The planet has fallen to the infected, and only a handful of survivors shoulder onwards, hoping against hope that they might find other uninfected people like them, but in a world where nightmarish creatures brutally devour everything they come across, being a survivor might not be considered a good thing.
I don’t think I’d care to live in a world where there aren’t many members of the living left, well, living that aren’t infected with a horrific disease that leaves them looking less than appetizing anyways. Don’t get me wrong, zombiekind has been long preparing for the day when the living are eradicated and the dead take our rightful place as rulers of the Earth, it’s just that I’m not ready to go over to an all pork diet just yet, and that’s what would become the most popular meat, pig tasting somewhat similar to human (yes, you all taste like bacon, how you like them apples). Sure, it’ll be nice to walk down the street and not have to worry about some human taking a bat to the back of my skull, but it’s quite a large tradeoff. No living, human flesh for a guarantee of safety? No thank you, I’ll take my chances with baseball bat armed humans. One day it’ll happen, no doubts there, the dead have plans in place and all, but it’s not something I’m looking forward to. When I first turned, a world overrun by the dead was an exciting thought, I even had my own dreams of being a pig farmer to supply my undead brethren with a tasty human substitute, but these days I’m kind of over that whole thing. Not only do I enjoy eating people, but pig farming is a hell of a lot of work, and, like most zombies, I’m incredibly lazy. Besides, zombies are kind of drama queens, and who wants to live in a world full of drama queens. It’d be like living in an episode of that Bret Michaels’ show Rock of Love, only without any good music, so exactly like Rock of Love.
Beginning a few months after the events of The Last Plague, the world has been nearly wiped clean by the infection, with only a few scattered uninfected people struggling to survive against hordes of the infected. Death and destruction cover a land inhabited by grotesque nightmares intent on infecting or devouring anyone they come across, though with very few uninfected humans left, these creatures are left to scavenge for scraps of rotten flesh, only rarely coming across a fresh meal. In this world stands Royce, a survivor that lost his wife and child during the initial outbreak, a man with no will to live who struggles onward regardless, scrounging for the meager supplies he can find while hiding from the infected that are hunting for survivors. Royce is constantly moving from place to place, wishing for an end to this life but unwilling to let death have him. On his journey to acquire food, and the occasional bottle of liquor, he meets another survivor, George, a man who has lost just as much as Royce, but who hasn’t completely given up on life yet. Together the two will make an attempt to get somewhere they might find safety, somewhere they might others to rebuild a broken planet, the last outpost on earth, but with dwindling food supplies, the infected have begun evolving into something new, and in the sky above, the mysterious floating titans still watch humanity’s final moments, their purpose unknown to all but themselves.
The Last Outpost picks up where The Last Plague left off, taking place sometime after the disastrous attempt to evacuate the UK. The story takes a bit of a shift in focus between books though. Whereas The Last Plague was about getting back to loved ones and escaping the infection, The Last Outpost is all about surviving now that everything has collapsed and the world has fallen to the infected. There is a hopelessness that you can feel as Royce and George make their way through devastated city ruins and a countryside crawling with horrific monsters. Every sound they hear could be their last and every shadow could be screeching death waiting to take advantage of even a single misstep. It’s a tense atmosphere as the isolation of being alone and the paranoia of constantly waiting for death wears on our characters, and it’s a tension that permeates the entire novel, one that becomes real as you read. Rich Hawkins is a master wordsmith when it comes to describing things in such a manner that you start to feel the tension, isolation, and hopelessness of the world he’s created. I even found myself feeling something akin to heartbreak at times, making the book quite an emotional ride as you dip in between emotions that will change from moment to moment. What was amazing was the way in which Hawkins is able to blend horror and heart together, to the point where you can feel sadness and revulsion at the exact same time. A great example comes from a scene involving infants, more specifically a group of infants that had been changed into something awful. It’s a truly revolting scene made all the more revolting by Hawkins’ description of the creature, but in that description is a sadness as well, brought on by the terrible fate these infants were forced into and the agony they must endure. This is but one example of many where you will find yourself caught in the middle of something that is both grotesque and heartbreaking.
Besides the tone changing between books, we also get a couple of new protagonists in Royce and George. Royce is our main character and whom most of the story is focused on, while George is a companion that he finds during his travels. Royce is a pitiful man, beaten down by the end of the world and the loss of everything, and everyone, he loved. He’s a man suffering from both the mental exhaustion of trying to survive in world that wants him dead and the physical stress of little sleep, almost no food, constant movement, and utter hopelessness. He’s entirely given up on life, but he still can’t stop himself from trying to survive, even when death is what he wants most. George on the other hand is a little bit more upbeat. He’s lost much himself, but he holds on to the shred of hope that humanity might yet survive. Together they make for quite the pair of travelers, each filling a need in the other that keeps them moving forward. They seemed to represent two survival attitudes in opposition to one another but functioning well together, Royce the person for whom life holds little meaning but with a will to live that won’t let him lie down and die, and George the person who holds onto his hope like it was the most precious thing left in the world. Each side of the equation has their advantages and disadvantages, Royce’s desolation keeping George’s expectations low enough he doesn’t try anything too rash, and George’s optimism keeping Royce moving forward when the man is at the end of his rope. Along the way they’ll meet others who are surviving in their own way as well, some stuck on a task they feel must be completed, some trying to survive in much the same way as Royce and George, and others who have reverted to their baser instincts in a kill or be killed world. Each character introduced will have a different attitude about the book’s central theme, survival in a world that doesn’t make survival very worthwhile.
Hawkins also puts great detail and creativity into the infected. Much as in The Last Plague, they sit just outside of classification, making them a very original creation. They have characteristics and attributes from a whole host of creatures, zombies, vampires, parasitic mutations, even space aliens. The best example I could think to describe them with is the same I thought about while reading the previous installment, the alien creature from John Carpenter’s The Thing, only instead of being able to change into a more human appearance, these creatures continue to mutate as their lives go on, to the point where they only vaguely resemble the people they once were. They are full of spikes, tentacles, and all manner of horrifying things. The infection they contract twists and warps their bodies in different ways, allowing for all kinds of various mutations, and Hawkins seems to take great pleasure in coming up with the different variations. A woman whose baby has molded onto her breast so as to always be breastfeeding, a man who developed a baiting light like an angler fish, a boy whose head splits open to expose a host of worm like appendages, and the aforementioned infant-made creature are only a few examples of the infected you’ll find in The Last Outpost. Rich Hawkins pulls no punches in coming up with his creations so you will find some truly disgusting creatures, some of which might even bring up a bit of bile in your throat. Kudos to the man’s creative abilities in coming up with his infected.
The Last Outpost is an amazing read that I’d highly recommend if you’re looking for something both disturbing and emotional. It perfectly details a desolate world and expresses the loss of humanity during mankind’s final hours. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
The Undead Review
Written By: Rich Hawkins
Published By: Crowded Quarantine Publications
Release Year: 2015
Rotten Heads: Five Out of Five