Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beefy Muchacho's Book Club

Long time, huh? Yeah... that's what happens when all of my writing opportunities have been either severely limited by work changes (yes... I've occasionally blogged from work) or just the general lack of available free time. Once again I've overextended myself in my hobby time. In the last 2 months I've been deeply involved in 3 different theatre productions. I sang in a Valentine's Day Weekend musical revue, I've done the fight choreography for a production of The Rainmaker, and most time consumingly, I've been performing in a production of Comic Potential at The Drama Workshop in Cincinnati. Comic Potential has been an interesting experience... It's not a play that I particularly like (I was originally Stage Managing the show, but after an actor dropped out I was asked to step in). More strangely, it's the second time I've performed the exact same roles in this fairly obscure British play. Truth be told, I'm working on it to be able to spend time with the Tofu Muchacha (she's playing the lead, and is absolutely awesome.)

The biggest side benefit of doing this show has been that I've had the opportunity to do a great bit more reading than I typically get a chance to do... Over the course of this production I've read 3 books (after The Road). They were all read-able, but definitely of varying quality and structure.

The Tofu Muchacha has gotten me into reading post-apocalypic writing. Well, that and zombies. In a way, they go hand-in-hand... The best zombie books rely on absolute desperation and the removal of humanity. Reducing civilization to its deepest, darkest base. Same goes for post-apocalypse stories. Two of the three books I read fall into these categories, and they were certainly the class of the lot.

I started with World War Z written by Max Brooks. As an introduction into the world of Post-Apocalyptic zombie books World War Z is probably a blessing and a curse... It's an unbelievably detailed, creatively written, and meticulously compiled work. I say "compiled" because Max Brooks writes the whole book as a series of interviews with people who survived the zombie plague that wiped out over half of the world's population.

It's an excellent book, though not the Zombie carnage fest you'd expect from a Zombie book. Sure... there are animated corpses, epic battles between zombies and the army, swarms of the undead roaming the ocean floor, and the human survivors resorting to cannibalism, and all of the vivid horrors you expect from a book featuring the undead as its main character. But really, this book isn't about zombies at all. First, the zombies rarely make a direct appearance, even in the interviews. They're discussed in the abstract. Most of the interviewees witnessed the zombies directly in some way or another, but the stories they tell are rarely about their first-hand experiences dealing with the undead. More often it's about dealing with the other humans dealing with them. The account that sticks with me the most was that of a girl from Wisconsin who was a teenager when the "Great Panic" started. She and her family took to their RV packed with supplies and headed North to where the zombies would just freeze. That I recall, they barely encounter a single actual zombie on their travels, but it details the psychological destruction of her peaceful, loving family. The food runs out. The parents who she'd never seen raise their voices at each other start to call each other terrible names. The mother questions her husband's masculinity. The husband questions his wife's fidelity. They do what they have to do to save their daughter, possibly damning themselves in the process. It's an incredibly moving sequence in the book that doesn't feature a zombie at all.

The zombies themselves are a metaphor. They're the nuclear war in this particular post-apocalypse "What-if". They suppose what happens when the end of the world doesn't involve giant explosions or radiation poisoning, but is completely human-made. The thing about post-Nuclear scenarios is that there was a bomb. A great, wrenching, physical change. This book takes that away, but still leaves the desperation and wanton dehumanization.

It's interesting that Brooks removes the best thing about the zombie genre, the suspense and terror and the precariousness of the sitatuation, but succeeds in creating a compelling, addictive novel anyway. I realized it wasn't a traditional horror novel when I figured out that there was no danger. The book starts 10 years after the war ends. The writer is interviewing people who survived. They talk about death and nightmarish scenarios from the safety of the present. Because there's no danger, there's a freedom to take the time to ask any question and look at all of the potential answers.

I said at the beginning that reading this book as my first foray into the zombie genre was a blessing and the curse... I think I've made it clear why I felt it was a blessing. Why is it a curse? I think it would be difficult to truly reach these heights again.

Read it. For serious.

(soon, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol.... I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that it was the biggest pile of shit I've read in a long time. Stay tuned.)

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