Let's start with a question. Suppose you could travel through a portal to another Earth in a parallel universe. Suppose this other Earth had around 7 billion people, just like ours. Finally, suppose you could unleash a plague on this other Earth, turning every man, woman, and child into a zombie. Would you?
I'll bet that you, like most folks, would have a knee-jerk reaction of "Goodness gracious, certainly not" (or words to that effect). That's because you haven't read Coldbrook by Tim Lebbon.
If one had to sum up Coldbrook in just five words, those words would be "Stargate meets The Walking Dead." The story commences in a secret laboratory called Coldbrook located deep underground in the Appalachian Mountains. Its scientists have managed to create a breach into a parallel Earth. Wisely, they aren't rushing things; they are simply studying what they can see through the opening. They also have a protective barrier called the eradicator that will take out any living creature that attempts to cross over into our world. Thus, it's more than a tad unfortunate that the first creature of note to cross over is no longer living in the classical sense.
This is where the zombie apocalypse portion of the story commences. Coldbrook goes into lockdown. The main control room is sealed. All the underground facility's entrances and exits are automatically locked and welded shut. But wouldn't you just know it? One of the scientists, Vic Pearson, has been worrying about such an eventuality and planning a way out to get to his family. Not surprisingly, the zombies follow him, and things go downhill rapidly.
I know this seems like one of the classic "Oops, we accidently let the killer virus get out of the laboratory" stories, and it's certainly fair to say that I was (metaphorically) jumping up and down at this point screaming, "You incredibly stupid idiot" to Vic for paving the way for the zombies to get out. But this book has layers upon layers upon layers. As it turns out, there are an infinite number of Earths. Many have been affected by the zombie plague, and an unknown entity is orchestrating things so as to propagate the plague through as many worlds as possible. This includes manipulating people like the guy in our world who invented the breach in the first place, along with manipulating Vic to execute his ill-conceived escape.
This is a great edge-of-your-seat book. In many ways, it's classic hard science fiction... with zombies. The characters are well observed and richly detailed. Most importantly, their actions make sense, especially once you know how they are being manipulated.
Do you remember the question I posed at the beginning of this column? I think the difference in your answers before and after reading this book will surprise you. Also, I bet you will be clenching your fists, and you won't be able to draw a breath while reading the last page.
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting