Review: 'Sooner Dead', by Mel Odom
Sooner Dead: A D&D Gamma World Novel
Mel Odom (Wizards of the Coast, Feb 2011)
Paperback $7.99 (307 pages); Kindle $6.39
The setting's premise is that a Hadron Collider accident in 2012 destroys civilization. 150 years later, “[survivors] must contend with radioactive wastes, ravaged cities, and rampant lawlessness. Against a nuclear backdrop, heroic scavengers search crumbled ruins for lost artifacts while battling mutants and other perils.”
Mel Odom is a veteran writer of authorized-series melodramatic paperback novels who, probably not coincidentally, lives in Oklahoma, “the Sooner State”.
Don’t look for any deep characterization or character development, just non-stop action. The mutants include many talking humanoid animals, which is how this novel qualifies as Furry.
The main characters of “Sooner Dead” are a “bio-engineered super-soldier named Hella and her mutant buffalo sidekick Stampede”. The two frontier guides (plus Daisy, a tame lizard large enough for Hella to ride) are hired by a group of scientists from New Mexico to guide them across “the Redblight” – otherwise known as post-apocalypse Oklahoma – looking for … well, the guides are told that it is none of their business. There is mistrust in all sides as the party sets out into the perilous wasteland.
The Redblight is inhabited by many deadly monsters, including mutie-coyotes which have six legs and spit sticky webbing, something like “a mass of tentacles that writhed around a body that looked like a fat, gray plum” and eats people, and … well, you never know what will jump out at you next. Intelligent mutated animals have speaking roles.
Hella’s partner Stampede is a bisonoid with short, curved horns and a gold nose ring:
His body was humanoid, but the trace of the animal his ancestors had been remained. His arms and legs were thick as tree trunks, his hands and feet massive. Short brown fur covered his entire body except for his muzzle, palms, and the hooves of his feet. A short, shaggy tail hung out of his leather pants.
At a small trading camp, Hella and Stampede meet a former friend, the gorilloid Faust:
Faust was impressive to look at. Standing two meters tall, he was broad and heavy with slabs of muscle, and he was armed to the teeth. Bandoliers of .50-caliber rounds for his assault rifle crisscrossed his thick chest. Four grenades hung like fruit. The two handguns in shoulder leather were matched by two more at his hips. The gorilloid had four hands and he used them all in a firefight. Gray and white scars showed through his matting of black hair. His close set eyes were buried deep under a low shelf of brow.
An adversary is Trazell, a suave expeditionary guide who is out to beat the scientists to their goal. Most of Trazell’s men are human, but Trazell himself is descended from a locust:
Trazell’s hard exoskeleton was moss green on his head and shoulders and darker green on his abdomen. The two bottom limbs of his six had thickened and gotten stronger, turning into his primary means of locomotion. His middle two limbs ended in grippers that could double as hands without the opposable thumbs, or they could be used as another set of feet if he was in a hurry or wanted to cling to a rough surface. […] He chose tailored pants and a shirt, an obscene imitation of humanity because he looked so alien. But looking at him, no one would forget that he had human-level intelligence.
A danger to everybody are the Sheldon “Purple Dragon” raiders, a gang of vicious armadillo outlaw bikers:
The body on the ground looked humanoid, but genetically its ancestry could be tracked back to an armadillo. The creature had two arms and two legs, but it also had an abbreviated tail and a shell that shielded it from shoulders to mid thigh. Lizardlike hide, crusty and dense, covered the male from head to toe. The hide was dark brown and ochre, and the shell was slightly lighter and had a greenish cast. The broad face was too wide, and the mouth curved cruelly. Ill-fitting leather clothing covered it, pants, a vest, and wide boots.
Several of the story’s humans are also mutants; Hella herself is nanobot-enhanced, able to turn her hands into guns.
Unfortunately from an anthropomorphic viewpoint, this only occupies the first third of “Sooner Dead”. The remaining two thirds are a good fast-moving s-f novel, but the new exotic characters switch to cyborgs and metallic men. But the first third, plus the adventures of weapon-hands Hella and bisonoid Stampede through the rest of the story, should make this an enjoyable light read for Furry fans.