Having been praised as a truly modern piece of horror metaliterature, “The Loving Dead,” Amelia Beamer’s first novel, could also be (and also has been) summarized as “the one about sexy zombies.” And it is certainly some very self-aware genre fiction– none of the characters shy away from using the word “zombie,” as people tend to do in Max Brooks’s mockumentarian novels, though naturally they are skeptical that that’s what is happening, and at one point, several characters have an impromptu zombie movie marathon while they process the events that have transpired up until that point. (As an aside, their choice in zombie-related media is kind of a Top Hits “I’m Feeling Lucky” Google Search results list, so not a lot beyond top-grossing “classics;” notably, I think Max Brooks’s books, while very good, are also hella colonialist, Americanist, and Zionist, and someone who is not me really should have said something.) But I think to call the book “meta” would give TLD a little bit too much credit. To clarify: what you do with your self-awareness is every bit as, if not more important than, being self-aware in the first place. Otherwise, it’s just navel-gazing.
Where what is thought of as “traditional” zombie media is rooted in commentary on consumerism, consumer culture, the loss of, and, to a certain extent, uncontrollable reshaping of consumption as identity, The Loving Dead isn’t really a commentary on much of anything. The desperate and overt sexuality of the afflicted could be an expression against the social isolation and puritanical romantic rules of the still-human, but when various protagonists fall prey to exchanging fluids with the damned, by romantic or more classically violent methods, none of them are clinging to the last vestiges of monogamous heteronormativity before their destruction, and, barring Kate’s (one of the two central characters) forays into bisexual curiosity, none of them has a distinct moment of “corrupt licentiousness” before succumbing, either. Well, not canonically acknowledged, anyway– which reminds me: TRIGGER WARNING FOR LOTS OF RAPE. Not as much, or as “blatant” (ie, within what is generally construed in American culture as “honest” rape) as, say, the last season of True Blood, but there is plenty enough to go around.
Besides which, how puritanical can a group of hip 20-somethings in modern-day Frisco be, anyway? Not too puritanical for borderline necrophilia, apparently– though these zombies may not be dead, since they’re still all warm, just immediately go through a Photoshop filter. AND HUNGER FOR FLESH. The destruction of the youth with the dazzle of the shiny and new is traditionally a fear projected onto those youths by the storytellers, who are generally their elders– and even though fears for one’s own generation and oneself would be a very neat twist on the zombie format, that’s not really what TLD comes across as (it’s kinda self-aware?– but nowhere near enlightened enough for that kind of genre subversion).
Likewise, while the interplay of sex and violence does come up, by necessity– and yes, there is a scene where a character starts out figuratively, then literally, eating out her partner (double snare drumroll and cymbal implied by me and me alone, as it’s actually a very serious scene that could have established an examination of stress response, guilt, and PTSD, but doesn’t)– there’s no critical eye focused on what that means for our culture, or for the individual.
Part of this is the characters themselves: they are decidedly part of Generation Y bleeding into Z, no pun intended (and no pun made in-text, sadly, because I do love a good pun), with a palpable sense of stagnance that leaves them all plugged in and nowhere to go. None of the characters express career aspirations, political beliefs beyond how crazy they can afford to get at a party, depending on if they have health insurance, and their relationships are largely based on ease-of-access (coworkers, ex-roommates) rather than shared interests, when they aren’t machinated with some kind of end goal in mind. The end goal is generally emotionless sex, because feelings makes it messy– possibly deliberately played with in the end scene, when Kate and Michael, the mainest of the main characters, and roommates, finally consummate their relationship/Mike assaults Kate (naturally played for romantic tragedy, despite dubious consent being, like, the least romantic thing), ending with one of them being eaten. Three guesses who gets to be the honorable sacrifice to the corruption of the 21st century? Blecchh. Both main characters have cars, but not gas, or enough money for gas to get where they want to go (or leave from), despite having smartphones (with data plans, unless WiFi in Berkeley has a near-universal, near-miraculous range of coverage), alchohol and legally-acquired prescription drugs for illegal use while partying, and, in the case of Kate, a sugar-daddy, which she emphasizes is not an arrangement she needs, and does not make her “that kind of girl.”
Which, while we’re on the subject, is an interestingly classed statement for a non-skilled-laborer minimum-wage-earner in Oakland, where the cost-of-living was rated at 144.1 (very high, compared to the US average of 100) in January 2011, to make. Kate’s rationale for moving to the west coast, it is revealed shortly after the “working class” vs. “working woman” distinction, was that she’d planned to work during her year of obtaining residency to qualify for in-state tuition, but apparently either complacence or ennui set in, and she’d been stocking shelves at Trader Joe’s for four years before answering Walter’s Craigslist ad. See, Kate’s a person who can afford to move to CA, support herself comfortably once there, and, in order to afford unnamed luxuries (which presumably don’t include any of her “necessary” bills, her car insurance, gas, cell phone, or data plan, since everybody else she knows on a similar work schedule has those things covered, too– maybe that money is going to her bellydance lessons?), she makes an arrangement to see someone romantically and socially for payment, while still not viewing herself– or questioning that view of herself– as “that kind of girl,” since she is also a person who, at the very least, thinks of “that kind of girl” as in some way beneath her. To not be able to say/think “prostitute,” “hooker,” “whore,” or any of the other multitudes of terminology for sex work (including “sex work”!) means that to Kate, that line of work and that kind of worker are taboo to even name; which is not uncommon in middle-class/upper-middle-class American culture, but still reeks of hypocrisy even when it doesn’t smack of privilege, and, moreover, actively does not reflect the perspective of someone who grows up alongside sex work, has to try to avoid sex work (and sexual assault) as potential parts of one’s future, or, hell, people who look at sex workers as people, too. “That kind of girl” becomes an explicitly negative abstract, a vague non-entity in the structuring of “real” character like Kate in the separation of Them and (Good) Us– you could just as well be saying, “Kate didn’t cut coupons, she wasn’t that kind of shopper,” or, “Kate didn’t buy Apoxie Sculpt, she wasn’t that kind of action figure modder.” Girl only uses Super Sculpey, amirite?
This becomes particularly problematic, since zombiism is spread both in the usual way (OM NOM NOMS) and by sweet, sweet, grey-fleshed lovin’, in a fairly explicit STD metaphor: while other people’s sexual encounters do doom them to infection, Kate and Walter never have sex in-story, and so, Walter is saved. There’s nothing wrong with not having sex in a near-death crisis (or having sex in a near-death crisis, I’m not here to judge), and part of the reason Kate chooses not to have sex is because she believes (correctly) that she’s already been exposed to the disease and is just asymptomatic at that moment, and doesn’t want to spread the horror around– but if she had been “that kind of girl,” would that conversation have changed? Is it supposed to have changed, given the moral grandstanding? What the shit does that say about attitudes toward sex as a commodity that can be “owed” without consent, if one is “that kind of girl”? “Supernatural STDs” are always going to be an incredibly problematic way of writing SF/F, at least in part because the afflicted are always going to be demonized, whether or not they are tragic or unwilling demons. In-story, women are mentioned as being able to “resist” the “turning” process longer (either some kind of misunderstanding of viral reproduction and STD manifestation across the gender spectrum, or a weird concept about female-vs-male sexuality, or “strength” and the gender binary), and Kate struggles with trying to isolate herself by the time she thinks the change is happening towards the end of the book– but if all that is “noble” behavior, either because she is an exceptional person or an exceptional woman, what does that say about everybody else? Are they reduced to their base biological urges at varying weaknesses based on sexual identity, or is responsible behavior regarding one’s health, including sexual health, not expected (or allowed) from “that kind of girl”? When those calls are being made, what allowances are being made for the context of those decisions?
Also interesting is how central it is to the plot that our main characters are concretely separated from sex work and the “kind” of people who would/do engage in it– while there are a few mentions of Berkeley’s homeless population, one as a woman who is literally shooed away for being in the path of Michael while he is trying to put together what the fuck is happening after escaping a clinic which has had its entrance blocked by a security van (though he acknowledges the security officer who drove it with eye contact, and he gets more lines in-text about why he would have been there than the woman selling magazines next to the hospital, or her fate); and the other transmits the virus to Kate’s bellydance instructor in an at-the-time presumed drunken assault, the book’s first (and unnamed) victim of the bad moon on the rise. There is literally no discussion, either via internal monologue or discussion, even overheard, among any of the characters in the entire book, about why or how the virus was introduced into California; how it was unknown by the masses until recently, but what it means, if anything, about how long (or not) the virus was in the homeless (and probably sex worker, being the same “type” of person, I’d guess) population of the area– and if it came from elsewhere, or was some kind of endemic viral mutation; what that meant for reproduction and transmission rates of the disease; or anything else beyond “avoid the hobos with blood on their faces.” For a story about people we are told have so little money and so little to lose, the narrative goes well out of its way to affirm a plot that cannot be about a certain class of people, who are inherently disposable background filler. We never see either of those two homeless people again.
Speaking of casually hyper-restrictive plot exclusions, not only is the named cast pretty universally of this suburban-transplant variety, along with a couple other instances of female body policing, the narrative voice is incredibly white. Not for lack of patronizingly “liberal” trying– no one’s race is mentioned explicitly except the President’s, once, in passing, in a pretty heinous joke made by a character with a possible concussion at the time linking Barack Obama to Gollum– possibly unintentionally, because of the possible brain hemorrhage, which was possibly also faked. Since this was used to refer to Mike, I at first thought the woman making the joke was referring to his for-some-reason just-now-being-mentioned Blackness (he had been looking for something in his pocket, and she said, “It is a [B]lack man that wants change, but it has nothing in its pocketses”), but actually, he just corrected her joke and explained that she wasn’t making any sense because Gollum + pockets =/= references to Blackness/the POTUS.
Other (possible) references to character’s race include a guy, who, like nearly all the men in this story, attempts to rape someone (SPOILER: this one doesn’t happen, and he is the second named character to be turned for his “trouble,” so HA-HA, MOTHERFUCKER), and shows up to Michael’s costume party dressed as Kanye West– which, as we know, when discussing quasi-hipsters, means absolutely nothing; the bellydance instructor, who Kanye tries to rape, mentions having lupus, which disproportionately affects women of color; and Trevin, a little kid who gives Kate a place to take a shower and crash while her apartment is being burned down by authorities to contain the zombie threat, then goes off to adventure/escape with her since she’s his only adult (making him both the most altruistic and the most stupid SOB up in this book), whose name Kate has difficulty remembering, and thinks is kind of stupid– which is a loaded statement to make, and especially to deliberately put in your writing (and have get through editing, btw), since most non-“traditional” names tend to be stigmatized as “weird” and “ghetto” (vs. “unique” and “exotic”) when Black people have them, and in themselves become pejorative shorthand for Blackness among prejudiced circles. All of these are kind of reaching, but that’s really all Beamer gives you to go on.
Oh! And also, the whips. Let me tell you about the whips. I had almost forgotten about them as a part of the sphere of race within this piece of literature because even while I was reading I did not want to have to think about it, or I would have thrown the book somewhere and possibly injured a beloved pet, or left it somewhere that innocent eyes could find it, and be forever scarred. Let me tell you about the whips.
Sexy zombies react to whips, you see. It’s partially played up for s&m factor, as is to be expected from a story/James Bond fanfiction where after the bellydancer turns into a zombie, all she knows how to do is seduce… and obey. (Yeah, it’s… the zombies just want to hump everything, and I guess maintain muscle memory, which in that case meant TOPLESS SHIMMYING and SMOKING IN BED, and if you think that means anything had been done about how sex/sexuality dehumanizes women in Western heteropatriarchy, YOU GOT ANOTHER THING COMING, BUB.) But it is canonically linked to Haitian “voodoo” zombies– even though that makes the opposite of sense, and is actively both racist and incredibly fucked, seeing as those “zombies” are people who have been fairly seriously poisoned and, in the resulting neural damage, have been trained/conditioned to fear pain, because that’s one of those things you don’t need quicker-dying higher-functioning brain cells to do. The sound of a whip works, and, since it’s a sexy costume party, someone has one; snapping a belt does, too, which, even from a point of view without a fairly fresh cultural legacy of being treated as livestock and having whips’ use on people be a legit fucking racialized concern? Seems to fairly explicitly be a threatening action steeped in specific kinds of power structures, even if it’s not, you know, a conquistador-tastic one. (Unless we are also supposed to believe that no one in this book has ever been hit or threatened with a belt in their lives because the wrong kind of people do that, too.)
Anyway, step two of this is how do we take the whole thing mobile? Well, you gotta keep the racism, but how do we make the whole thing kitschy and scream 21st century? Have everybody wear belts? Hohoho, no. There’s an app for that. The Indiana Jones app. …I’m just literally going to link y’all to a relevant Google search, because I’m not even halfway done here, and faux-retro racism/sexism is still racism/sexism, you’ve just decided to whip out the “it was a different time” excuse without even being old, and there are so many more new and interesting ways you could be racist/sexist instead!
Case in point: the only verbal, inter-character discussion about race goes as follows, quoted in its entirety with no modification from me, because I just want y’all to know what I dealt with for you:
Kate interrupted. “Hey, does anyone else think that scene in Living Dead, where the white girl slaps the black guy, and he clean knocks her out and then lays her on the couch and undoes the buttons on her jacket — does anyone else think that scene is hot?”
“Racist,” Audrey said. (Note: Audrey seems cool now, but that’s because you don’t know she’s the one who made the Obama joke. No one in this book is likeable who gets any significant amount of “screen” time.)
“Liberal,” Henry said, in the same tone.
Michael was stunned. It was the sexiest thing anyone had said in a long while. Deliberately provocative. And a total non-sequitur. It took his mind off of their zombie problem for a blessed moment.
“It was 1968,” Kate said. “You know, the same year as the first interracial kiss in Star Trek. Don’t you get it? They were trying to push buttons. But, no, what I meant is the tension between them. It’s almost romantic. She’s going nuts, and he’s trying to hold them both together and keep the zombies at bay—”
“Shh,” Natalie said. There was a zombie on the screen.
“I’m going to shower.” She stood as Michael sat. He watched Kate walk, wanting to follow her. She obviously had more to say. Michael found it engaging, more so than the movie, which most of them had seen. It sounded a little like the third-wave feminism stuff she’d been talking about from one of her community college classes. He wouldn’t have known what third-wave feminism theory was without her; at first he thought she’d said third-rate feminism, which just sounded mean.
I DON’T THINK THAT’S WHAT GENE RODDENBERRY AND LUCILLE BALL HAD IN MIND WHEN THEY WERE PUSHING BUTTONS WITHOUT STRUCTURING A BLACK MAN AS A DANGEROUS VIRILE AGGRESSOR, BUT SURE, I GUESS LET’S MAKE THAT THE SAME THING, WHY NOT
Because Kate’s just so damn edgy. And feminist! Lest we forget, we must be told: this is a Strong Woman. Meanwhile, several pages ago, while she’s having sex with her bellydance instructor, they agree that women’s sexuality is “more fluid,” so straight women can have sex with other women without it saying something significant about their sexual orientation. I’m genuinely not sure if that’s a character voice moment for the dance instructor or a statement of the narrative that says something significant about ovaries and viral susceptibility… but speaking of awkward character voice moments, you can’t escape to Alcatraz without dropping a shout-out or two to the American Indian Movement!
Literally two, actually. As in two lines. Each from a different character POV (Kate and Mike, naturally), and so we can tell Beamer writes characters different from each other, one of them refers to the AIM as Native Americans, and the other as Indians. Essentially: “Remember how the Native Americans/Indians were on Alcatraz that one time? SOUNDS LEGIT.” It’s probably Kate as the “more” politically correct one (“more” is in air-quotes because, guess what, different people have different preferences in how to refer to themselves, but a lot of people haven’t gotten the memo that Native American can be just as offensive as Indian is perceived to be, and vice-versa), but I can’t be assed to dig this book out again. It has stolen enough of my life already, I really don’t need oversimplifications of occupation movements by sovereign nations from the sexy zombie book right now. That is a thing I do not need. I mean, y’all saw what I linked to, right? PBS is free. EDUCATE YOURSELF, BEAMER.
But! There’s a few nuggets of good stuff in this truckload of steaming mediocrity– I did like how linked-in to non-mainstream media (so to speak) characters were, one woman refusing to share her cell phone with other people trying to survive because she was updating her Twitter feed, checking for news, and texting her friends and family all at the same time, and Kate’s encountering street footage of zombie attacks on YouTube and Boing-Boing (no shout outs to Reddit or MeFi? For shame). Likewise, Beamer really writes with an eye for detail and a sense of affection for the San Francisco area, which I appreciated, even though as an east-coast girl for life I have no idea as to the level of accuracy on that front. Is… is Dawn still California cool?
There was also a really interesting moment toward the end; when Kate and Trevin are trying to get to Alcatraz, they make it to the Bay and bang on the door of a boat docked at the marina to let them in: zombies are surrounding them. When they get no response, Kate screams that she is going to be raped (which, one, like, fucking whoa, two, inappropriate and a weird thing for Kate to jump to as a rescue strategy, and, three, this is foreshadowing because Beamer is horrible), and the boat’s inhabitant, a scruffy guy named Paul, lets them in. Trevin immediately distrusts him– Paul is too bearded, too beady-eyed and eager for their cash, his boat is named the Mary Celeste Big Pimpin’ (supposedly after his mother), which I thoroughly approve of, and the man gives him the “heebie jeebies.” Despite this, Paul is, if not outright benevolent (he does take their money, after all), at least a neutral force in the story, and Trevin and Kate make it to the island unharmed.
Once they get to Alcatraz, they meet up with some other young adults who’d had the same idea (though Kate doesn’t encounter the housemate who forms the other half of the two-POV storytelling until it’s too late, even though they were in the same prison), namely, Rob, a clean-cut dudebro, and his two pals. Trevin is at ease, because what his life experience and cultural training has taught him to watch out for in strangers was never dudebroism. That shit’s aspirational! Kate gets a creeper vibe, but ignores it; Rob arranges for he and Kate to be left alone, and despite her protests that she’s already infected, to wait a few days to be sure before pretending their encounter would be consensual, he rapes her. He doesn’t use protection. Kate waits until Rob finishes to beat and stomp him unconscious, but she still can’t/won’t deliberately kill him, and locks him in one of the cells, instead, before locking herself in another, in the attempted isolation I mentioned earlier.
I really didn’t like that Kate discouraged Trevin from going with his gut on Paul, because listening to heebie-jeebies and trusting your own instincts can save you– and even though Kate is angry that she could have saved herself by doing just that, and by not writing off Rob’s behavior as non-threatening, both Paul and Rob were aspects of situations that Kate felt she had to go along with to save herself and Trevin from the greater dangers that threatened them, even insofar as going along with Rob’s wishes and letting Trevin be taken out of the room as a kind of hostage to ensure compliance during her rape, instead of a petite, injured (infected) woman and a preteen boy trying to take on three grown men who also know the terrain. It also emphasized that your first impression of a rapist could be like Trevin’s, that he seemed nice, and “you’ll be fine,” or that you might think something was off about them, but you won’t necessarily interpret that as a sign of danger until you’re already well and truly in it. Besides which, it isn’t anyone’s responsibility to be on the lookout for danger all the time, as if not being aware of it would somehow make whatever happens partially the victim’s fault– because there are different perceptions of danger, there are different life experiences and cultural indoctrinations that shape each of our awarenesses, and what and from whom and under what circumstances crosses the line from acceptable behavior into threatening, and sometimes, there’s nothing you would be able to do about it anyway. Sometimes you make decisions that just let you survive another minute, or another day, or another year, and sometimes you make the wrong– or right– decision trying to survive, and now you have a whole new set of decisions to make, because you have to keep surviving and it never stops being dangerous.
For that alone, I will say The Loving Dead isn’t trying to be a shitty, shitty pile of shit. It just happens to be. Naturally, the scene after Kate’s rape-rape by Rob, successful self-cloistering, and warning Trevin to avoid her, avoid Rob’s gang, and whip them zombies into a frenzy (to turn a phrase) if so needed, HERE, TAKE MY IPHONE, THE ULTIMATE SYMBOL OF MY DISCARDING THE TRAPPINGS OF MODERNITY, is when Mike finally shows up. He finds Kate, tied up and clearly turning, in addition to having visibly been through some shit– and over her exclamations that she’s infected, and despite her repeatedly voiced refusal to willfully participate in any romantic or sexual acts, Michael ties himself to her and begins a round of heavy kissing until the trigger phrase, “something’s happening,” lets us know Kate’s about to eat the other half of her UST-pairing’s face off so hard they won’t even be able to use dental records to i.d. him, awwwww yeaaaahhhhh. Kinky! And… tragic? I guess, if you say so.
…And yes. That’s how you know someone is turning. “Something’s happening.” It’s silly, but by far the least silly thing that stuck around for the whole novel, so I gave it a pass at the time, but even in situations, like, say, screwing something up really dramatically in a chemistry lab or something, where authority figures are present to help, “something’s happening” has never really been a go-to phrase. Still, catchphrases never actually make sense. No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative! It gets the people going!
The story’s close, in the aftermath of a post-zombie world, is implausibly dystopian, even without the magic pills for the infected– through the fantasy idea that there are pills for everything, any zombies not swept up in the initial, prejudiced waves of “shoot the grey cannibals in the skull” just had to take some meds (how was the first dose administered??) and, BAM! Sentience restored! Kate, naturally, “survives,” because the non-infected folks hunkered down at Alcatraz were okay with the grey menace as long as they weren’t about to get eaten, you know? The whole setting, and the above circumstances, drive home that Beamer really wasn’t writing a virus story or world-building specific so much as a particular kind of horror that’s recently trended toward quasi-sci-fi, but it’s at least more interesting than the first sixteen chapters of the book. However, “more interesting than the first sixteen chapters of ‘The Loving Dead'” is not actually much of an accomplishment. What horror actually awaits us? The new Facebook timeline? (IT’S TOMORROW, DUN DUN DUNNNN. But I installed mine already, zombieland suckas!)
Seriously, though, even though on the surface this post-pandemic ‘verse is interesting– much like Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games’s future District 13 (aka “What Is Left of New England”) somehow having lost the elementary-school knowledge of how to recycle paper, despite being part of a relatively advanced, if somewhate amoral, brand of humanity– The Loving Dead’s vision of our next few years, when you scratch the surface, makes absolutely no fucking sense. I’ve cited The Hunger Games here because it’s similarly poorly researched, but let me be clear: this future is far dumber than Panem. Not to mention, it was also less enjoyable than The Hunger Games– this book took me longer to get through than I took for the first two volumes of Twilight, with warnings in advance for the horribleness of both.
What happens, apparently, is the dissolution of the United States completely into various multi-state territories with extra-dumb names– which, at least in The Hunger Games, meant some regions were far more powerful than unfortunate arid zones and the such– but in The Loving Dead, it means there are rolling power outages and, I guess, no Internet at all for some reason, but otherwise people seem pretty okay. Except for Audrey and Kate, the “surviving” characters from the pre-zombie days, now can only get work at a bar-turned-fetish-strip-club, which also serves as the neighborhood bookshop/bookloaners, since the library systems have collapsed? THERE’S YOUR KIND OF GIRL, KATE. BOOM. SEX WORK AND BOOKS. But no, she’s still not a prostitute, goodness gracious! *clutches pearls* Just a stripper who wears a mask to cover her flawless, scarless face, because she’s not ugly enough for zombie fetishists, alas and alack and woe. Now Kate just wants to continue the trend of zombie sex with roommates, but this time, they’ve both come out as grey. HI-YO!
They also don’t know how to recycle paper, because paper plates are apparently fairly scarce. *massages temples* At the very least, zombie survivors are reintegrated, if with some prejudice, into the lingering fragments of West-Coast Bear Republic of Whatever society?
A further moment on the faux-biology here, since there really is no such thing as a gift horse: HIV/AIDS doesn’t turn you into a promiscuous grey flesh eater (I know, shocker), but apparently antiretrovirals– which as a class of drugs inhibit internal reproduction and potential drug-resistant mutations of a virus, not cure it, repair its damage, or stop its spread, btw– will make you less cannibalistic and promiscuous, at least? Because apparently the symptoms of a mutagenic virus that attacks the autoimmune system, namely, the collapse of the autoimmune system, can be correlated with an uncontrollable urge to eat people’s faces and hump strangers in Zeppelins? Not to mention how cellular takeover and destruction is the symptom of the real-life disease whose terminology is being appropriated, and the fictional viral outbreak, aside from the grey-ness (which is not cell death– properly medicated zombies retain nerve sensation, body heat, and are decidedly alive), manifests as some kind of entirely reversible psychological/behavioral issues. Oh, and the drugs apparently also have no shittacular side effects worth mentioning in-story, either! Even though they somehow jumped from miraculously theorized through human trials up to widespread market availability by the time people figure out to check Alcatraz for survivors and find Kate, so they’re first-wave drugs at best.
…It is easier for me, at this point in my life, to write this off as a profound scientific ignorance than to look at what (if any) cultural statement is being made with zombies-as-virus here, partly because “zombie virus” is so much trendier than magic zombies or zombies as biological warfare and is a much more commonly accepted handwave than anything else at the moment, but mostly since I really don’t want to have to hate anyone today.
And what the hell does that say about the first decade of the 21st century’s zombie fiction, really? That in a post-2001 media realm, not only are we, culturally, still leaning so heavily on stigmatization of the Other– long-since “revealed” to not actually be that fucking Other in the first place, without even getting into the whole, “Hey, did we mention the gays aren’t the only ones giving us the HIV? Hey, did we mention the gays aren’t devil-worshipping pedophiles being smote by God’s wrath? Hey… maybe we should let them get married in 6/50 states, but no more than that at any given time, by God?” conversation– we feel the need, apparently, to coat the whole thing in such a thin veneer of political correctness, it doesn’t even give the barely-contained internalized hatred and bigotry an unintentional ridiculousness of reader-imposed externalized satire. Because, believe me, I tried. I wanted this book to be meta harder than anyone who ever took over a week to get through this thing could have even competed with. I thought there had to be some kind of twist at the end– but no. Sometimes you read something, and it is just that bad– and it hovers between three and four stars on Amazon, depending on the day, with negative reviews essentially stating, “Well, there was just too much sex and not enough zombies.”
So really, the question is: what does that say about the demands of a genre-literature audience in the 21st century? What does it say about all the four-star reviewers, and all the one-star reviewers, who, while recognizing on some level that the book was shit, were only popping in to complain that their seller in Amazon Marketplace labeled the book in Very Good condition, but the paperback they received was definitely in Good condition at best? Where is the bar being set? Do you want to be a zombie literature reader who is okay being washed away by the New World 2.0’s consumerist hive-mind, or do you want to be the zombie literature reader who breaks free of the pack, machete and MREs in hand, ready to reject what is being sold to you as “clever” when you can smell the decay of long-dead leitmotifs rising up to consume a new reading generation?
I’ve made my decision. I’m firmly in camp “The Devolution Will Not Be Televised,” and I am ready to smack some undead heads and crack some literary spines to stand against wave after wave of crappy reanimated literature– so who’s with me?
The first four chapters of “The Loving Dead” are available for your perusal on Amelia Beamer’s website. The book is available for sale in paperbook, ebook, and audiobook formats from Night Shade Books.
Personally, I recommend you send that money instead to Buy Life– for the cost of two copies of The Loving Dead, you could provide REAL antiretrovirals and essential care to keep an adult or child with AIDS alive for a month.
And they also have t-shirts.