Mark Spitz had met plenty of the divine-retribution folks over the months. This was their moment; they were umbrella salesmen standing outside a subway entrance in a downpour. The human race deserved the plague, we brought it on ourselves for poisoning the planet, for the Death of God, the calculated brutalities of the global economic system, for driving primordial species to extinction: the entire collapse of values as evidenced by everything from nuclear fission to reality television to alternate side of the street parking. Mark Spitz could only endure these harangues for a minute or two before he split. It was boring.The plague was the plague. You were wearing galoshes, or you weren’t.
novel, by Colson Whitehead
Premise: "Mark Spitz" - not his real name - is part of a civilian team "sweeping" the last zombies from Manhattan and getting it ready for resettlement and a landmark global conference on recovery. Over the course of three days, he recalls his life pre, during and post the zombie apocalypse.
Zombies: Zombies are dead people and they are infectious. They’re divided into two types - there are the classic zombies, constantly hunting for people. Then there are “stragglers”, which remain frozen in an act from their former lives - behind shop counters, watching TV, standing over the office photocopier. These never react to people regardless of provocation. Cause of the outbreak (or “plague”) is unknown, but at one point there is a reference to “strains” of the plague which vary in the speed with which they cause death and reanimation.
Why I like it: The novel examines who survives - both the mindset that allows survival and the mindset that survival creates. Mark Spitz is a really well-realised character - an everyman to such an extent that it makes him exceptional; relateable but not really likeable.The reader reviews I’ve read of this book seem to have a bit of a split. A substantial minority of people self-identifying as zombie genre fans say it is boring, slow, navel-gazing etc. And a good chunk of those praising it say something like “I normally refuse to read anything with zombies but…”. As a self-confessed-zombie-fan-and-slight-literary-snob (slight! don’t shoot me), I really like Zone One’s style. It is stream-of-consciousness, which isn’t the easiest read, but it is extremely well written, and with Mark Spitz, you need this interior view of his psyche. If you weren’t completely in his head, he would be a complete enigma. He is not a leader, he’s not a helpless victim, he’s not a misfit or an outsider, he’s not not bad but he’s not good either. In his own words, he is “mediocre”, but it seems that his very averageness is key to his survival in a world which wipes out the brave and the weak without discrimination. He’s also really detached from everything and everyone - a personal symptom of the universal “Post-Apocalyptic-Stress-Disorder”. The anchorless writing style reflects this. What saves him as a character is his self-awareness of his state, and the insight this gives him into the wider society around him. Interestingly, this story takes place after a global apocalypse but during the recovery. There are large, stable communities of survivors, a government coordinating everything and a largely functional military leading the campaign to take back territory from the undead. Whitehead creates a fascinating portrait of the culture of this new society, which is actively striving to get things back to where they were, but in which every single person is irreparably damaged in body and mind by what they’ve been through. Mark’s team has to rely on supplies only from corporate “sponsors” of the recovery rather than scavenging abandoned property. The whole effort is carefully branded by the new government as “the American Phoenix”; and even after such universal devastation, people get heavily emotionally invested in individual survivors who make the carefully managed news. While there are the fairly typical commentaries of zombie fiction about the current state of society, Whitehead asks interesting questions about what should be preserved. If society had to build itself up again from almost nothing, should it try and replicate how it was right before it collapsed? How should you weigh what is practical and what is desirable? What if “normality”, however flawed, is psychologically and emotionally preferable? The ending of the book, and Mark Spitz’s personal conclusion, which I don’t want to spoil, are a highlight. I really love the last line.
I always thought because the government introduced this policy where the PDS sufferers go back into society that there would be a backlash to that, especially because in Roarton it’s a microcosm of Britain and I think that a lot of things that happened in Roarton, happened everywhere else and people were like, “hang on a minute, I don’t want an undead person living next to me”.
In the reality of the situation, a one issue political party would spring up and say “we’re for the living, don’t trust the undead”. The whole mantra of Victus is not that they say they are anti-PDS, but rather they are pro-living. Their mantra is that these PDS sufferers are one missed dose away from tearing your head apart. And they’ve got a point.
Dominic Mitchell on In The Flesh series 2 [x]
Look who arrived in the bird box right in time for Easter!
‘If Alan Bennett and Ken Loach did a zombie show’
Really interesting article featuring an interview with Dominic Mitchell on the show’s origins and how it relates to his experiences, the politics of Kieren’s world and the show’s future given BBC Three’s closure.
But - spoiler warning if you want to know nothing about the new series. There are a few plot details I hadn’t seen before.
Not giving anything away here, but it just sounds bigger and better. I can’t wait to see it.
Wolverine doesn’t do spoiler warnings.
Some great film-makers discussing great films - as fascinating as it sounds.
Including Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan, Bryan Singer, Jon Favreau, Darren Aronofsky, Joss Whedon…
And they don’t all say Citizen Kane - there’s also Toy Story, The Lord of the Rings, Airplane!, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, Blade Runner, Eternal Sunshine…
Seriously, read it.
Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch will play Richard III in the BBC’s second series of Shakespeare’s History plays.
At the apex of the Cold War, radio lovers across the globe started to notice bizarre broadcasts on the airwaves. Starting with a weird melody or the sound of several beeps, these transmissions might be followed by the unnerving sound of a strange woman’s voice counting in German or the creepy voice of a child reciting letters in English.
Encountering these shortwave radio messages, many radio hams concluded that they were being used to send coded messages across extremely long distances. Coming across one of them was a curious experience. Radio enthusiasts gave them colourful names like the “Nancy Adam Susan”, “The Lincolnshire Poacher,” “The Swedish Rhapsody” or “The Gong Station.”
This is some weird Night Vale / Scarfolk shit
Trailer for In The Flesh series 2 [x]
- Oh my god! You’ve killed her! You’ve killed her! You’ve killed Davina!
- I hired her. I can do what I like.
Channel 4 TV series, created by Charlie Brooker
Premise: The zombie apocalypse hits Britain during a series of Big Brother. The housemates and the production team have to band together in an effort to survive.
Zombies: Flesh-eating, mindless walking dead. I’d say classic, but they can run. They’re infectious. The cause of the outbreak is unknown.
Why I like it: This is perhaps the most traditional zombie thing I’m writing about in this series of posts, because it explicitly casts the zombies as “the mob”, and draws connections between their mindless monstrousness and some of less appealing aspects of contemporary society, Romero used them as a symbol for unthinking consumerist capitalism, and blockades his survivors in a shopping mall. Brooker uses them as a symbol for brainless mass-media and the culture it thrives in, and so blockades his survivors in the Big Brother house. Amazingly, the real and very game production company behind BB made this show, providing access to the real house, the real team, etc. Brooker makes excellent use of what could easily be a gimmick. Davina McCall (UK household name light-entertainment TV presenter if you’re not familiar with her, and the real presenter of BB) appears as both herself and as a frighteningly convincing zombie - her feasting on a corpse’s innards is a hard image to forget. Fair play to her. She rivals and possibly beats newreader Krishnan Guru Murthy’s appearance in Shaun of the Dead advising survivors to fend off attackers “by removing the head or destroying the brain”. Cameos from a few real former housemates add to the nightmare realism. It’s typical Charlie Brooker - ultra-cynical, pretty nihilistic social criticism. It may not be the most original of the zombie books and shows I’m writing about but it transcends this with its total conviction. It is the most grim and gory (The Walking Dead-level ickiness). If you like it, go and look up the similarly excellent but soul-destroying Black Mirror series by Brooker too.
View from a moving train just outside Penrith, April 2014