Scott Bell’s Working Stiffs is a new twist on the dystopian zombie genre. Rather than being created from the bite of another zombie, these zombies, called Revivants, are created by injected nanobots as a scientific solution to cheap and endless labor. Bodies of the recently deceased are reanimated to serve an abundance of manual labor tasks. The year 2051 is dark and gritty and not one you will want to live in but will enjoy visiting.
The book revolves around two characters, everyday man Joseph “Joe” Warren and Homeland Security Agent, Angel Ramirez.
Joe’s story is told from the first person. In his mid-twenties, Joe is a bit down on his luck. Due to the abundance of Revivants, he has been unable to find work for more than two years. Living in ratty government housing with his ailing girlfriend is a less than ideal life. In an attempt to better their situation, Joe is inadvertently tossed onto a whole new and often violent path.
Agent Ramirez is a corrupt and sadistic Homeland Agent. His tale unfolds in the third-person. Like most of the government, he is intent on keeping the country’s narrative away from the true happenings of everyday life and instead on what is beneficial to the government. Morally bankrupt, he is not afraid to hurt or kill anyone in the path to his goal.
The words flow easily with realistic dialogue and phonetically written accents. Though I did not always understand every word of some of the characters, I was able to hear the individual accents of characters from different ethnicities. Many of the characters, Millie, John and Alex, to name a few, are lovable and unique. The world of the book is created with enough detail to create a clear image in your mind’s eye without so much as to be exhaustive.
If it were a person, Working Stiffs could be described as a bit of a pop culture junkie, with plenty of references from the likes of Star Wars to The Princess Bride. The 80’s child in me enjoyed a lot of the one-liners and quips echoing the bygone decade, such as, “Rodents of Unusual Size.” Additional notations to more recent years are equally enjoyable. I guess I am a bit of a pop culture junkie myself.
Joe’s humor, though more than a bit snarky and often crude and juvenile, did lead to some laugh-out-loud moments. In the beginning, one of the zombies, named Larry, was programed with a little of a sense of humor and repeatedly says, “Braaains!” much to Joe’s annoyance. A bit later someone sarcastically refers to hiring a comedian and Joe says, “You should meet Larry.”
There was some difficulty on my part in getting through the plethora of expletives, especially in the first third or so of the book. In one section, I noted curse words or vulgar references in almost every line. Every good book should have color in its dialogue and narrative, but the superabundance was a little overwhelming to this reader. Had I not agreed to write a review, I may have stopped reading altogether. I also had a little trouble with many of the pop culture references. While I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, I did find it a bit hard to believe that today’s references would still be as relevant in 2051, especially to someone in their twenties.
I enjoyed the second half of the book much better than the first and am glad I continued reading. The story really seems to find its way and smooth out the rough edges felt in the opening chapters. Joe becomes the friend you love to hate, and Agent Ramirez the malicious villain that grows worse with each chapter.
Even though there were aspects that I did not enjoy, in the end Working Stiffs is well-written and easy to read. Despite myself, I was not ready for it to end. If there is a sequel, and a big part of me sincerely hopes there will be, it will be added to my reading queue.
If I had to score it on a five-point scale, I would give it 3.75.