01/12/2009. Contributed by Patrick Mahon
pub: Gollancz. 154 page illustrated small hardback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-09154-2.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
Just in time for Christmas here comes 'I Am Scrooge', a version of everyone's favourite seasonal novella, 'A Christmas Carol', but with zombies! It joins a growing band of recent horror adaptations of classic literature, the first of which was 'Pride And Prejudice And Zombies' earlier this year.
I must admit that while I'm not much of a horror fan I am an admirer of Charles Dickens. I therefore approached this small volume with some trepidation. However, I needn't have worried. As well as being an SF author of some repute, Adam Roberts is also Professor of 19th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. So although he plays fast and loose with Dickens' storyline he does it lovingly and in full knowledge of what he's up to.
In this freely adapted version of the classic tale, Scrooge heads home on Christmas Eve after another day's success as a merchant banker only to be confronted by his recently deceased business partner, Marley, now resurrected as a brain devouring zombie. Through a great deal of luck, not to mention a chest of drawers and a strongbox, Scrooge accidentally manages to remove Marley's spine and half his brain which 'deactivates' him.
Scrooge is then visited by three ghosts, as in Dickens' original. The Ghost of Christmas Present comes first. He is rather timid but can fly, which turns out to be very handy. Second is the Ghost of Christmas Future, a 'yoof' in a hoodie who talks in an almost incomprehensible street patois. The Ghost of Christmas Past comes last, making heroic efforts to speak only in Shakespearian iambic pentameter (you know: de-DUM, de-DUM, de-DUM, de-DUM, de-DUM). These three ghosts show Scrooge the progressive destruction of humanity as first Britain, then Europe and finally Australia succumb to the zombie plague. In the process, Scrooge meets a number of real and fictional characters from the 19th century, including Charles Dickens, HG Wells, Queen Victoria, Jack the Ripper and Michael Faraday. These celebrity cameos provide many of the best jokes in the book.
In an homage to genre predecessors, including 'Night Of The Living Dead' and 'I Am Legend', Scrooge ends up as the sole remaining human in a world of zombies. It takes some deft footwork by the Ghost of Christmas Past, along with a handy portable time machine called the iTARDS (TARDIS - geddit?), to allow Scrooge to revisit his younger self, change the course of history and save the world. In a final twist, he does this by killing Tiny Tim, who turns out to be the villain of the piece.
I enjoyed this book for several reasons. Roberts is a dab hand at puns, both good and bad, and this book is chock full of them. It's not quite a laugh a minute but it's not far off. He also drops in numerous passing references to the history of zombies in film and fiction, from the title onwards, so that half the fun is playing 'spot the allusion'. I was also intrigued by the central conceit of the story, explaining the reason why the zombies appear on Christmas Day. The answer is that the zombie virus is the balancing yang to the first Christmas's ying: the birth of Jesus Christ. No good can come, it seems, without an equal and opposite evil. For a seasonal stocking-filler this is serious stuff but very well done.
There were a couple of things that I didn't like. The very first scene, showing Marley coming back to life as a zombie and killing his mourners, seemed gratuitously graphic in its violence and almost put me off reading the rest of the book. My other minor niggle is the number of typos littering the text. Given the care taken over the exterior, an attractive hard cover with mock bloody thumbprints on it, the failure to proofread the text inside properly is a shame.
In conclusion, I loved this little volume. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants something to amuse themselves with on Christmas morning while they're waiting for the sprouts to cook. Although you may not be that hungry once you've finished the book.
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