Monday, March 7, 2011
Run Away! Screaming!
Zombie Apocalypse!: A Mammoth Book, created by Stephen Jones, written by Kim Newman, Tanith Lee, Michael Marshall Smith, Pat Cadigan, Sarah Pinborough, Scott Edelman and a cast of dozens (2010): This shared universe/'mosaic' novel sees nearly three-dozen writers portray a zombie apocalypse through memos, diary entries, tweets, blog entries, medical reports and a variety of other 'found' written objects, apparently collected and collated years or even decades after the war (shades of the Appendix to 1984, or the conference notes in A Handmaid's Tale). We don't really know how the later stages of the apocalypse went, or who won, leaving ample room for a sequel.
The specter of loopy old architect Nicholas Hawksmoor gets invoked again, as this zombie outbreak seemingly has both natural and supernatural roots in magical architecture and the Black Death outbreak in 17th-century London.
A nearly bankrupt, dystopian near-future UK plans a cheery national festival to get people's minds off living in a nearly bankrupt, dystopian near-future UK. In order to build, the government decides to excavate what turns out to be a "plague pit" of approximately 11,000 17th-century bodies adjacent to the surviving basement of a church built by fictional Hawksmoor disciple Thomas Moreby. Moreby believed in physical resurrection of the body after death through supernatural means.
You can probably guess the basics of what happens when ground gets broken on that ancient plague pit. What happens to Prince Charles and the long-entombed corpse of Princess Diana...well, you may not see that one coming.
The faux-documentarian format of the novel, pretty much as old as the English novel itself, which began life pretending to be real letters and journal entries, remains a solid way to jump from place to place and time to time in a narrative; it also eliminates any problems one might have with the different authorial voices at work here. Sentiment and personal tragedy bounce off the blackly comic, making for an occasionally jarring but ultimately rewarding reading experience.
The zombies of Jones and company aren't your average zombies -- the supernatural element eliminates some of the improbabilities of purely 'natural' zombie outbreaks, while the zombies themselves (and the world of the novel) end up being something of a riff on Richard Matheson's great quasi-rational vampire novel, I am Legend. Recommended.