Deadheading (2020) – Paul Cristo

Title:Deadheading
Author:Paul Cristo
Publisher:PaJe Press
Publication Date:2020
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Paul Cristo sent me a copy of his novel in exchange for an honest review

Deadheading; definition: “to remove dead flower head and limbs from (a plant) to encourage blooming and growth”

In Paul Cristo’s post-apocalyptic novel the world that remains after an unknown illness wipes out most of the planet, is a lot harsher than anything readers may have experienced whilst indulging in television shows like The Walking Dead, or director George A. Romero’s zombie films. In Cristo’s world the water runs dry and diesel fuel becomes unusable, and grocery stores and private homes are no longer ‘free for alls’ as the survivors soon learn that most if not everything worth looting has already been pillaged. In Deadheading, without the threat of the ‘undead’, simply gathering food and water is what consumes those who find themselves on a very harsh and unforgiving Earth.

Our main protagonist Lewis was the kind of man who stockpiled TV dinners, and remained as unattached to the end of the world as was humanly possible. In fact one could even go as far as saying that he missed it. From watching vague news stories and maintaining a blissfully ignorant stance, Lewis woke up in his grotty home one day to realize that not only was the internet down, but all power ceased to exist. His fridge held only rotten food and it was not the batteries for his TV remote that needed replacing. In the midst of a complete breakdown of all communication and technology, Lewis’ hunger became more than he could bare, and he was forced to leave his home and venture out into a world that seemed to have either left him behind, or to have completely forgotten him.

Lewis was always a non-participant with very little ambition and almost no skills. In the absence of an alternative Lewis very quickly learns that finding a water source and producing his own food will be the difference between existing and eventual death. By scouring the local library and teaching himself to garden his world becomes just a little more bearable, despite the fact that he is still only able to locate water in the cisterns of toilets.

A common thread in post-apocalyptic narratives is the harsh realization that the obliteration of society and all that comes with that such as the reanimation of the dead, is not in fact the scariest part. It is in fact more common that the surviving human beings will become the very monsters they fear, whilst still remaining human. Of course this is pretty much the reason why post-apocalyptic stories are considered social commentary, and why they are capable of hitting all the right and raw nerves.

Not long after Lewis has created a sort of existence for himself, and has resigned himself to the truth that he may be a lone survivor, he comes across a group of vigilante men who are enslaving women they’ve coaxed out of surviving communities. Amongst these women is Frankie whom he rescues and brings back to his sanctuary. Frankie is understandably filled with rage aimed at her captors, and teaches herself self-defense and becomes quite adept with a bow. Despite her anger she is excellent company for Lewis, and the two fall in love. In the midst of something very traumatic this speck of humanity is what breaks the monotony of survival. Suddenly Lewis becomes a very capable hero in this dystopian landscape where not only do he and Frankie have to consider survival constantly, but they are now also having to stay clear of this dangerous group.

This group of violent and entitled men are lead by the illusive Jarod who believes all his followers should worship him, and that all women are meant for slave labor. Whilst avoiding contact with the group Lewis teaches himself through library books how to make explosives, and even how to fly a small plane. Unwittingly these new skills make him a target, and soon Jarod and his band of heavies are desperate to drag Lewis into their fold. In addition to avoiding this villainous group, whom they also discover are performing strange experiments on the women they enslave, Frankie and Lewis rescue a woman named Gina who is determined that they should free all the women in Jarod’s clutches. Cue rescue attempts, heroism and the human condition that either adapts, flourishes or perishes when in peril.

Paul Cristo’s novel arrives at a time in human history when all we can do as readers of dystopian fiction is make the comparison to our own reality and the aftermath of a pandemic that still has no sign of going anywhere just yet. It is through sheer strength of will and the desire to survive that Lewis and Frankie and Gina and the remaining living carve out an existence for themselves amidst a disease that has ravaged the planet, and among the monsters in human form that probably never came from the shadows but were monsters all along.

An excellent novel on courage, survival and how best to remain human when the world seems to be anything but what constitutes as human any more. Cristo’s writing style is excellent, and his characters are a genuine spark of light in a very dark setting. A worthy addition to the post-apocalyptic genre.

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