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Cattle by Joseph Duncan

Cattle - Joseph Duncan

Note: This is a sequel of sorts to the novel Mort, formerly published under a pen name (Rod Redux). It works just fine as a stand alone.

10 years after the phage turned most humans into flesh-craving zombies, it has now mutated. Now zombies can awake to their memories, can dream again, and they definitely know what they are eating. So they have started organizing into nations and have created breeding facilities to maintain their food supply. This includes capturing humans for a people breeding facility. Yep. It’s just as horrendous as it sounds.

Brent and Harold have been traveling together for a while now. They heard a radio broadcast from a nearby human town, one that has a truce of sorts with the closest zombie population. They are trying to make it to this haven called Home when they are spotted by a zombie patrol. Harold is killed in the pursuit and Brent is captured. However, the Revenants (zombies who have their wits about them) need a new rooster for their human hens. So Brent is tossed in with the other roosters; Ian, Jamie, and Vicars. They’re a right cheery bunch. Right off, the three suspect the Revenants may be planning to retire one of them and none of them want to be it.

The prison/meat plant is an old supermarket. The men are kept in the back where the butcher’s station use to be. The ladies have their cubicles and the zombies have their stations inside and then quarters outside (old trailers and such). It seems so orderly and civil…. except that part where they are breeding the ladies for baby meat. Muriel is one of the older yet still of breeding age ladies. She had escaped, again, and was recaptured at the same time that Brent was caught. Throughout the story, she often provides comfort and advise to Brent. She got the most page time out of all the lady characters and she was my favorite. She was the brains of the bunch and I wish she had gotten a larger role in the story. There’s a limited number of female characters in a sea of male characters (and why is there only 1 female zombie?).

There’s this whole command structure among the zombies and I thought this was interesting. So often, we think of them as pretty brainless, simply reacting to a deep hunger (and indeed, that kind do exist in this world and are called Chompers). So it was different to see them thinking and organizing and holding back from their instant cravings to plan for the future. Also, it was good to see that the Revenants were just as scared of the Chompers as the humans, as the Chompers are none too picky about what kind of meat they are eating. Blech!

While Brent is in this meat prison, he has to make some really tough choices. First, all of them are being coerced into breeding, including the 14 year old Ruth. Definitely a sad state of affairs. Brent has a set of morals, and while some of them have been tarnished, bent, or broken over the years, that is not one of them. It seems Brent’s basic nature is to trust people, but here, in this literally cut throat place, he has to choose very carefully who he can trust. The other roosters are big question marks. Brent’s most difficult position and the tough choices he keeps having to make definitely had me fully engaged throughout the story.

Late in the tale, the author tosses in a little tidbit I really enjoyed. Two characters are added to the mix and they have an odd dialect. Basically, they and their little group of people had become isolated long enough to have developed their own version of the language, making it a little difficult for others to understand them, though in the big picture, they are all speaking the same language (roughly). This is such a realistic probability, that I really enjoyed it being tossed in here.

This was a great zombie read because it was different and original. It’s not just your mindless eating hordes versus the last remaining humans. Nope. These zombies come in different flavors and at least some of them can think and organize. This book sets a new bar for zombie horror fiction.

I bought a copy of this book from Audible.com.

Narration: Ian M. Walker did most things really well and a few things need a little work. First, his female voices could be a bit more feminine. And also, it would be OK for him to show some emotion while narrating (was he bored by the book?). On the other hand, he did this incredible job with the zombie voices – these falling apart, decaying faces and vocal chords make some truly horrible sounds. Walker managed to pull that off and keep the dialogue understandable. Also, later in the book when two characters with their own version of English are tossed in, Walker had to make it sound almost like English and also smooth like the character knew exactly what they were saying. That was well done too.