m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

Zombie Apocalypse Redux

Some thoughts on zombies and genre continue here from Zombies Ain’t So Bad. When last we left our shambling friends, they were a species of smallpox in the larger subgenre of apocalyptic fiction.

This is not yet much of an explanation; if the mysterious appeal of zombie fiction is the mysterious appeal of Armageddon, then what is the appeal of the apocalypse?

To understand the apocalypse you can start with horror. Horror—simple, scary horror, not complicated comic zombie horror—does not attract those who are truly horrified by it. The squeamish do not pick up Carrie or watch slasher movies. Horror is for the reader or character who would, at least in his mind, keep his cool when confronted with a chainsaw-wielding lunatic. Yet he would not, when hearing of a distant chainsaw-wielding lunatic, embark on quest to eliminate chainsaws from the world once and for all. Horror is about survivors, not heros. At the end of the story, the survivor returns to his normal life, stronger, wiser, and far less likely to take out a mortgage on that steal of a haunted house next time.

Post-apocalyptic fiction is also about survivors, but their survival is temporary (the radioactive cloud is still on its way), irrelevant (the species is now sterile and there will be no future), or a positively bad idea (the zombies may move slowly, but there are so many of them they’ll get you in the end). Surviving is still the only thing that counts, except it doesn’t, making (post-)apocalyptic fiction the literature of desolation. It is for the reader who would, at least in her mind, keep her cool when confronted with a short, brutish life on a planet piled high with the dead. The apocalypse is for stoics, not heros. At the end of the story, the stoic is still trapped there with the ravenous zombies.

The appeal of this irreversible desolation is its universality. The end of the world may be someone’s fault, but it’s not the survivor’s. Armageddon is a public and permanent disaster, while most tragedies are private or, when too public to ignore, quickly mythologized out of recognition or forgotten. There are no lone victims of the apocalypse; no one is left behind. All men are brothers at the apocalypse, even if they don’t act like it.