Of the horror genres that are cycling through the public consciousness, the shambling threat that is zombie realism has caught my attention.
It started with Warm Bodies.
R and his mind that surpassed his body’s limitations, turning downed airliners into beached whales, captured my imagination. There was poetry in the adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that made feel dreamy and thoughtful. The metaphorical underbelly of the story turned the zombie apocalypse into a philosophical conversation about the state of society. I found I quite enjoyed it.
I moved on to World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Whatever I was craving, the political side of the zombie apocalypse jump-started my critical thinking. Just how would our present day politicians respond to that kind of crisis? Would the human race survive at all? Would technologically and economically advanced North America fare better than the supposedly less developed Far East? How prepared can any of us be for the unexpected and supposedly fictional?
It was a more chilling read, to be sure.
After that I was turned onto Feed which takes place in a North America that hidden itself away. The social isolation that was illustrated in Warm Bodies was not overcome by this zombie apocalypse – it was amplified. Instead of dying out, we took to hiding in our houses and gated communities with the internet as our main mode of social interaction. And unlike the two books above, this zombie infestation is explained by a medical cure for the common cold, no less.
I look at the popularity of the zombie genre, and compare it similar trends, like angels and vampires. Yes people have tried to reimagine these supernatural creatures, but in my mind the zombie plague has won in terms of capturing the public imagination.
Why? It could easily be because zombie literature has been slowing plodding into the realm of science-fiction, rather than ruminating under the supernatural category. Zombie fiction, more and more, has been presenting zombie origins within the realm of plausible, under the right social and political conditions.
R’s zombie-ism is a form of magic, a curse brought on by humankind’s continual failure to create meaningful personal connections. World War Z never quite tells us the details, except that the virus originated in China – but the plausible world politics that follow the plague more than make up for the lack of a pandemic origin.
By the time we encounter Feed, we are primed to believe.
Who would find it hard to believe that two genetically engineered cures could accidentally combine to create virus that infects all of humanity? And if that new super-virus can resurrect the dead? Well, we don’t really understand the fundamental differences between a live body and a dead one anyway.
So next time you settle in to watch the next episode of The Walking Dead or pass a zombie novel start looking – really looking – at the cause of the zombie plague. Is really so hard to believe that in a hundred years we might find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a Romero movie?
Now consider your fascination with the living dead. Does it not seem more and more like you’re witnessing an inevitable train wreck and you’re unable to look away?