Peter Clines: Ex-Heroes

-Review by Ed Bilson-

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I picked up Ex-Heores as an afterthought during my christmas book binge, and was so gripped I had
to go straight back to the shop for its sequels Ex-Patriots and Ex-Communication. It’s one of the few
zombie novels I’ve read recently which I wholeheartedly enjoyed: strong, developed characters with
a vested interest in the plot, plausible world-building, and tremendous fun to read.
In Clines’ Los Angeles it is more than a two years since the first outbreak of the “ex-human” virus.
Despite a much slower spread than is common in the genre, society has effectively collapsed and it
is left to the super-heroes of the former United States to establish a safe haven at the former
Paramount Studios (the Mount) for the few thousand uninfected left there. Life is tough but just
about survivable for the citizens of the Mount and their cadre of heroes (the invulnerable firebreather
St George, the armoured Cerberus, sentient G-class star and Bostonian Zzapp, among
others), venturing out from behind their walls into a sea of chomping, mindless exes.
Until, that is, fellow group of survivors and former street gang the Seventeens begins using
unusually sentient zombies as messengers… Flashing back and forth between the early stages of the
outbreak in 2009 and the present-day besieged L.A., Clines weaves the story of the outbreak and the
battle for continuing survival with the origin stories of the heroes and their struggle to lead the unpowered
majority towards a self-guiding, democratic existence. This last part might sound a little
utopian, but it’s clear in the book that the heroes take their lead from St George, who manages to
demonstrate conviction that their leadership should be a temporary measure without sounding
pompous or falsely modest.
Clines’ exes are a refreshing take on the genre. They don’t groan (after all, they don’t breathe),
they’re harmless enough if you keep your distance but dangerous up close or in large numbers, and
they have enough variety to make his description of them interesting. Some are decomposed
shambling bones of bone and rotting flesh, others are exceptionally well preserved. One thing hasn’t
changed though – the only effective measure is an emergency lobotomy. In a thought-provoking
twist, all staff at the Mount’s medical facility carry side arms and rifle-toting guards monitor the
doors, ready to prevent break-outs.
The characters are similarly well thought out, with a propensity for very human stupidity. The
author is unafraid to lose characters to mistakes or to let them react poorly, without allowing drama
for drama’s sake. You get the feeling that these are imperfect people in an imperfect world,
attempting to live a normal life after the world has ended.
But I’m dancing around the elephant in the room. Realistically, you’d probably pick this book up for
the same reason I did: superheroes smashing the crap out of the walking dead. By combining the
two genres in this way, Clines’ has managed to solve an age-old problem with superhero books;
beating people to a pulp is of dubious morality even when you can’t lift a car over your head and
breathe fire. By pitting them against hordes of zombies, Clines can let the heroes open the tap all the
way and deliver excellent fight scenes. Add to all of the above the fact that the book is littered with
pop-culture references and a healthy dose of geekery, and the thing is a thoroughly enjoyable traipse
through zombieland.

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