(Orion Millennium, £5.99, 275 pages, paperback; ISBN 0-75281-613-6.
This edition published 2 March 1998; first published in the UK in 1986.)
Of all the monsters in horror's graveyard,
zombies are perhaps the most comical. Shuffling hunks of reanimated
flesh, they lack the vampire's elegance, the wolfman's primeval savagery
and the mummy's ancient roots. Even when munching on some poor unfortunate's
forearm, the menace never seems to quite outweigh the idiocy. Personally,
I blame George Romero. After he sent the dead shopping in the 1970s
they lost much of their ability to scare, and virtually became beings
of pity rather than fear.
It is this theme, of the almost baby-like creature, lost and searching
for identity, and the associated moral questions, which Shepard explores
in Green Eyes.
The plot of Green Eyes is based around a pseudo-scientific
project, in which voodoo and biology combine to resuscitate still-warm
corpses. The actual process of how a person is brought back to life
is fairly incidental, and far more is made of the psychology and personality
of the "subjects" once the rebirth has taken place. Said rebirth,
it is discovered by the project's leaders, involves the assuming of
a different personality, or perhaps soul, to that which the person possessed
during life. Hence, the body is observed by Shepard as a host, a mere
carrier of spirit. This is an idea around which the entire book pivots,
and is conveyed rather eloquently, by an actual zombie, on page 231:
"The wind is a soul without a body".
Compelled by a notion that there's more to the project than they're
being told, one zombie, Donnell, and his allotted analyst, Jocundra,
flee the house in which the experiments are conducted and go on the
run. Their intention, which Shepard could have perhaps detailed a little
more explicitly, is to uncover the true nature behind Donnell's "new
life", a mission which takes them further into the world of voodoo,
and further from the seemingly standard horror novel one assumes Green
Eyes to be.
Part-way along the path to enlightenment Donnell begins to see things.
It's not long before he learns that the peculiar lights he can see are
electromagnetic fields, and that as well as perceiving them around objects
he recognises them also around people and animals. After a while he
works out how to manipulate the fields and discovers he can cure illnesses,
a feat that leads to a brief stint as a healer in America's deep south,
where the greater part of the novel is set. It's an interesting amendment
to the zombie myth. By rights, he should be tearing folk limb from limb,
not healing cancers. But the zombies in Green Eyes are very special
zombies, due to the way in which they are brought back to life, and
as such are characters in their own right, with their own destiny.
Towards the end of the book a decision is made to build a gigantic
electromagnetic field: a veve, which is basically a mass of copper
on which Donnell can walk. From thereon the novel goes from strange
to downright weird. Walking atop the veve, Donnell lapses into
another world, namely the towns of Rumelya and Moselantja, in which
his real origin, and the true reason for the project, are pieced together
in fascinating fashion.
Though a great storyteller (the plot of Green Eyes is circular,
and very clever), perhaps most striking about Shepard is his style;
colourful, inventive, and at times subtly poetic, it is a decidedly
smooth and sophisticated read. On top of this Shepard has a vision lodged
somewhere between the romantic, the horrific and the loosely metaphysical.
A love-story, for it is, by turns, a love-story, concerning a zombie
coming to terms with his "condition" could, in my opinion,
be rendered believable only by a stylist of great expertise. Of course,
Shepard pulls it off admirably, and not only suspends disbelief but
does so in a highly entertaining and impressive manner.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It's the first I've read by Shepard,
and as a result I see a writer too original, quirky and intriguing to
Review by Jason Gould.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: