The Rising Trilogy (The Rising, City of the Dead, and The Rising: Selected Scenes from the End of the World)
By Brian Keene
I recently attended the 2014 World Horror Convention in Portland, Oregon. That was an vastly enjoyable event that I could write a huge article about and just might at a later time. The Grand Master was Brian Keene and in the introduction at the opening ceremony, the presenter referred to Keene’s book The Rising as, along with Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead franchise, the main catalyst for the modern zombie craze. To which Keene shouted out, “Sorry about that!”
Brian Keene in his wry way has a point. Zombies have been turned in to a bit of a literary plague. You can’t walk through the book store without bumping into a zombie book. Netflix Streaming is inundated with B through Z movies featuring zombies. Yet Keene has nothing to be ashamed of . The Rising breathed new life into old zombies, giving them a wicked little twist. It’s a twist presented at the beginning of the story and pretty much drives and dooms everything to come. But most of all it gives some interesting protagonists a fresh terror to fight their way through, turning this horror novel into a terrifying post-apocalyptic adventure.
The Rising’s slant on the zombie genre is that Keene’s zombies aren’t really true zombies. At least not the “Arrgh Urrgh” type that mindlessly limp and crawl to get to your brain. The monsters of The Rising are actually corpses possessed by an ancient demonic race called the Siqqusim. This race was exiled into The Void millenniums ago and due to a scientific experiment gone wrong (of course) have returned to Earth to possess all dead bodies and to destroy all animal life form. Keene’s zombies are actually repossessed bodies that love to torture, eat and destroy. They are quite agile, hampered only by the damage to the corpse and quite intellenigent. When the zombie body is destroyed, by the traditional means of a head shot, the Siqqusim simply leap into another dead living form. No animal is immune. Some of the more ghoulishly humorist moments involve attacks by zombie rabbits and zombie goldfish. The author’s zombie invasion is not just a zombie apocalypse but the end of the universe as we know it which is hinted at then explained in more detail by the second volume.
Keene’s cast of survivors tend to be fairly stereotypical but likeable and worthy of the reader’s support. Jim is caught up early into the zombie apocal-mess and after his brief period of disbelief and shock, his primary goal is to return to New Jersey to save his son Danny. He is joined by a variety of interesting characters including ex-junkie Frankie and conflicted preacher Martin. There are also a few human villains they need to tackle but the emphasis is on the undead variety. The leader of the Siqqusim is Ob and he is the source of our information of this ancient demonic race. The author has borrowed extensively from ancient myths and legends and have created a mythos that has a similar feeling of dread and hopelessness that Lovecraft created with his Chtulhu Mythos. But I will deal more with this when I discuss the second book.
Overall, Keene has created a realistic horror fantasy world that will entertain the most jaded horror fan. This was his first novel and it shows especially in the characters’ narrow dimensions. Yet there is a strong level of dynamic tension that goes into making a tense edge-of-your-seat horror adventure. Then there is that ending. Without giving it away, it is very open-ended. The author, in his introduction, claims he did not mean for it to be that way but it appears that his interpretation for the ending did not quite translate to the reader in print. As he explains in the introduction, this led his readers to demand a sequel and eventually he wrote City of the Dead.
City of the Dead starts exactly where The Rising ended. Jim have retrieved Danny, who has managed to survive his own nightmare of possessed corpses. Jim, Danny, Martin, and Frankie now have to battle a zombie horde and find shelter in a basically shelterless environment. But in New York City, one tower is well lit and may be the last bastion for humankind. Not only are our heroes headed there but so is Ob and his demon possessed zombie army of which its soldiers are astute enough to have tanks and WDMs galore not to mention an air force of zombie birds. The plot goes full apocalypse leading to a final battle. The author also writes well about the various human factors which is full of well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning humans and at least a couple downright wicked and perverse participants.
This takes us to an important theme not only in this book but in a variety of Keene’s other works. Referred to as the Labyrinth Mythos, Keene incorporates overlapping ideas into what he calls a meta-epic. Through subtle hints in both books we realize this end of the world scenario is taking place on Earth but not our Earth. The author is seeding his books with an idea of parallel Earths, each one of them threatened by some kind of Apocalyptic horror and most, if not all, having to do with ancient horrors of Lovecraftian proportions being unleashed. This pulls his novels together. While this was only hinted to in The Rising, City of the Dead brings out the inevitability of destruction to its awful and logical conclusion. Intentionally or not, it makes one think about the uncertainty of our own existence on our own earth. Maybe not zombies but what about meteors, super volcanoes, and our own man-made contribution, Nuclear Winter? I bet the dinosaurs thought they would be here forever too.
The third and last book is titled The Rising: Selected Scenes From the End of the World and it is basically just that. There are 33 very short tales taking place during the time of the first two books. A few have characters from the previous novels and gives us a little more insight but most are fast terror-takes: action, camera, fade-out. They are quite intriguing to read and Keene has some really memorable bits of writing in some of these stories. Yet they really do not add much to the first two books. “Pocket Apostle” does give us an insightful look at a minor character from The Rising and I really likes the idea of trapping a zombie and reading a book to him as described in “Spoilers“. Yet overall, this is a book is a light dessert. You will want to have the main courses first.
So altogether, The Rising Trilogy makes for a epic battle of man vs. zombie and is an essential read for those who want to prepare themselves for the next zombie holocaust. Let’s face it. The Zombie novel is here to stay and the influence of Brian Keene’s The Rising trilogy will be a formidable one.