Dead Moon by Peter Clines (Narrated by Ray Porter)

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Publisher: Audible Studios | Release Date: Feb. 14, 2019 | Runtime: 11 hours and 23 minutes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zombies on the moon!

That basic, low-level pitch either just sealed the deal for you and you’re ready to click Buy Now, or it made you groan derisively with a reflexive “Dear god, not another freaking zombie book!” Depending on if your instincts followed either the first or the second reaction, there’s probably little more I need to tell you about Dead Moon, an Audible Original written by Peter Clines exclusively for audiobook release by Audible, and narrated by Ray Porter.

While I recognize the zombie genre has been pretty well beat to death and shot in the head a few times over, I’m not personally wholly exhausted by these types of books just yet. I think that, like any other story prop that’s a bit worn and decidedly unoriginal, zombie stories can still be used successfully provided the story surrounding them is well executed and I have a reason to care about something other than gruesome deaths and violent mayhem.

Although Dead Moon is, at its very basic levels, little more than zombies on the moon for much of its runtime, Clines makes this conceit pretty damn delightful, and Porter, as usual, narrates the hell out of it. Putting a rotting horror staple in outer space is actually pretty brilliant. In real estate, the thing that makes a home the most desirable comes to three things: location, location, location. And it’s just as true here, too. The setting of Earth’s moon gives the story extra layers of tension, which is much needed given our familiarity and expectations of zombie stories and the devices such plots require to be effective. Zombie novels nowadays are a dime a dozen, so to be truly effective an author has to go the extra mile (or, in this case, about 238,900 miles) to make them worthwhile.

Dead Moon, in my opinion, is certainly worthwhile. Yes, it’s a pretty trope-ridden affair and if it were set on Earth, like virtually all other zombie books, I doubt I would have appreciated it as much. The setting completely sold Clines’s story for me. Sure, getting torn about by a zombie horde is bad, but suffocating in the cold vacuum of space or experiencing the paralyzing dread of atmospheric decompression as your space suit is assaulted is worse. Much, much worse. Staging a zombie apocalypse on the desolate, arid, airless, low-gravity surface of the moon adds a whole other level of heebie jeebies. In space, nobody can hear you scream, but there’s a hell of a lot of worse ways to die besides becoming a salty snack for the undead.

By now, you’re probably wondering how and why there are zombies on the moon. Dead Moon is set a few hundred years in the future, and although mankind has begun to colonize the solar system, religious practices still mandate the burial of corpses. Ransacked by climate change and overpopulation, Earth has run out of space for its dead. When there’s no more room in hell, the dead get sent off to the moon for burial. After a meteor crashes near one of the several lunar habitats, 16 million undead start to rise, which is terrible, no good, very bad news for the moon’s 300 fleshy inhabitants.

On the bright side, they at least have the brilliant Ray Porter narrating their gruesome deaths, which is, frankly, something the rest of us can only ever aspire to. Porter delivers his usual wide array of voices, tones, accents, and emotions that turn each character into highly distinguishable, real-life people. The hardest part about reviewing a narrator like Porter is that I ran out of superlatives for the guy a short while back. He’s one of the most engaging readers I’ve had the pleasure of listening to and I haven’t heard him make a single flub in close to a dozen of his audiobooks I’ve listened to thus far. His readings are always top-notch, and he’s a virtuoso performer. He excels at bringing an author’s characters to life, no matter how short-lived such a character may be…and let’s face it, when you’re trapped on the moon and surrounded by millions and millions of zombies, life expectancy isn’t exactly measured in anything but hours and minutes, at best.

In a lot of ways, Dead Moon feels like a George A. Romero movie the famed director didn’t live long enough to create (this could just as easily be called Colony of the Dead and if the Romero estate ever wants to adapt this book into film, I’m game to fork over the cash for a ticket.) Peter Clines has gleefully accepted the torch and created here some good, pulpy fun that’s chock full of awful deaths, a handful of characters worth rooting for (like gravediggers Callie and Jake, who are escaping sordid pasts on Earth, with the latter being a former military man), and plenty of others to dislike and root against. Dead Moon doesn’t reinvent the undead wheel, but it is a highly capable zombie story enhanced by its unique setting and some interesting cosmic horror elements that help flesh out the material in lively ways. But, again, it all just boils down to the selling point of its premise. It’s zombies on the moon! You’re either hungry for it, or you’ve already had your fill by now. You’re either going to shamble toward this one, or flee screaming in terror and begging for the madness to stop.

Note: Dead Moon is billed as the third book in Peter Clines’s Threshold series. I have not read the prior two installments, and this is, in fact, my first experience with Peter Clines at all. Looking at the synopsis for 14 and The Fold, it sounds like each of these books function well enough as stand-alone reads, and Dead Moon takes place a few hundred years after the last one. I simply don’t know enough about this series as a whole to comment on whatever it is that links them all together or how successfully it’s done, but based on how much I enjoyed Dead Moon, I’m certainly game to check out the prior two titles.