Don’t Cry Zombie

I do not like zombie stories. Book or movie, it takes very little for me to be incapable of walking outside at night or staying home alone. When John and I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness (three thumbs up, for the record), there was a preview for Max Brooks’ World War Z. He got excited, so of course, when I saw the book for sale later that weekend, I thought it might be a way for him to enjoy it without having to drag me to a zombie movie.

I have a problem, though. I can’t help but read the cover when I have a book in my hands. And in spite of the zombie focus, I got drawn into the ultimate question the book poses: “What has to happen for a global epidemic to break out so catastrophically?”

So I read the introduction. And then I read the first chapter. And then I was deep enough in that I needed to know how it all plays out.

What makes this book readable for this zombophobe is that it’s structured as interviews with survivors of the war. So, right up front, you know for a fact: society is rebuilding itself. That takes some of the edge off. More helpful, perhaps, is that all of the interviewees have had a decade to think and process what happened during the war, so the action doesn’t have the adrenaline-drenched impact of “This is happening now and I have no perspective on what’s happening to anyone else” narratives.

John wrinkled his nose when I explained that, but that distance paints the zombie question into terms I can appreciate. Instead of “How do we kill dead things that won’t stay dead?” the story is dealing with “How would the world as it stands be capable of stopping a deadly epidemic?” and “How would we as individuals react to a war where the enemy might suddenly be a neighbor or child or lover?” Those are actually more terrifying questions to me, questions that don’t feel any safer in the light of day than they do when I’ve just woken up from a nightmare about having to put down an infected comrade as he sobs in hysterical fear, only hours after I’ve had to put down my own mother because she had turned.

Yeah…I didn’t sleep again the night I had that dream.

I haven’t finished the book yet–I just don’t trust my imagination to read it after dark–but I’m so far impressed with the quality of writing, the depth of research and detailed thought that went into portraying the backlash of an epidemic from a global perspective, the subtle voicing of many different characters, and the overall thought process of how this scenario might play out.

The one thing, the only thing, that I disagree with is also the only thing that keeps the heebie-jeebies at a manageable level. And it’s this: I don’t buy the manner of transmission being as viral as it is. I mean…is it really that hard to avoid being bitten? Or for a town who’s observed this to start either cremating their corpses or smashing in the corpse heads? I have a higher confidence than Brooks in our media-primed selves to come to grips with the issue fast enough to put down a bite-transmitted epidemic pretty quickly.

In fact, I have such a high degree of confidence in this that I feel I should warn you: you don’t want to pull a zombie prank on me. If you come at me moaning and with fake flesh dripping off your body, there’s a better than fair chance that I’ll take a pole saw to your head, so for your sake and mine, and who knows, the sake of the whole world someday…don’t cry zombie.


3 thoughts on “Don’t Cry Zombie

  1. >>“How would the world as it stands be capable of stopping a deadly epidemic?”<<
    Yes, exactly. I feel the same way about Zombie stories as you, and actually now even moreso because World War Z (and even more so Stony Mayhall) have ruined all the other (inferior) books in the genre for me. Like the best of any genre, they take the trope and use it as a lens to discuss something of real importance (the robustness of global technological civilization or reproduction and death). But also World War Z matches so well my perception of the world. I loved the way other countries were portrayed, especially. And the nuclear war thing. Man! Just great.
    But no spoilers.


  2. I may have to give myself some space in between the zombie books (like I said, not really my genre), but the scenario behind the Stony Mayhall book is an interesting take. Have you watched Warm Bodies? I haven’t seen it yet, but I heard that it was a love story between zombies, which strikes a similar chord in that it’s trying to see a zombie outbreak from the zombie’s perspective, and that highlights a question that’s relevant in both the context of zombie tales and general human strife: what’s the difference between Self and Other, and at what point is the cohesion of Self under intolerable threat by the existence of the Other?

    I still have two sections to go in WWZ, so yes, no spoilers please. I’m just hoping the terrifyingly fast mob-style zombies in the movie trailer never show up, because I will lie awake for a week. :)


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