The thing I really like about the stories of author P.A. Douglas, whether it be his Lovecraftian The Old One or his anti-establishment, bizarro novel Cucumber Punk, is that he knows how to hook you from the start and then keep your interest levels high all the way through to the final page. With The Remnant: Into the Collision, Douglas shows he’s only getting better with his sharp hooks and tension building devices.
In the very first sentence, we watch alongside our protagonist Byron Russo as a news anchor blows his brains out on live tv, and yet again, we are immediately hooked. With a hook like that, Douglas could go in a number of directions and we’d willingly follow, just to figure out why this guy has pulled a Budd Dwyer on us. As it turns out, he’s not the only one who has lost his mind (how’s that for a pun, huh?); the majority of people have gone a little crazy, kind of given up, ever since the meteors appeared. At first, people fell into a zombie-like state, staying home from work and watching the news for the latest updates. But now that the meteors are getting closer to Earth, violence has erupted. It’s just that violence, in the form of a crazy, bat wielding home invader, that snaps Byron out of his trance and forces the action of the next two-hundred plus pages.
The Remnant: Into the Collision moves along much like you’d expect a zombie apocalypse movie/novel to go, with our protagonist meeting up with a group of strangers and working together to find food and supplies and to solidify a secure shelter. But there are a couple twists here. For starters, there are no zombies. At least, not in the traditional form. Instead, we have a population devolving into a zombie-like state as a result of the combination of (mentally) crippling fear and the equally (physically) crippling effects of the meteors striking not Earth, but the moon. The entire life cycle of the planet gets thrown off due to the change in the moon’s position and gravitational effects, causing the oceans to rise and most plant life to die. Following this logically through to the end, with the loss of green plants comes the decrease in oxygen, which in turn causes the survivor’s bodies to become sluggish, their minds more confused. Not the bloodthirsty living dead, but close.
Douglas also does something fun with his main character. He makes Byron a fan of zombie movies and novels, and so, just as we somewhat know what to expect based on our past experiences, so does our protagonist. He knows what to do, where to look for shelter, how things are supposed to go, based on his love of Romero films and World War Z-type books. He goes so far as to realize, as the “leader” of the group he ends up meeting, how he is supposed to act, supposed to progress, supposed to become a hero. But this doesn’t mean he does everything right.
Byron meets up with a group of survivors, just like in the Dawn of the Dead re-make, or The Walking Dead, or countless other zombie stories. There’s Buck, the head honcho of the new group. C. J., the hip-hop influenced gangsta (with whom Byron develops a very Walter White/Jesse Pinkman kind of relationship). Steve and Stephanie are a married couple who play together in a band coincidentally called The Remnant. There’s Beth, the school teacher, and her son Carl, and finally Tammy and Nettie, two college girls who have been best friends forever. Oh, and then there’s the National Guard troops, who unbeknownst to the group have been just a couple steps behind them throughout their journey. Hopefully they’ll turn out more helpful than the soldiers in 28 Days Later…but don’t bet on it.
The Remnant: Into the Collision isn’t a zombie book, but it is about survival. It’s also about loss; throughout the story, Byron thinks about his daughter, whom he hasn’t seen in years since his divorce. It seems the only thing that keeps him going, sometimes, is the hope that she might be okay. Before he leaves his house, he grabs a VHS tape from his old family movies, his last reminder of what used to be. If he could just find the right cord to play that old thing.
Amidst the violence (which there’s a fair amount of) and heads exploding from shotgun blasts (both self-inflicted and otherwise), there is an interesting parallel between Byron and Richard, the self-appointed leader of the National Guard troops. Thanks to his bitter divorce and the break-up of his family, Byron has lost all faith and belief in a higher power. He has decided that there is no possibility that a “God” could exist with everything that goes on in the world, and especially now that the whole world seems to be crumbling. But with every turn, Byron continues to reach out and help people, also putting others before himself. Richard, on the other hand, sees people falling apart, losing their minds, and comes to believe he is the chosen one, the man appointed to do “God’s will.” In his mind, this “will” is killing everyone he encounters, putting them out of their misery. Unless they’re pretty girls, of course; then they serve a different purpose to him. It’s an interesting situation to watch unfold.
The Remnant: Into the Collision is a riveting, tense story about survival, loss, and the horrors that humans can put upon themselves. The monsters in this novel aren’t zombies created by a radioactive meteor, or mutants, or monsters, but rather us. Humans. People who, when faced with a crisis, gravitate towards selfishness and greed and sloth rather than helping their neighbors. It’s at once attention grabbing and depressing. And it feels like there might be more to the story, as it culminates in a very open ending. I look forward to more of the story, as throughout the pages Douglas has made me grow attached to some of his characters. Well, the ones who survive, anyway…