I knew that ChiZine Publications recently published a zombie novel by Tony Burgess, so you ask: do I really want to read it? It is safe to say that you had me at ChiZine, got me excited at zombie, and sent my anticipation through the roof with Tony Burgess. I did not know exactly what to expect when I started “The n-Body Problem” by Tony Burgess but I did know two things about the book before I started it. The first thing is that the story would be nothing like I expected. The second is that it would be very, very good.
The n-body problem is the problem of determining the motion and forces of celestial objects as they, and their individual gravitation, interact with each other. Classically, this problem has dealt with the movement of the sun and the planets of the solar system. When the dead began to rise and no one ever experienced true death anymore, the solution that was finally settled upon was to launch the bodies of the undead into orbit where they would spend eternity amongst the stars. No one ever considered that this would create a whole new type of n-body problem that could be worse than the zombie apocalypse itself.
The zombies were not a problem themselves. The dead did not walk and try to eat anything living that they stumbled across as they did in the movies. Instead, they just sort of quivered and jerked around but did not die. As the undead bodies began to pile up, different disposal methods were tried but they were all rejected. Now, with all of those undead bodies floating around just outside of the earth’s atmosphere, they have begun to come together to form a type of mess through which the sunlight is filtered and changed. This light is having a change on the world and the world is fast learning that what was a solution for the undead disposal problem has now become a problem for those still living.
“The n-Body Problem” is probably the strangest zombie novel that I have ever read and I loved it. This novel cuts right to the heart of the main issue that would ultimately result from a zombie apocalypse: with so many dead bodies lying or walking around, the disposal issue would be paramount or the resulting disease would be worse than the zombies themselves. In “The n-Body Problem,” people still hold to the sentimentality and vanity of the pre-apocalyptic world and thus the problem becomes compounded. The novel is heavy with despair and almost no redemption to be found. The world has spiraled toward extinction due to human hubris and has reached the point of no return in which humanity is preying upon itself in an attempt to squeeze what little it can from what is remaining of life.
What is Burgess trying to say in this novel? That is a difficult question and one that is open to interpretation by the reader. This is also what makes the novel so good. There are no clear answers here just as there was no clear answer to the disposal problem in the novel. “The n-Body Problem” seems to suggest that there needs to be a change in society before it is too late but this is pulled off without being preachy at all. The world of the novel, which seems very similar to the “real” world, has made its decisions and is left to deal with them. The zombies are not the monsters of this novel. That role belongs to the people. This is a complexity that strikes very close to home and leaves the reader not just thinking about the novel but about the world itself as seen through the filter of the novel. “The n-Body Problem” is at times confusing, shocking, and extreme. One thing that it never fails to be is interesting.
I would like to give a special thank you to NetGalley and ChiZine Publications/Diamond Book Distributors for this review copy. “The n-Body Problem” is now available from ChiZine Publications.