Hey, you know what you don’t hear much about? Zombies from other dimensions. Tim Lebbon’s COLDBROOK is here to scratch that itch.
Deep under the Appalachian mountains, a super-safe — really, triple-super-safe — laboratory is home to a gateway to an alternate version of our world. Protections in place zap any living thing that comes on through. But, see, there’s the rub, right? Any living thing. When some tattered undead human shambles through and snacks on a scientist, surely it’s okay, because protocol demands an instant lockdown, closing the lab tight to prevent a spread.
And when a panic ensues and the proper safeguards are neglected and the death and subsequent undeath spread like wildfire, surely it’s okay because the whole facility is underground and seals up in quarantine mode.
And when one irresponsible administrator sneaks out of the facility, surely the security forces on the perimeter will shoot any him and any creatures who follow him out.
Well, no. (And don’t call me Shirley.) It’s easy to lampoon the familiar details of the disaster narrative, and Lebbon — despite his competence with characterization and the technical craft to keep the weave of so many storylines from collapsing into muddle — doesn’t quite escape the cartoony feel of so much conventional apocalypsoapy goings-on.
But wait: other dimensions! Holly Wright, one of the scientists trapped by the initial wave of zombies in the lab, slips through the gateway to escape, and COLDBROOK offers up an initially intriguing funhouse-mirror version of the “primary” Earth. There’s still a Coldbrook lab fiddling with multidimensional physics, but here the zombies swept the world years ago, and the survivors have developed some tough habits as they avoid extinction and continue to seek a cure.
And, wait: The plague is sweeping across the many dimensions, and some nefarious Beings lurk in the shadows, motivations unclear. One of them — the Pinhead-wannabe Inquisitor — wanders in and out of Earth-prime, jumping dimensions with the greatest of ease and whispering threats to primary researcher and last-man-standing-in-the-lab Jonah Jones. And there’s a woman with a rare disease that seems to also make her immune to the bites.
These distinctive flashes are, alas, not steady pleasures — the initial zip of a strange twist away from convention fades too quickly as Lebbon consistently falls back into more familiar shuffling conventions. I’ll admit to mostly enjoying the novel despite its length and its absurdities, but COLDBROOK is weak tea after so many recent bracing takes on zombie lore. Despite a few distinctive flourishes, the novel never seems more than two-dimensional. It’s a competent but pedestrian big-scale horror novel. Zom-B-minus. —Mike Reynolds