between the once dead landscape and the once deadened woman, both of whom struggle for renewal.

Littlefield’s earth was destroyed by bio-warfare attacks. Cass suffered at her step-father’s hands and then her own. Yet we see each fighting toward life – be it a sprig breaking ground again or the broken pieces in Cass fighting against her innate self-destruction.

Survivors, a short story, details the arrival and integration of Feo, a young orphan, into the encampment run by Dor and introduced in Rebirth. It was made available pre-pub as a free ebook and is available now from the publisher or ebook vendors.

Rebirth picks up a few months after Aftertime. Cass, Smoke, and Ruthie, Cass’s young daughter, have finally settled into a family life. Cass’s fragile sense of trust is broken when Smoke volunteers for a revenge mission. As a reaction to Smoke’s abandonment, Cass volunteers for a mission of her own to rescue Sammi, Dor’s daughter. Cass uses her immunity to the plant responsible for creating the zombies, or Beaters as they are called here, to gain entrance to the compound holding Sammi. In Littlefield’s world, the only thing more dangerous than zombies is fellow survivors.

Things I love about this series:
  • The end of days was geo-political and came about because of plant-based bio-terrorism. The US faced famine and the government created a genetically modified plant, kaysev, which is nutrient-rich and can grow wild. Beaters are not the walking dead, but people affected by a variant of the plant. This is a clever and original take. In a sense, the “zombies” are secondary to whatever happened in the world that led to the famine, but in this new world this all seems like ancient history.
  •  Theory and rumors are accepted and people just get on with living in hard times. I enjoy that there is a construct of backstory that is never entirely explained. The viewpoints of the characters matter over the omniscience of the narration.
  • The survivor groups are varied and fluid. The main encampment is more a shanty town, rather than the usual claustrophobic clusterfuck of stereotyped survivors in a fortified compound.
  • The main character, Cass Dollar, is a woman and mother. Cass is weak and strong at the same time. She fights a three-front war against Beaters, malicious survivors, and herself. She constantly makes questionable decisions, but Littlefield does a good job showing the character’s faulty logic without diminishing or over-explaining her.
  • Rebirth manages the delicate balance of real character development, a believable universe, action sequences, and genuinely creepy scenes (instead of easy gore).
I’m already looking forward to the next book and want to find out what's next for Cass and her companions as they continue to attempt to survive, adapt and recover from life Before and in the Aftertime.

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