This review is going to be slightly different than what you’re used to from me, Readers. Usually, the first Sunday of each month I bring you a book from an independent author and generally something self published. This month, however, I was given the opportunity to read and review something very special and I had to jump at the chance. So please, if you’d indulge me, I’d like to talk about Wesley Chu’s The Walking Dead: Typhoon, published by Skybound Books.
To give you some background on why this was such an opportunity for me, I’m a pretty big fan of The Walking Dead franchise and zombie fiction in general. I know that we have entered into something of an undead lull as of late; zombies aren’t quite the hot-ticket that they were back in 2010. But consider that some of my earliest experiences with being genuinely, delightfully terrified as a child come from George A. Romero’s movies and the slew of properties to follow in those lumbering, hungry footsteps and you will see that, much like any zombie or ghoul, I’m in this for the long haul and will be here long after the light has exited this genre’s proverbial eyes. I’ve even partaken in a little undead cosplay.
In short, I love me some creepy zombies and probably always will.
Besides, it’s almost October! Time for all things devilish, ghastly, rotten and loving it. (Also, Pumpkin Spice.)
So, grab your favorite baseball bat, wrap it lovingly in some nice, cozy barbed wire and switch on that reading lamp. We’re headed to China to see how the Land Under Heaven is holding up during Robert Kirkman and Wesley Chu’s zombie apocalypse.
Please note that the version I read was a pre-release copy, and as such, details are subject to change. Prices quoted are only accurate at the time of writing. Thanks so much to Skybound Books for providing us with this title in advance!
- Author: Wesley Chu
Formats: Hardcover, Kindle and Audible Audiobook
Price: Hardcover – $28.00, Kindle – $9.99, Audiobook – $19.84 (Or one token.)
Length: 383 pages
Number of books in the series: This is a standalone title, but part of a larger franchise.
Check out the first chapter (22 Pages) of the book for free Here!
The Beacon of Light is a large, complex and thriving survivor settlement in the Hunan province of China. There are over 3000 lives at stake, should it ever fall. It is the home base of the Living Revolution, China’s answer to the undead threat. Three of these souls, Elena Anderson, Chen Wenzhu and Ming Haobo are windrunners; scavenger teams sent out into the world to procure supplies for the Living Revolution.
Elena was teaching English in China before the outbreak. A proud Texan, she was supposed to return home… but made the mistake of falling in love with Chen Wenzhu, or as she knows him, Zhu. She ditched that flight home last minute and it didn’t do her any favors in the long run. Now, she’s trapped in a country that isn’t her own, fighting to stay alive and be useful to the last gasp of China’s government at the Beacon of Light.
Zhu was a farmer’s son who left his home in Fongyuan village to pursue a better life in the city. There, he met the huge, strong, but kindly Haobo (He’s called Bo for the most part.) and they became fast friends. This book starts with a return home for Zhu, as they go to Fongyuan village to scavenge. Zhu knows where to go to get the best salvage; in fact, he knows this place like the back of his hand. But, of course, things turn pear shaped when they get trapped and then separated by Jiangshi (What people in China call Walkers.) and only two of them make it back to the Beacon with their salvage. One of them, Zhu, finds further links to his past that he had thought long gone.
When it is revealed that a group of Jiangshi, millions strong, is headed towards the Beacon, tough choices have to be made. This is the titular Typhoon; a force of nature like a hurricane. You can’t destroy it, you can’t turn it around. You just have to fortify and ride it out.
According to some, anyway.
We see what, so far as we know, remains of China’s government try to execute a plan to keep the Living Revolution alive and thriving. Secretary Guo orders that all outlying groups (Known as Vultures by those within the walls of the Beacon.) must be brought into the fold and helped to see the benefits of working to secure the Beacon. Whether they are amenable to this idea or not. Hengyen, leader of the Windrunner teams and ex-military, urges evacuation, but his counsel is denied.
How does this all play out? You’re going to have to pick this book up and check it out to find the answer to that question.
When I heard that there was a Walking Dead book coming out set somewhere other than the U.S.A., I was ecstatic. For as long as the franchise has been around, I can remember people wondering what things were like overseas. Over time, we get tales of things happening in other states, on the West Coast, etc, but rarely if ever do we get to see what things are like in other countries.
This book takes that concept and knocks it out of the park.
From the opening page, the opening paragraph, we’re treated to an almost painterly approach to world building. The setting is handled with love and dedication, from the imagery of herons taking flight from a river to the descriptions of traditional architecture standing in the shadow of mist wreathed mountains. It’s all very rich. Later, we get a lot of world building in the form of character’s attitudes towards government, community, sacrifice. Quotes from Chairman Mao, old philosophy retooled to fit a world where the dead aren’t really dead.
Elena serves as a great foil for some of this, but not as much as I might have expected. She, understandably, has bigger concerns. Zhu is where we get most of our counterpoint to the Living Revolution’s rhetoric… and honestly? It’s easy to see why Elena stayed for him. He’s a great character. You’re going to like him, I think. The book starts well after the early days of the outbreak and I do feel as though we miss a little bonding time with our cast due to this. We are picking up on who they are and what they stand for very much on the fly. As such, investment in these characters takes a little longer to develop. Once we’re deep into the story, it all comes together, though.
The Walking Dead as a franchise has always done interpersonal drama well. That’s honestly kind of the hook, right? Walker, Jiangshi, zombie… they’re the ever-present threat and the reason society has collapsed, but at the end of the day we have to find a way to deal with and get along with the people who are still alive. The level of difficulty this poses is inconstant because it depends entirely on the individuals in any given environment. So, you have danger on all fronts. And what then, when the people who rise to the top and place themselves in charge don’t have your best interests at heart?
Typhoon does a fantastic job with this concept, and it never lets up.
I hope you read Wesley Chu’s entry into the Walking Dead canon, and I can only hope he does more.
A word with the Author:
Jim Newman: Typhoon is such a wonderful book with a really distinct style; for those who are maybe discovering your work for the first time through it, can you recommend some of your other works? (I’m looking forward to checking some of them out myself!)
- Wesley Chu: Hey Jim. Nice to meet you. Thanks for the kind words. The book I’m best known for is The Lives of Tao. It’s a modern day sci-fi about an overweight loser who is inhabited by an ancient alien, and is drafted, kicking and screaming, to train and fight a war over control of humanity’s evolution.
It’s best described as an odd-couple comedy spy thriller with some alien life-coaching. And Kung-Fu. Lots of Kung-Fu, and possibly a training montage. Or two.
Jim: What drew you to The Walking Dead and telling a story in that world?
- Wesley: When I was first approached for the project, my mind immediately ran wild thinking about the differences between the United States and China, and how a zombie apocalypse would impact people differently on the other side of the world.
Back during the initial outbreak, there was already over a billion people in China compared to three hundred million in the US. The ratio for guns per person 4 per 100 people over there versus 120 per 100 here in the US. How would people defend themselves? Throw in China’s diverse geography, the way the Communist government influences their people, and how their rich history influences their people, the zombie survival story really morphs into something completely new.
After my thoughts simmered for a few days, I knew I had to tell this story.
Jim: Was writing a story set in someone else’s universe challenging in any way? And if so, how?
- Wesley: I’m God when I write in my worlds, but a writer usually has to be very careful when playing in someone else’s sandbox. There’s an entirely new set of rules you have to abide by. When writing tie-in, a writer often has one hand tied behind their back. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case with Typhoon.
One of the first things Michael Braff, my editor at Skybound Books, told me when we were spit-balling ideas was to make it mine. It’s Robert’s vast and rich universe but it’s my story to tell. I really appreciate how much Michael and Robert trusted me with their universe. Once I had that carte blanche, I re-read all of The Walking Dead comics to get reacquainted with the feel of the universe, and then I got to work.
Jim: Are you planning on doing a sequel to this book? Or other Walking Dead stories set in China?
- Wesley: I would love to write a second Walking Dead book set in China. In fact, I already have a high-level idea cooked up and ready to go. It’s bigger, badder, and ten times more insane, and will really leverage the high population in the cities. But first; Typhoon is about to drop. Hopefully The Walking Dead fans will love it and clamor for that sequel. Then it’s off to the races!
Jim: I love Zhu as a character; I feel he’s a really strong protagonist and just plain likable. What were your key influences when creating him as a character?
- Wesley: When my English professor father first read an early draft of The Lives of Tao, this was his critique. He said, “Son, I finished your book. It’s good. However, you have a problem with your main character. He’s sort of likable, but not every likeable… (really long pause)…was he modeled after you?”
Ever since then, if I wanted a character to be likable I would think about how I would react in any given situation and then make the opposite choice.
Jim: Elena’s circumstances for being in this story are particularly tragic. (You’d almost expect her to star in a verse of Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic.) Did the situation arise first in your story planning? Or did you develop her character first and work outward from there?
- Wesley: I’m a big outliner. I usually have an entire book laid out before I start putting down words. Characters, however, form and grow organically, and often become different people than who I initially envisioned. I try my best to stay out of their way, so my outlines often jump the rails. That’s why by the time I finished, I was on outline 8.4 or something like that.
As for Elena, I started with only her background and her relationship with Zhu, and then allowed her to forge her own path. The only thing I didn’t outline in this book was the end. I let the main characters decide what happens to them. They…did not choose wisely.
Jim: I usually review self-published and indie books, and love asking their advice on behalf of any aspiring authors among our readers. Do you have any tips you wish you’d known before getting published?
- Wesley: Inspiration is amazing, but a professional writer is contractually obligated to be creative. There is no such thing as waiting for inspiration to strike. You write when inspired. You also have to write when you aren’t.
Also, get a dog. Not a cat. Your cat will murder you if given the chance. Eva Da Airedale dragging me out for walks was the only thing that got my increasingly pasty white ass to see the sun once in a while.
Jim: Are you working on any other projects you’d like to let our readers know about?
- Wesley: There’s been an epic fantasy percolating on the backburner for a couple of years now. I haven’t had the time, the experience, or honestly the skill write it until now. For the first time since I debuted in 2013, I don’t have a hard deadline and have the head space to finally put my thoughts to paper. I’ve written a third of it so far and hope to finish a draft by early next year.
I can’t tell you much more at this time, but it’s my love letter to Kung Fu movies.