After being introduced to J.F. Gonzalez's work during the summer of 2017 with the Clickers trilogy (quartet, if you include Clickers vs. Zombies, which I haven't read yet), I knew this would be an author I'd be returning to. When Brian Keene, friend to and occasional co-author with Mr. Gonzalez, announced Primitive would be the first selection in The Horror Show with Brian Keene 2018 Book Club, kicking off the New Year with an author whose backlist I'm intent on catching up on seemed like a no-brainer.
After humanity becomes infected with a virus that resets the evolutionary clock, a small band of survivors find themselves fighting for their lives against primitive savages. All across the world, modern-day humans are reduced to Neanderthal-like states. Those that have miraculously avoided infection and the subsequent transformation are enemy number one, and so David, his wife and daughter, and a small handful of others, are mercilessly hunted. Alongside the rise of these infected Primitives comes something much darker, something much older, something far more apocalyptic...
Primitive takes the post-apocalyptic genre and turns it sideways, injecting it with a solid backbone of survival horror. Gonzalez kicks his story off in grand fashion, pushing the pedal to the metal right from the get-go, only rarely pausing to deliver moments of exposition or explanation in between rapid-fire gunfights and large fits of violence.
This is a straight-forward, all the way through book of action and man-vs-monster mayhem, with a few Big Ideas tossed in along the way. While Gonzalez avoids the scientific nitty-gritty of bioengineered viruses and infections, there is plenty of nifty speculations on the religious and occult rituals of ancient man and their myths, and why supporting evidence of such practices is quite limited in the archeological record. I don't expect a lot of anthropological diversions in my horror fiction, but when they do come along I will happily and greedily suck them up. Here, Gonzalez makes some grand, and grandly satisfying, speculations in service to the story. It's in these extrapolations on ancient man and mythology where Primitive really raises the bar and becomes something special, inserting a welcome dose of originality into a familiar, well-trod genre.
Any criticisms I have with this book are small and involve a few moments of repetition. There's a few instances where characters repeat themselves, inner thoughts are pondered then immediately and sometimes clumsily voiced, and similar bits of exposition are relayed multiple times over the course a few chapters. It's certainly nothing severe enough to be a deal breaker for me, and the story is galvanizing enough to propel me through such moments with little fuss. Besides which, these small issues are meager in comparison to the things Gonzalez does so damn well, which is crafting compulsively page-turning pulp. It's hard for me have too many quibbles in the midst of so much sheer fun, and entertainment-wise this was a perfect diversion.
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