Carnage Road starts out fast, with a trip to a grocery store that descends into a bloody nightmare, and never throttles back. That breakneck pace is both a blessing and a curse for the new novella by Gregory Lamberson, released on April 3 as part of the Creeping Hemlock Press “Print Is Dead” imprint.
The members of the motorcycle gang The Floating Dragons have stuck together in an effort to ride out the zombie apocalypse that’s ravaged the world’s population and cut their own membership in half. They’ve got a fortified compound that they used to hang out in and now depend on for survival, and all things considered they are doing pretty well. It only takes Lamberson a couple of chapters to decimate the good thing they’ve got going, however, sending surviving members Boone and Walker out on the road in a last-ditch effort to survive and see America…or at least, what’s left of it.
The New York-based duo, suddenly free of anything resembling responsibility or obligation, decide to head for California. Along the way it’s not America they see, but rather the death throes of America; it’s a nation dying with new ways, new rules and a new order rising up to take its place.
Look, I love novellas – I think the length is almost perfect for good, quality horror – but this is an epic idea that really could have benefited from a little breathing room. Lamberson clearly has a lot to say, but the vignette-like structure the book takes on once Boone and Walker hit the road doesn’t give him the opportunity to say it all. The individual situations they find themselves in – the movie theater, for example, or the commune-like society that briefly captures them – could have been novellas in and of themselves. In fact, I’d love to see all of these “episodes” expanded into a series of novellas tracking the two across the country. It would give Lamberson more time to tell the stories and to flesh out the characters. As it stands, he’s in a breathless rush to get us out of one situation so he can show us the next cool thing he’s dreamed up for his anti-heroes to endure.
That being said, this is a thoroughly entertaining piece of zombie fiction, and Lamberson does manage to turn Boone and Walker into living, breathing characters in economical fashion. I meant it when I called the two “anti-heroes” above – these guys are out to survive first and foremost, and they make some tough decisions along the way to ensure that survival is achieved.
The ending feels final, but there’s certainly room for Lamberson to bring us the further adventures of Boone and Walker if he chooses to do so. I hope he does. Carnage Road is a great read, and even though I wish he’d slowed it down a bit, I can’t deny the entertainment value of a book that flies by and refuses to let you stop reading.