Review: Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

Ex-Heroes
Peter Clines

Permuted Press (2010)
274 pages
Superpowers / Zombies / Action

Purchase it here on Amazon

Oh, superheroes… how powerful and invulnerable you are, how difficult it is to build a novel around you without making all your characters seem like idiots, how you should stick to comic books...  That’s my short review of Ex-Heroes.  It’s not a bad book and it is a mash up of superheroes and zombies, which are two things I’m generally fond of.  It just falls into that trap of having a very obvious (and easy) solution to the larger problem that they try to weasel out of through bad logic and stupidity because the obvious solution would make the book about fifty pages long.

Ex-Heroes is about the zombie apocalypse hitting in a world where superheroes have recently been created.  I’m still a little uncertain why suddenly superheroes came out of the woodwork, but their origins aren’t really the focus of the story.  A zombie outbreak started two years prior to when the story takes place and now a portion of the living population of Los Angeles is shacked up in Paramount Studios compound while millions of zombies shuffle around the city. 

It takes half the book for the plot to kick in.  I’m not even kidding.  Mr. Kindle said exactly 50% when a plot finally developed and it became more than just these zombie survivors scavenging for supplies and living day to day.  That’s far too long to read about stuff I’ve read a million times, just with a girl in a mecha suit and an invincible sort of flying man thrown in with the newbie soldier, the grizzled old man and the usual assortment of scavengers.  It was a toss-up of The Walking Dead with the zombie survivalists, and Terra Nova with this rival gang making no discernible sense in their desire to destroy other survivors.

I liked the idea of the different superheroes, but they were all flat characters with little development.  St. George, our main superhero, gets the most screen time and yet he still remains this vague Superman type guy who spends most of his time having zombies gnaw on his impenetrable skin.  Cerberus, a female scientist in a pretty awesome mecha-suit, is just that – a girl inside a robot.  She has no personality other than wishing she still had giant guns on her mecha to make killing zombies easier.

The most interesting character, named Gorgon, can suck people’s life energy out by looking at them.  Despite also never becoming much more than a flat caricature, the semi-uniqueness to his power and his interactions with civilians makes him more compelling than someone like Stealth, a woman dressed in head-to-toe black who never removes.  With no discernible superpowers, she remains a standoff-ish, robotic sounding shadow of a person, who shows up just to make power play decisions and perform feats of kicking ass that I couldn’t buy.  Then of course there are humans who are a bit of an afterthought behind the superheroes and the zombies.  They’re mostly cannon fodder for zombies to munch on.

Considering Peter Clines is a screenwriter for television, it makes sense that some of the best parts of the book are his action sequences.  It’s just too bad that most of those action sequences consist of punching zombies in the face and occasionally throwing a dead body a couple of yards.  Once the concluding battle begins, there’s little breathing room and some fairly interesting matchups, but in the end, the entire thing gets washed away by the simple fact that there’s an obvious and easy solution to their entire zombie war problem that they shrug away (see spoilers below if you want to hear more about that).

Every few chapters, the perspective shifts to the past where one of the heroes tells a little first person story about what they did either right before or right after the zombie apocalypse started.  It’s the only real insight you get into any of the characters and, outside of St. George, the only time any of them become humanized and seem like more than just a guy (or girl) with superpowers.  I really enjoyed these particular chapters because it did add much more depth to the story as well as allowing for some very interesting reveals that would have been cumbersome to provide through the main storyline without loads of exposition.

After my grade and summary review, there are the two biggest problems I had with the book and probably the real reasons I felt the way that I do about it.  Read at your own risk because it’s spoilers.

I’m vaguely intrigued to go onto the sequel, Ex-Patriots, but that’s mostly because there’s a quote from Nathan Fillion on the Amazon page.  I think I’ll end up passing…

C

Flat, personality-less characters; little to no plot outside of killing zombies; obvious solutions to problems not utilized because then there would be no book

 

Below are spoilers.  Not life ruining spoilers, but spoilers none the less.

One of the heroes is a guy who is essentially an atomic reactor constantly going off.  Zombies cannot bite him because their faces will melt off and he can’t be harmed by weapons because they would evaporate upon hitting the glowy atomic aura he gives off.  He can concentrate his energy and create a mega laser blast that decimates all in its path.  Have you seen the problem yet?  You have a guy who zips around and can melt zombies with little to no effort and they’re all still worried about this street gang and the impending zombie attack.  You know what you should do, superheroes?  Have the powerful glowing atomic guy MELT ALL THE ZOMBIES.  Yeah, I know, he said it felt weird and he didn’t like to do it, but this book could have been wrapped up and all those survivors could have gone back to real homes if Mr. Atomic Guy had used his powers and killed all the zombies.  And then killed those other bad guys with the zombie superheroes.  None of the good guys would have even had to get in harm’s way, but nooo, it feels weird.  And of course, there would be no book to read.

And then there’s the giant, mutated head of the gang attempting to wipe out the superheroes and those they protect.  If it ever explained how getting the zombie virus turned him into a giant Frankenstein monster with the ability to control zombies like a puppet master, I flew right past it.  I don’t necessarily need logic in my books (I mean, it’s a book about zombies), but I would at least like some sort of an attempt to explain how things work.

 

I bought a e-book version of this book fair and square for a book club.  Honest opinions, blah blah blah.