Author: Neil A. Cohen
Published By: Permuted Press
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I was strolling around Barnes Noble one day when I noticed an interesting display. Seated in a chair was a biohazard suit, complete with helmet. No one was inside, but it looked really cool. Beside the suit was a table of books and the promise that the author would be available for signings. Unfortunately, I would not be sticking around for long and would miss the signing. But the display was intriguing enough that I decided to buy the book being advertised and help out an indie author.
Exit Zero, written by Neil A. Cohen, takes place in New Jersey and surrounds a group of friends who just barely graduated Holy Friends Catholic High School in 1970. Decades later, the friends have all gone their separate ways, but still keep in touch. Woodrow Coleman, or Dr. Woody as he is known in some circles, has come up with quite the scientific theory regarding sustainable food – using stem cells from animals to genetically engineer food for the entire world. It was always a theory, one that didn’t seem very plausible until one day an old friend comes calling.
At the Post Conflict Restoration Company, a company owned by the father of his eccentric survivalist high school buddy Ivan Gold, scientists have apparently figured out a way to make Dr. Woody’s theory a reality using human stem cells, hoping to make their way back to using animal stem cells. They succeed in creating the food, but their experiment has one horrific side effect. Test subjects (human test subjects) become sick almost immediately after eating the M.E.A.T. They become incredibly hungry afterwards, consuming anything or anyone that comes near them. The stem cells emerge in the form of a virus that is passed on to others through bites, but that’s not all. The virus continues to mutate, making even contact with an infected’s blood deadly.
With New Jersey now infected with the virus, the former graduates of Holy Friends must find a way to get to safety. According to Dr. Woody's friends, the Sullivan Brothers, and Max Gold, that means getting to Exit Zero on the Garden State Parkway. But will they all make it and, if they do, how can they escape a zombie virus that continually mutates into a more virulent form?
I loved the concept of this book – basing the beginning of the virus on something as controversial as engineered food was ingenious. I found the concept of the virus – the liquefaction of the original brain as in mad cow disease and the growth of another brain in the stomach – to be a weird but unique take on the zombie genre. Now, instead of destroying the zombie by taking head shots, zombies must be destroyed by attacking the stomachs. As I said, unique, but weird.
Neil A. Cohen is beautifully descriptive in his portrayal and I could picture everything in my mind’s eye. Of course, it helps that I know the various areas he is describing as well. He has a way of writing characters that makes them important to the reader. You find yourself rooting for certain characters’ survival. I loved the short chapters involving people who aren’t really all that important to the story – just your average joes who find themselves in the midst of a zombie attack. They were great!
And the best part of the whole story – the reason behind the zombie crisis. It’s a twist that will destroy your faith in man, but makes perfect sense in the political atmosphere we find ourselves in at the moment.
I also loved the short story included with Exit Zero. Entitled Pope Judas of Jersey, the tale takes place in Atlantic City in the midst of the zombie crisis and features some characters from the main novel. We see the zombie crisis through the eyes of a delusional man who believes he is a former Pope who was forced to resign. Believing himself hunted by a Papal Assassin, Judas…or Peter as he is known to most…can hardly believe his eyes when the crisis erupts in front of his blackjack table. Can Pope Judas survive such a treacherous foe?
And now for the worst part of both tales: the typos. Ugh! They were everywhere – misspelled words, repeated words, homonyms of words – and they drove me fairly crazy. Whoever was doing the editing here was not very attentive or was in a rush to get things done. All those typos were incredibly distracting and took something away from the story.
That being said, I still found Exit Zero to be an enjoyable and unique take on the zombie apocalypse and found Neil A. Cohen’s writing style captivating. I hope to read more from this writer as I find him incredibly creative. I think he has more stories to tell and can’t wait to see where he takes readers next.