Feedback, by Mira Grant

While reading Feedback, it occurred to me that Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series features the worst-case scenario of zombie design, and yet humanity survives with civilization mostly intact. That’s impressively optimistic.

I mean, look at the parameters of how zombies work in this setting:

Everyone who dies becomes a zombie, regardless of whether they’ve ever been near a zombie. This is fairly common, but there are settings where you can keep zombies out with a quarantine. Not this one.

Direct contact with a zombie is extremely contagious. Bites and scratches, sure, but imagine a zombie with late-stage Ebola. (A modified Marburg is one of the component viruses). Zombie drool landing on an open wound can convert you. The blood spatter from the zombie you’re shooting can get in your eye and convert you. The body of the zombie you just killed, lying on the ground motionless, is still a high-level biohazard that can convert you.

Anyone who goes out in the field must go through decontamination when they return. Showers include a standard bleach cycle and won’t let you out until it’s done. Outbreak sites have to be hosed down with bleach, burned, or simply condemned.

Any blood that’s been outside the body long enough will trigger conversion on exposure, even if the person isn’t a zombie. Even your own blood.

Sometimes people spontaneously convert. It’s not common, but it’s been known to happen.

The newly-infected can be as fast as a normal person before their body starts decaying. (Yep, fast zombies and slow zombies in the same ‘verse.)

Any large mammal can become a zombie. Dogs. Raccoons. Horses. Bears. Cows. Red meat is now a biohazard.

Mobs of zombies can plan ambushes. Enough zombies together exhibit just enough rudimentary intelligence to set a trap. Even across species.

There’s a really scary twist in the virus’ transmissibility late in the second novel that I won’t spoil.

The only factor that isn’t maxed-out is their indestructibility. A zombie in the middle of the desert or at the bottom of the ocean will eventually starve.

Eventually.

And yet humanity survives the Rising and is able to rebuild civilization in many — not all, but many — parts of the world.

That’s…well, that’s kind of inspiring.

Do Not Taunt the OctopusMira Grant has been writing yearly novellas set in the world of her Newsflesh trilogy. A generation after the zombie apocalypse, humanity has survived, adapted, and rebuilt civilization. While the trilogy focuses an a core group of characters, journalism, social media and American politics, the novellas have opened up more of the world.

“Countdown” reveals the early stages of the Rising, including a look at what two messed-up background characters were like before everything went to hell. “The Last Stand of the California Browncoats” looks at what would happen if an actual zombie plague wiped out Comic-Con. “How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea” jumps across the world to Australia, where the people take a very different approach toward managing the zombie virus. “The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell” explores the implications of life with zombies on the school system, and it’s really freaking disturbing. The newest one refers back to it (not in any detail — it goes out of its way to not describe what actually happened), and it hit me again. That story sticks with you.

“Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus” is the latest, and picks up the tale of Dr. Abbey, who runs an underground virology research lab where they’re trying to cure the zombie virus without the politics constraining mainstream organizations like the CDC (which has its own issues), as they deal with industrial espionage, hackers, and some…surprise visitors. She grudgingly accepts the label of “mad scientist,” though she insists that while she is angry, she’s not crazy.

It’s a surprisingly upbeat story considering the setting, as is “How Green This Land…”

One interesting observation: It’s now 2015. In the Newsflesh world, the Rising took place in 2014. We’ve now branched into alternate universe territory, but there are references to historic events and pop culture that happened after the first novel came out in 2010.

Another observation: I followed this up by finally reading Unlocked, a novella detailing the background of John Scalzi’s novel Lock-In. It’s an interesting parallel, in that both Newsflesh and Lock-In pick up a generation after a devastating virus has swept the globe, killing and transforming people — in one case taking over the bodies as the mind dies, in the other leaving the mind intact but cut off from the body — and the technological, social and political changes made to deal with the new normal.

This weekend I finally watched Evil Dead 2. Aside from some nifty low-budget cinematography, it mostly confirmed that the only movie in the trilogy I actually like is Army of Darkness. Not surprising, since I like the sword and sorcery genre better than horror to begin with.

I also started thinking about what sets the Evil Dead trilogy apart from other 1980s horror series: instead of focusing on the villains, the later installments are all about the hero.

Friday the 13th? All about Jason. Nightmare on Elm Street? Freddie Kruger. Hellraiser? Pinhead and the Cenobites.

Evil Dead? Ash. Hail to the King.

At the comic store today, I noticed that there’s a whole line of sequel comics, focusing again on Ash (including “Ash Saves Obama”). But they’re not titled Evil Dead. They’re all Army of Darkness. It must have greater name recognition.

I’ve been working my way through the classic Universal Frankenstein movies, some of which I’m sure I’ve seen before, and some of which I’m sure I haven’t. Of course, they get filtered through having read the book at least three times and having watched Young Frankenstein many times.

Last weekend I watched Bride of Frankenstein. It’s a good movie, but the framing sequence bugs me. In it, Lord Byron is telling Mary Shelley how much he enjoyed her tale of horror, and proceeds to revisit the high points in the 1935 version of “Previously, in Frankenstein…” Unfortunately, just about everything he mentions wasn’t in her book! (Neither the 1818 or 1831 versions.) He then bemoans that it should have ended so abruptly, at which point she says something like, “Ended? That wasn’t the end at all!” and proceeds to tell Percy Shelley and Lord Byron the tale of, well, the next movie.

All this, despite the fact that the movies clearly take place in the 20th century, though they at least went to the effort to dress Byron and the Shelleys in period costumes.

On one hand, it’s a nifty conceit, made somehow more appropriate by casting the same actress, Elsa Lanchester, as both Mary Shelley and the Bride.

On the other hand, it’s emblematic of Hollywood’s mixed demand and contempt for original source material and its authors. This is the industry that brought us both Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, trading on the author’s name as a claim of authenticity while still taking things in their own direction. (To be fair, both movies made efforts to include aspects of the original stories that are usually left out. And MSF followed quite well until about 5 minutes before the end, at which point it took a 90° turn and flew off into another movie entirely.)

Neil Gaiman says it best in his short story, “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories” (in Smoke and Mirrors):

She managed a pitying look, of the kind that only people who know that books are, at best, properties on which films can be loosely based, can bestow on the rest of us.