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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How to classify Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry?


So last night while my husband and I were making dinner we were discussing how to classify the new "supernatural thriller," by Jonathan Maberry, Patient Zero. Here is the plot: Joe Ledger, a cop, kills a terrorist in a bust at a warehouse. Ledger is set to join the FBI in a few days, but after the bust, he is brought into a new super-secret government agency, the Department of Military Science (DMS) where he is confronted with the same terrorist he just killed, except now he is a zombie. It turns out, some Arab scientists (with the help of a very rich, and very evil, American) have created a disease that turns people into zombies. Joe and his team must fight to save the world from these zombies.

OK, so first thing I am thinking is horror or biomedical/terrorism thriller? It has the scientific explanation which takes away the supernatural elements necessary to be true horror, but this book is fear inducing. It provokes a sense of terror in the reader which does not go away when you close the book. Let's put it this way, I am also listening to Brad Meltzer's Book of Fate right now, which is a political thriller, and Maberry's story feels more real to me. Melter's thriller is solid, but Maberry's is terrifyingly realistic.

But Patient Zero also has the hallmarks of a traditional thriller or suspense book: the time and date stamping, the details of law enforcement, the terrorism angle, and the extremely fast pacing.

Back to the discussion with my husband. He pointed out that the movie 28 Days Later (and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later, which, by the way, is scarier) has a similar plot--virus which turns people into zombies--and that movie is definitely horror, not thriller. He is right, and the characters in Maberry's book agree. Joe Ledger mentions it is as if someone watched 28 Days Later and then set out to do it. (Did I also mention that our kids were watching an old Muppet Show with Vincent Price while we were having this discussion? We are a bit odd, I know. But at least we are all okay with the horror thing.)

I have not finished the book yet. I will later today. I think I am leaning towards classifying this as horror. Zombie books generally have more of a scientific bent and yet, are mostly considered horror. Also, Maberry has written many award-winning horror books (both fiction and nonfiction). He is very good at the key horror author trait of inducing fear in the reader. On the other side of the argument, it also reads very much like a James Rollins adventure-thriller, and I never think of Rollins' novels as horror.

All of this is making me think about the emergence of many books like Patient Zero which are becoming harder to classify as supernatural elements creep into all genres. In this case I am thinking of calling books like Patient Zero investigative horror in my new book. I don't like using "supernatural thriller," the term used to market this book, because it downplays the horror elements as being noted merely by the presence of the supernatural. This is too simplistic, and it belittles the genre of horror itself. A horror book can be good and appealing to non-horror readers without the word horror being forcibly removed from its description. The key to the appeal of Patient Zero is the emotions the book draws out of the reader, not the pacing (which is pretty fast) or the law enforcement details (which are both key marks of a thriller.)

In a few days when I write about what I read this month, I will make a final determination. In the meantime if you want to read a realistic, terrorism thriller, with zombies, that will keep you looking over your shoulder for the next week, try Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry.

2 comments:

Jonathan Maberry said...

I hope you enjoy the rest of the book.

As far as genre goes...that's always a tough one. My first three novels were straight horror with a decidedly supernatural theme. PATIENT ZERO, on the other hand, is technically a 'techno thriller'. It's based on moderately plausable science.

The next two books, THE DRAGON FACTORY and THE KING OF PLAGUES (scheduled for 2010 and 2011) don't have zombies.

Happy reading...

Becky said...

So should I leave it out of my updated horror book for librarians?

I think it will probably end up in the newly expanded "Whole Collection RA" section of the book--books horror writers might like in other genres.

And yes, I love Patient Zero. I told 2 students to read it tonight. I am just sad to lose another great "horror" writer to the world of thrillers. I know it is mostly a techno-thriller, I am just being stubborn.

Thanks for your comments.