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As any scary movie fan knows, the line between horror and humor is often blurred to the point of nonexistence. Zombies, in particular, seem unusually well-suited to this dual role: Stupid and clumsy (though often quick on their feet), gruesome yet ridiculous, these humans without humanity are usually singularly focused on eating their way to world domination - though no doubt with ill-formed plans for what to do once they get there.
Juneau author J. Kevin Burchfield has given the pulp horror form a fresh setting in his new book, "The Great Alaskan Adventure with Zombies." The book follows the classic zombie movie plotline, incorporating an end-of-the-world scenario involving, appropriately enough, tainted beer. Like the heroes in zombie flicks, Burchfield's human survivors employ all manner of creative ideas for offing the brain-hungry beasts, unleashing their most violent impulses with a wide range of weapons and zero moral compunction.
The combination of graphic violence and irreverent humor may not be for everyone, but Burchfield's approach is based on a fun-loving spirit and appreciation for the form (and exclamation points).
"That's one of the things I love about the zombie films.... they don't take themselves too seriously," he said.
Burchfield is a big fan of George Romano's films ("Night of the LIving Dead," from 1968, and "Dawn of the Dead," from 1978) and his offshoots ("Shaun of the Dead" and last year's "Zombieland"), but said he hasn't read many books on the theme - and knew of none set in Southeast. A fisherman who runs his own charter company, Lost in Alaska Adventures, Burchfield has first-hand knowledge of the quickly changing settings for his thriller, which include Hoonah, Tenakee Springs, and the Taku Glacier Lodge. Burchfield also based some of his characters on real-life Juneau residents, including Justin, a friend who works at the Alaskan Brewing Co. with Burchfield's wife, Cindy.
He wrote the self-published book last winter, in the off-season, sharing chapters with Cindy, a local artist, when she came home.
"(My wife) would come home and I would read (what I'd written) to her. Seeing the look on her face was my favorite part." he said.
The zombies in Buchfield's book may or may not scare you, but what some readers might find really troubling is the scenario itself (sans zombies). Isolated in roadless Juneau, the heroes are abandoned by the US government when the "plague" strikes, left to fend for themselves (i.e., die off) so they don't spread the epidemic to Canada or the rest of the country. Chilling, to say the least.
Burchfield will be at Rainy Day Books Saturday from 2-4 p.m. to sign copies of his book and answer questions.