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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weekend Discussion: Zombies & Me - A Weird Accidental Relationship

My discussion of the Hugo nominations will be pushed back to next weekend.  I found a more pressing topic to bring to you. :)

Lately I've noticed the amount of books I've read that have zombies in them has been increasing. This hasn't been intentional--I don't particularly like zombies; I don't particularly hate zombies.  I'm pretty ambivalent about the walking dead, or whatever endearing euphemism you want to use.  The only explanation I have for this rare surge in niche fiction is best expressed through one word: accidental.

When I first started Jeff Carlson's Plague Year books, I was unaware he'd planned for a zombie appearance or two in the third and final installment, Plague Zone.  I picked them up for the Apocalyptic SF aspect.  But I was in too deep, I had to see the trilogy through and really, the zombies made it all a bit more dramatic.  I had no indication Cherie Priests's Boneshaker had zombies in it, but everything else I enjoyed made up for my lukewarm reception of what I otherwise felt was an inconsequential (i.e. I didn't mind) trope.  Priest's zombies intrigued me--were all zombies this much a curiosity?  And let's face it: the only reason I picked up Deathtroopers is because it was Star Wars. That, and entirely other set of discriminating tastes. Or namely, the lack of it.

Like many people who grew up in the late to early 90s, I'm familiar with the Resident Evil games. My brother on the other hand, is more than just "familiar"--he's obsessed.  His interest has gone from Umbrella (after years of searching, we finally found an official Umbrella umbrella at WonderCon this past weekend. I made him wait until we ate lunch before he ran to the Capcom booth to purchase everything he could afford--in addition to his green herb hoodie, replacement t-shirt, and assortment of pins he'd cleared out from the Stylin' Online booth. If you wanted one after Friday early afternoon, I'm sure he won't apologize.) and Resident Evil to horror movies and anything zombie he can find.

I'm not blaming my brother's interest in my lack of curiosity. In fact, I owe it to him that I'm so open-minded about zombies. If I read something with zombies, it means I can suggest it to him. Touching, no? We bond.

Suffice to say, that I--someone who has little interest and doesn't actively seek them out--have stumbled upon a few books with zombies in them, means zombies are clearly on the rise (pardon the pun).  Recently, I was given the chance to review an ARC of Mira Grant's (aka Seanan McGuire) upcoming new book, Feed.  It's the first in a new trilogy called Newsflesh--self-contained, a story with an end, something we hopefully won't see in her Toby Daye books for awhile.  This third zombie book I've read, you see, has also been accidental.  It was sent to me, without my asking, by the publisher, but I'll be damned if I wasn't intrigued enough to read it.  Seanan McGuire, whom I know best for writing her gritty Faerie PI books (Rosemary and Rue; A Local Habitation), and…zombies?  Add politics into the mix and she manages to show us all how flexible her talent is.  The plot doesn't revolve around the zombies so much as the way people have learned to work around them--how people live and deal with this invasion is most important.  It's a novel very much about humanity.

I suppose whatever has come to interest me in zombie involvement at this point is the close ties to survival narrative those books share with other books I already like: The Hunger Games, Unwind, The Windup Girl, etc… If characters are running away or doing their best to avoid zombies it means they're trying to survive in spite of the invasion.  That kind of protracted fear can successfully fuel the duration of a story for me in ways the Reavers in "Firefly" did not (oh, don't get me started.).

What all this long rambling means is: now that I've accidentally come to appreciate the use of Zombies in fiction, it doesn't mean I'm going to begin actively seeking zombies wherever I can.  I think zombies will remain mostly tangential to me, never the deciding factor.  Mostly.  But I do think they're clearly in a prime position to rival vampires and werewolves.  I now have in my hands the first in a trilogy of YA books (set to wrap up this summer with Passing Strange) I requested specifically because of the premise: it's a zombie teen high school romance.  I don't know about you, but that alone makes me want to laugh. The absurdity of a zombie romance when seen against its paranormal teen contemporaries, like Twilight or Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver that I'm more familiar with, makes me wonder how practical it would be to fall in love with something people usually run far away from.  Daniels Waters' Generation Dead and Kiss of Life will, hopefully, keep me as entertained (albeit humorously) as the other zombie books I've grown rather fond of.

So what about you, JRT readers?  Has there ever been a certain type of book you've accidentally come to develop a bit of a soft spot for?


Anonymous said...

You know, urban fantasy was sort of like that for me...until I got burnt out on the genre. :P

More or less, I'm happy to see more zombie books, although the Twilight-esque zombie stories hold no interest for me...

Erika said...

@TJ: I think Urban Fantasy is creeping up on me more, but I say that with extreme hesitation - I consider Seanan McGuire the closest I've gotten. I do, however, have the first Dresden Files book, so I guess that'll be series #2 for me, if I become interested enough.

Generation Dead is turning into less of a Twilight story (i.e. romance) and more of a social commentary on prejudice and discrimination. ;)

Anonymous said...

I had a major binge with urban fantasy for a few months... However, it's like a sweet candy. Eat too much and you don't even want to look at the stuff for an even longer time...

Perhaps Generation Dead will pull out, but I'm pretty classic with my zombies. I'll accept 28 Days Later sorts, because the idea is right, but my heart is with the Romero-esque batch.

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