Our War by Craig DiLouie

As regular readers will know, author CRAIG DILOUIE and I go back a long way. A glance through the archives of this site will show that I’m not just a friend of his I’m also a fan, and I was thrilled when he sent me a copy of his latest novel, OUR WAR.

Since finding huge success with zombie and apocalyptic novels like TOOTH AND NAIL and THE INFECTION, DiLouie’s also found an audience for his meticulously researched war novels, the CRASH DIVE series. In case you’d forgotten, DiLouie, Tim Long and I also co-wrote THE FRONT series, a World War II zombie mash-up which a lot of folks seemed to enjoy.

But DiLouie also writes books with far more personal themes. Of particular note is SUFFER THE CHILDREN, which looks at the lengths parents will go to in order to protect a child. His latest novel, OUR WAR, is set in the near future and, for me, it’s the most successful collision yet of the two strands of his fiction. OUR WAR is a prescient book, and a hard one to read, but it’s one I’d very much like to recommend you pick up.

When the president of the United States is impeached, but refuses to leave office, the country erupts into civil war.

10-year-old Hannah Miller, an orphan living in besieged Indianapolis, has joined a citizen’s militia. She had nowhere else to go. And after seeing the firsthand horrors of war, she’s determined to fight with the Free Women militia.

Hannah’s older brother, Alex, is a soldier too. But he’s loyal to the other side. After being separated from Hannah, he finds a home in a group calling themselves The Liberty Tree militia.

When a UNICEF worker and a reporter discover that both sides are using child soldiers, they set out to shine a light on something they thought could never happen in the United States. But it may be too late because even the most gentle children can find that they’re capable of horrific acts.

In many ways we live in an increasingly polarised society, with what can feel like irreparable divisions springing up between friends, families and communities. As you know, that’s a central theme of my HATER series, and having spent more than a decade studying and writing about intolerance, I’m worried that more than ever we’re spiralling towards the point of no return. You’ve only to look at the first line of the OUR WAR blurb to see how close to reality this piece of speculative fiction really is.

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Mutant kids and Nazi zombies

My friend CRAIG DILOUIE released a new book earlier this month. Craig and I go a long way back and I consider him one of the most interesting voices in genre fiction. You can read my thoughts on his earlier releases TOOTH AND NAIL and SUFFER THE CHILDREN in the archives of this site. What I love about his work is the way he’ll take an extraordinary premise and write about it in a detached yet personal way which pulls no punches. He takes world-changing events like the military response to a fast moving zombie infection or a virulent strain of vampirism which affects only children, and looks at them in a whole new light, often making them feel uncomfortably plausible. His latest release ONE OF US (out now from Orbit) is no exception. It takes the well-used set-up of mutant kids born with special powers, but instead of going down the tired and cliched X-Men superhero route, he instead tells a much darker and altogether more disturbing story of neglect, distrust and hatred.

THEY CALL IT THE PLAGUE – A generation of children born with extreme genetic mutations

THEY CALL IT A HOME – But it’s a place of neglect and forced labour

THEY CALL HIM A FREAK – But Dog is just a boy who wants to be treated as normal

THEY CALL THEM DANGEROUS – They might be right

The story of a lost generation, and a boy who just wants to be one of us.

I thoroughly enjoyed ONE OF US. Set in Georgia in an alternate 1984, it’s a fascinating read. As you’d expect, the grotesques aren’t the real monsters here, rather it’s DiLouie’s cast of prejudiced, cruel, moralistic non-mutants. For me, what sets this story apart is the masterstroke of having the deformed and mutated kids being born as the result of a new strain of sexually transmitted disease. Because this is a generational shift, it allows DiLouie to present us with a cast of ‘special’ kids who grow up together and who therefore both lose their innocence and mature/gain their powers at the same time. This effectively amplifies the problem facing the backward facing society from which the children have been ostracised, and you get the sense from the very beginning of the book that once these kids are fully in control of their destinies, things will never be the same again. Highly recommended.

But ONE OF US isn’t the only Craig DiLouie release I want to tell you about. I’m also very excited to announce that his entry in THE FRONT series – following SCREAMING EAGLES by Tim Long and my novel RED DEVILS – will be released on 31 August. I’ve had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of the book and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. BERLIN OR BUST is a cracking tale which takes us right into the rotting black heart of the undead Nazi war machine. You can pre-order it now.

Tooth and Nail by Craig DiLouie

As a writer, I’m regularly approached by people who want to tell me about the incredible new book they’ve just written. I try to be accommodating and look at as many manuscripts as I can, and I’m always happy to share my experiences of publishing with anyone who asks. You’ll probably appreciate though, it takes time to read a book properly and provide the author with constructive, useful feedback, and that’s part of the reason a). why I’ve got a backlog of such books right now (apologies to all who’ve sent books to me in 2010 – I will get back to you), and b). why I’ve had to start saying no to new approaches. Please don’t contact me for blurbs etc. until I post something to the contrary here: it’s not that I don’t want to help, I just can’t right now…

Another problem with agreeing to read books like this, is that you never know what you’re going to get. I’ve had long and involved conversations with writers about their fantastic sounding ideas, only to eventually receive an incoherent, uncorrected mess of a manuscript. However, that’s the exception, and I’ve read some truly great books from people who’ve started out as either readers, friends or both.

Today – very belatedly (sincere apologies, Craig) – I want to tell you about one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. If you’re a lover of zombie fiction in any way, shape or form, I urge you to pick up Tooth and Nail by Craig DiLouie.

On the face of it, Tooth and Nail looks like any one of a hundred other zombie stories. The plot sounds standard, almost clichéd: a mutated form of the rabies virus is causing chaos around the world, and a battle-hardened Lieutenant must lead his men (recently back from Iraq) across New York to protect a research facility which may just hold the cure…

Right; forget all your preconceptions. Tooth and Nail is about all of that, but it’s so much more too.

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