Zombie Gold by John L. Lansdale
SST Publications (August 2016)
Working as a hand on his guardians’ ranch is an okay job as far as Chris Bain is concerned, but what he really wants to do is ride in the rodeo. Will Littlefield, part of a group of college kids hired on as extra help, has some experience doing just that. The two immediately bond over their passion for riding giant, powerful animals that don’t want to be ridden, sparking a friendship that’s soon to be strengthened through some very unusual circumstances.
The two young men are sent to a remote part of the ranch’s acreage to repair a fence—an area rumored to be haunted by a Civil War soldier who, legend has it, hid stolen gold in the depths of an old cave. The boys soon discover the legend is true, coming face-to-face with a zombified soldier named Kaman and several of his equally zombified compadres. Before the soldiers can enjoy their meal, a tornado of smoke spins up, flinging the boys out of harm’s way—and back in time. Stuck in a strange land on the eve of the Civil War’s deadliest battle, Chris and Will have to figure out how survive a less-dead but no-less-dangerous version of Kaman—and how to get back to their own time.
It’s an intriguing recipe—equal parts historical fiction, fish-out-of-water/time-travel tale, and horror—that never quite finds its footing. Part of the problem is that it reads like a Young Adult novel, lacking the grit to make the horror elements truly effective; in fact, despite the title, there’s minimal zombie action to be found. Another issue is the dialogue, which lacks the natural flow of real dialogue. All of the characters speak on the same, simplistic level, and there’s little done to differentiate between the voices of modern-day Chris and Will and the Civil War-era characters they encounter during their adventures.
On the plus side, Lansdale knows how to keep the story moving, pushing the pace as Chris and Will try to survive their circumstances. Kaman is a frightening creation, equally soulless and ghoulish whether he’s alive or dead. Both Chris and Will are earnest, likeable characters; perhaps not completely realistic in the almost lackadaisical way they accept their situation, but easy enough to get behind and root for.
Adult readers are likely to find Zombie Gold too easy to digest, but it might make a good gateway read for young readers looking to ease into the genre.