Friday, February 10, 2012

We Take Our Zombies Seriously

I'm at LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything) right now, a symposium on science fiction and fantasy. Last night, at the end of the day when nobody is still around, one of the sessions was "How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse." I figured it would be pretty useful for my post-apoc novel that involves a zombie variant. Also, as practical preparation for the inevitable zombie outbreak.

Please note that the following thoughts rely extensively upon that asterisk at the top of my blog.


Those guys take their zombies seriously; they've got all the variants lined up according to type like a Star Wars collector lines up his stormtroopers.

Every possible zombie variant has its own movie, its own spotlight and stage.

"What about smart zombies?"
"Have you seen Night of the Living Dead?"
"What about zombies that mutate?"
"Have you seen Dawn of the Dead?"
"What about zombies underwater? Is that possible?"
"Have you seen Swimming of the Dead?"

The Zombieverse is filled with patterns and rules, and that's because it's a self-referential community. Every movie is an in-joke to all the other movies; every zombie is a descendant or ancestor of another. Even the zombies that do their absolute best to NOT be zombies, un-checking every box on the zombie trait checklist, are still zombies in that they're just yet another response to other zombies.

Any time a zombie trudges through a writer's text, that writer is entering a complex discussion. They're forced to pick a camp in that discussion, to find and follow a Zombie School of Thought that's informed by that Zombieverse to which the writer endeavors to offer his meager offering.

You can no longer just "use zombies," or "go with zombies." The zombies use and go with you. You become subject to their history, the great pool of work they've built. A work they've built slowly, one staggered step at a time.

Much like an actual zombie apocalypse, we've built up to this position slowly; a zombie here, a group of them there; but we can always outrun them, yes? But when the sheer number of zombies outflank and surround you, it's no longer about speed and cleverness; it's their outnumbering that spells our inevitable doom, painting us into a corner.

I submit that the actual Zombie Apocalypse is upon us now. To write zombies, you're not dealing just with your zombies, but with every zombie that's ever been written. You are not wrestling with a story device, but an entire branch of science. Your defeat may not be obvious or immediate, but it is certainly inevitable. And in the end, what is the terrible price of attempting to wrangle the Zombieverse?

The same price anyone pays when dealing with zombies: your brain.


But we cannot discuss zombies without discussing their natural companions: the people who think they're real. They spend significant brain cell activity engaged in the exercise of knowing the best ways to fight zombies. To them, books like "The Zombie Survival Guide" are mere jokes. How could you be so presumptuous with such a title?

In the world of speculative fiction, zombie enthusiasts do not merely speculate. They prepare. They know the moral dilemmas they'll be forced to face, and they've made their choices in advance.

And so I expected this Zombie Survival Panel to actually involve some practical discussion about how people (or fictional characters) would realistically be able to fight back against zombies. Instead, everyone just made jokes.

Were they hoarding their information? These people have a wealth of specialized knowledge whose value can only increase with time as the world moves closer to the inevitable Zombie Problem. Like investors who buy low and sell high, maybe they're selfishly waiting until the Price is Right, and we're all at the mercy of their expertise.

So perhaps the jokes were just a mask. Sure, they study ridiculous amounts of information about a situation that will absolutely never happen. Might as well defend that with a sense of humor; that's what I would do.

But maybe there's actually more to this. When you listen to zombie enthusiasts, only one thing runs through your mind: "Do they really think zombies are real?" And that's what they want you to ask. At the panel, someone cheeky fell into the trap, and asked the question. But all he'd done was set them up for their best punchline: "Of course zombies are real."

Zombie enthusiasts are actually the deadpan comics of the speculative community. They know how ridiculous it is; their entire existence is nothing but a giant wink. Zombie Enthusiasm is a simple joke that becomes monstrous with its elaborate setup.


But stepping back, I don't think there's any room to judge. (Trust me, I look for that room at every opportunity.) They are experts in their field, as small as that field may be. I can understand the value of becoming a serious enthusiast in a niche community. I love to follow competitive Starcraft 2, a flagship for ESPORTS, which is a series of letters you may only ever see in this blog post.

In a world bombarded by information from all sides, where there's no excuse to not literally know everything at a superficial level, the idea of focusing deeper on one area is appealing. It's simply a matter of focus; my friend's brother is literally the world's leading authority on Mormon comics, and there are no superlatives in that sentence (except, perhaps, "comics").

It's nice to have one corner where you are at home among the information, a spot in the deep end while everyone else splashes in the shallows. To be King of Something, Somewhere. Knowing Everything, now that it's available to us, is actually too exhausting; so we decide to Know Everything About Something.

Why not zombies?

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