Inadvertently, I found myself reading/ listening/ watching four apocalypse stories simultaneously. This catastrophe of sad stories occurred because I avoid sad stories. When I’m reading something grim that I don’t want to quit reading, I just slow down and read other things simultaneously. It had to happen that eventually I’d be reading one grim thing slowly and pick up another to avoid the first. This is one of those cases.
EDIT: (2008-01-01) When I first wrote this post, I included a photo called “Road to the Sea” from flickr. I thought the photo was posted with a creative commons license, but the license on the photo now says “All rights reserved” so I’ve taken it down.
Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack
John Walter recommended this book to me, and I’m excited to read it. At the same time, I’m terrified. Urban apocalypse scares me most of all, and this entire book, an epistolary novel written from the perspective of a young-teen girl, drips with it. It also features what 1970s horror movie makers knew was the worst thing: dread. We know bad things are coming–epidemics, continuous rioting, economic strife–but Womack keeps pushing them back a little further. At least Octavia Butler, in The Parable of the Sower, got the collapse of society started with haste. This book, not so much. (This is the only one of the four I haven’t finished now.)
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
My father-in-law insisted I should read this as an audiobook, since the narrator (Tom Stechschulte) does a fantastic job. I didn’t know it was a father-and-son road book about a post-apocalyptic landscape. Talk about dread: the characters shamble from one horror to another, running for their lives from cannibals and murderers. McCarthy makes a scavanged tin of peaches seem like heaven on earth, but I’m still quaking from the bit about the people being kept in the storm cellar as food.
Monster Island by David Wellington
Perhaps zombie novels don’t fit the same seriousness as the two books above, but this one is still creepy. The need to have the zombies be more than zombies makes sense. I’ll have to write something more sustained about why zombie novels can’t just be zombie films in novel form; at least the good ones can’t. The short answer is that zombies are a visual monster. They tap into the uncanny, and that fear works best as a visual, not language-based, one. The human-and-yet-not-human shape of the zombies, along with their dead eyes and lumbering walk, make them frightening. In books, this doesn’t translate the same way, and action becomes the way one interacts with them.
Thus, zombie novelists must come up with something else for the zombies to do. Some make it funny (Al’s All Fright Diner, The Stupidest Angel), some make it large scale (World War Z), and some give the zombies an unheimlich intelligence (Cell, Monster Island). My favorite twist with Wellington’s book was his decision to have the zombie epidemic be something other than a virus. That way, pigeons, horses, and mummies can all rise from the dead as well.
Children of Men
Good God! Why do all the beautiful movies (save Searching for Bobby Fischer) have to be do damn heartwrenching. There I sat, watching Cuaron’s brilliant film in my living room, my muscles clenched with tension, my stomach seizing. The moment arrives when Ki passes through a crowd with her baby and everyone stops shooting to listen to the baby cry. Then, as the baby’s crying died out I heard Avery crying in her bedroom. Scared the bejeezus out of me. And I think I over-comforted her, at that.
So having seen the film now, why did I think Ben Kingsley was in it?