A recent IM exchange:
Abi: I am coming to the conclusion that I am not minded to rewrite “In the Navy”
as “In the graveyard”, despite the earworm potential.
Maybe the next time zombie filking comes up.
Why are zombies so fashionable at the moment, by the way?
Shawn of the Dead?
I gather they’re waning a little in the face of another onslaught of vampires
but every time I think they’ve faded into obscurity they come lurching back.
And won’t anyone give lycanthropes a little airtime?
Or are they too close to Furries these days?
PNH: I do not get the zombie thing myself, alas.
Abi: You assume there’s a thing to get.
I have always presumed the thing with zombies was mostly the lack of thing.
PNH: You may be right.
Abi: A little frisson about death in there, but really
once you’ve grasped the shambling, moaning and brains, you’re there.
The perfect monster for the Twitter attention span
PNH: Harrumph. I’m starting to feel positively contrarian about all the Twitter hate lately. :-)
The conversation wandered from there into a discussion of Twitter, poetry, the interactions of young people and lawns and whether editors ever rode unicorns. But the question stuck with me. What is it with the zombie stories?
Vampires are evil in sexy and interesting ways, so of course people keep writing stories about them. Aliens allow us to play with, well, alienation, the concept of the Other, and the eternal question of who, really, is the weirdo in any given situation? But zombies, they just lurch around and moan.
I mentioned this puzzle to my better half, who happens to be in the middle of a reread of World War Z. His answer?
Not as in walls; they haven’t the coordination for that. What he meant is that you can have any proportion of zombies and humans and come up with an interesting story. Vampires, by contrast, reach a peak population, after which their food supply runs out. And aliens are too complex to scale: once the population of nonhumans passes 50% the worldview just flips so that the humans are the aliens.
But zombies? You can have a fascinating story about a single zombie in a world of humans or the last human in a world of zombies. You can do one on one human-zombie interactions, or set entire armies against each other. They work differently as individuals (stupid and clumsy) and in crowds (lucky by means of what sheer numbers can do with probability theory). A group of them is as impersonal as a natural disaster; a single one is as intimate as death or betrayal.