book-reviews

Fiend

by Peter Stenson

Rating: ★★★★

Stenson raises an interesting question. Which is worse? An epidemic of giggling zombies bent on tracking you down and tearing your flesh apart, or being a meth addict? Of course, our protagonists in this story don't have to pick just one hell, they've managed to get themselves a sale offer. It turns out that the viral plague that makes mankind into creepy blood-hungry monsters is not quite able to get a foothold in bodies which are high on methamphetamines -- so long as they've not gone more than a day or so without getting high. This premise, delivered in a suitably surreal and twitchy literary package, gets ever bleaker as Stenson points out what it means for everyone who's still alive to be a meth-head.

Just for starters, take the idea that the only people you'll ever interact with are tweaking, paranoid, volatile and fundamentally dishonest self-abusers, who can rarely maintain a consistent emotional state for more than a few minutes, and who have absolutely no impulse control. These people are those you need to rely on if you're going to get the vital supplies for your cook -- who is as bad as the rest of you, but whom you cannot survive without for more than a day or two. These people will steal mounds of the thing keeping you alive just because they're bored.You are one of those people. You cannot possibly hope for a future like anything your parents had, because any child you might manage to conceive would be raised on meth. You are living a parasitic, doomed life.

And of course none of that really has anything to do with the zombies. If anything, the zombies are a pleasant distraction. They make the addiction easier, because they give an external excuse for what is really an internal failing, and because now the rest of the world is, impossibly, miraculously, more fucked up than your life. Which is worse: shooting your mother's reanimated corpse in the head, or remembering the time you called her a cunt when she came to see you in rehab, back when you were pretending you were going to get right?

It's a short, focused moral about addiction, with gore, violence and action to take the edge off the psychological horror. Gripping, fast, surprisingly fun.