“Working Stiffs” is a story that takes the zombie genre in a very different direction than I have previously read. Imagine a world where those who are dying of some long-term illness or have recently died can be reanimated through a process where these “stiffs” can be put to use in society rather then become a financial burden on their families or the next generation. This is where the book gets its title, “Working Stiffs”. Why not utilize these “deadish people” to do menial jobs freeing up the living to focus on their passions or allowing them to have more free time? In some ways it sounds like a futuristic utopia, at least for the living, yet in other ways it sounds like a zombie horror movie. The author Scott Bell and narrator J. Scott Bennett do a fine job of dropping the listener into this strange world of the working dead, but it is much more than that. If you are one who enjoys a unique take on the undead in a rather dystopian society, you may enjoy the various places the author goes in this story. For me, I thought it had a strong start, but petered out during the second half and ending. Don’t get me wrong, the book was entertaining, I just see higher expectations for the path it was going to lead me.
The main theme revolves about this futuristic society having the capability of reviving the dead, called revivants, so they can be used for menial work tasks and even contribute to society. The author does a good job of including the ever-present prejudice of people against the unknown as we see this often in this story. This ability to animate the dead is not simply a magic spell or forcing a special drink down the person’s throat. Not at all, in this future world, this task is assigned to nanobots to bring the dead to life. Although the book did not directly address the issue of bodily decay, one assumes the bots are used to take care of this issue. I liked the author’s use of the word “deadish” and found it fascinating that society needed to modify many things based on this new classification of life. No longer was the world simply black and white, binary ones or zeros, dead or alive, now you had a form of people that were neither dead nor alive; similar to schrodinger’s cat.
I enjoyed the many different and unique technology, weapons and tracking technology the author included in the story. They were not over the top, but still felt a part of this very different world. I would have liked to have had more development of the technology and how it functioned, mostly around the nanobots, and less of the frequent crude and sexual humor. A few times, I felt like I was listening to a future apocalyptic Jerry Springer show on TV. I would have instead like to have had more depth and development of the world and its inhabitants. I also had to laugh out loud when I learned that crypto currency not only survived will into the future, but it was the main way people traded goods and services.
It appears the author did some research on the military including some of the political battles between the various services. In this new government-controlled society, we see the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a much larger role than any of the other branches of service. Not only are people monitored via surveillance, there are also ways of implanting tracking chips in individuals. The book opened strongly, and I felt the story was both familiar and unique at the same time. At first, you find yourself scratching your head on what is going on, and then the author proceeds to unveil the story. For me, the story got a bit weaker as it progressed as a few of the characters acted out of their expected nature. I still felt the oppression and gloominess of this world, but I thought the events and action seemed to be disjointed from where I thought the author was initially leading me during the first half of the book. There is the question of who the good guys are and who are the bad ones, and our main character is in the middle of this battle. Lastly, it is somewhat unclear if this book is intended to be a series or not based on its ending. Much of the storyline is closed at the end, but there remain a few open-ended plots.
The narration, not surprisingly, was done very well. J. Scott Bennett is a veteran in the audiobook area with one hundred and thirty books currently on audible; at the time of this review. The many different voiced characters were easy to distinguish and there were no noticeable audio artifacts apart from a few slight volume inconsistencies which do not impact one’s listening of the story. I enjoyed the choice of a narrator having a deeper voice as this give the book a more dark and gloomy feeling than someone with a higher voice.
For parents and young readers, be aware that this book used vulgar language heavily. The humor often is crude and sexual in nature, along with some quite explicit sexual scenes. There are also a few scenes and subject matter that would not be appropriate for younger listeners.
To summarize, I felt the book started very strong, but the author seemed to have changed his direction halfway through its writing as some of the characters and story direction felt fragmented. The book felt unique but not so much so that the listener feels lost. I would have liked to have had more a focus on the world, technology, and characters then some of the more adult humor; I understand this is more subjective. The book has action, mystery, and suspense, I just left wanting more.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.