Book Review: The Undead, Zombie Anthology
Edited by D.L. Snell & Elijah Hall
This book is a collection of short stories written before and after SHTF. While I have been unable to confirm it, some of the post-SHTF stories appear to be factual accounts. Those are the ones worth reading. David Wellington’s story about the zombie giant squid in Chuy and the Fish scared the crap out of me. I’ve heard stories of the Solanum virus jumping species (and of course that pre-war event documented in the movie Quarantine), but this is the first confirmation that it has happened. Hopefully, it’s an isolated case.
Also worth reading is Ann at Twilight. Brent Zirnheld documents the case of a blind woman’s experiences during the war. While the author was unable to determine if she survived, it would not surprise me if she did.
However, most of the rest demonstrates a sad fact of pre-SHTF zombie fiction: The demand for zombie stories far outstripped the supply. It didn’t take any skill to get anything published. David Moody is the classic example. His work reads like a sixth grader’s social studies report.
If you don’t have anything better to read, then do pick this one up. Just be selective of what you read and not too credulous. There are good lessons among the bad advice.
Winter is now my favorite season
Pre-SHTF, I loved the fall: the hint of sadness in the shortening days, the flame of the trees as they begin their down cycle and the good food of the season.
I just recently realized, however, that Winter is now my favorite. That recognition had an odd trigger: My daughter caught me wearing ear muffs and called me out on my proscription against wearing head phones. I had a simple answer: any zombies in the area will be frozen solid. That, however, does not also apply to the greatest threat: uninfected humans with ill intent.
While I now enjoy the winter, the first one post-SHTF was the worst time during this era. The immobilization of the undead allowed folks to let down their guard while at the same time freeing up organized groups to wreak more havoc than usual. Even if you were careful, the trampled snow around your hide out was as good as a neon sign pointing people your way.
I spent most of that winter alone. While I had opportunities to join up with others, I was emotionally burned out from my experiences during the outbreak and immediate aftermath. I didn’t have the patience needed to deal with others. While I didn’t realize it at the time, it also helped me survive that period.
Two attributes describe the groups of uninfected humans that coalesced during this winter:
|Organized||These groups were not unlike the hunter/gatherers of pre-history. They moved to areas with resources, carefully extracting what they needed. The intent, it seemed, was to find an area to settle down before the thaw.||These were the groups who had the best chance for survival. They limited membership to levels could be supported by the area’s resources. They worked feverishly to fortify against the renewed war with the zombies.|
|Benevolent groups would be open to trade and might even tempt you to join them.||Even the good folks would be touchy to deal with. They worried that you wouldn’t be a valuable member of the group, that you would be a resource suck or otherwise negatively impact their ability to resist the zombie tide.|
|The malevolent groups of both types shared many traits of their better counterparts, but also include you on their list of desired resources, as a slave of one sort or another.|
|Dis-organized||These were the most dangerous groups to deal with. They had no clue what they were doing, just living day to day.||You could smell these groups from a mile way. Usually, they would end up burning through all of the area’s resources and had to hit the road, looking for a new location.|
|It was hard to tell who were the good guys. In their desperation, they were capable of anything. Best case scenario would be that they’d jump at your suggestion that there was a cornucopia just over the next hill.||These groups did not last long. They lacked the foresight to plan, but also the balls to due what it takes to survive.|
|These were not unlike the reavers of old: evil creatures who did not think twice about violating and killing you for joy as much as for your resources.||When these groups finally moved on, nothing, and I mean nothing was left. Vegetation, structure, any sign of civilization were consumed in their effort to survive.|
Since it was difficult, in many cases, to tell the good from the bad without revealing yourself, I avoided most interactions. I didn’t think about the snow revealing my tracks until it was too late. Thankfully, the group that found me was small and kind hearted. I was able to help them and even guided them to a destination far enough away. From then on, I only moved during storms. This occasionally made for some very hungry times.
By the end of that winter, I, almost, was looking forward to the zombies.
Now that the war is over and civilization has returned, I quite enjoy the cold, crisp air of winter.
TEotWaWKI Book Review: Deep Survival
If Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide is about the tactics of surviving an outbreak, this book provides the strategy, nay, philosophy of survival. It’s all about thinking: where are you now, where do you need to be and how do you get there? It’s about asking those questions at the appropriate time and being truly open to the correct answer.
While, surely, Mr. Gonzales did not have the undead in mind when he wrote this, his prescriptions are spot on. People failed to survive for 3 basic reasons:
- They were unable to re-configure their internal map.
- They were unable to understand where the real danger lay.
- They did not conserve their energy
I am not saying that accepting the existence of zombies is an easy thing; that would have meant far more survivors. It appears to me that many suffered physical pain trying to come to terms with the fact that the dead were rising, especially so if the zombie was a former loved one. I understand their difficulty. I also understand that they, too, are now dead (walking or otherwise).
So, you came to terms with the new reality and are running for your life from the ravenous undead. You see someone flagging you down, beckoning you to safety. You know they not undead (zombies don’t behave that way). With a sense of relief, you sprint their way. Just as you feel you’ve escaped, you realize you’ve jumped right into the fire. A common mistake is to assume that all humans are good humans. If you’re lucky, you’ll only pay for this mistake with whatever goods you have on you. Women tended not to be so lucky. And later, when food became scarce, you may have ended up on the dinner plate; a sad irony, to be eaten by a non-zombified human. Slavery, also, was not uncommon.
It is understandable that when you suffer from mortal terror, when the adrenaline is pumping non-stop, that you’ll burn every ounce of energy you have. The key is to conquer that fear. Find a temporary refuge and rest. Remember, it only takes a swift walk to outpace a zombie. You need to conserve your energy for the truly critical moments.
The key is to understand your enemy and, like they teach you in the army: eat and sleep when you have the opportunity, even if you’re not hungry or tired.
How Things Have Changed In This Post-SHTF World
Though I believe strongly in what Bruce Springsteen sang, “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive,” it is still difficult to give thanks. I do a lot of reminiscing this time of year, remembering what life was like pre-SHTF. A few things came to mind this year. It is not that I miss the following, nor that I believe they were bad habits we are now best without. They are symptoms of how life has changed.
- Headphones: Nobody wears these any more. The number one survival skill is situational awareness. You cannot achieve this if you have music blasting into your ears. Even inside a secure building, I would not feel comfortable wearing them. The thought wouldn’t even occur to me. I am only reminded of headphones by looking at some pre-SHTF photos. I’m sure this has resulted in healthier ears.
- Guns: It is no longer a question of being pro- or anti-gun control. Everyone carries all of the time. This is not a problem because those who have survived have proven themselves to be disciplined and skillful with a fire arm.
- Anything can happen: If I ran into Joe’s Tavern and shouted, “3-Headed Aliens have landed and are attacking,” folks would immediately organize into combat parties. The fact that the dead rose and began devouring the living caused us to pretty much assume anything is possible. This can be exhausting when you need to consider each piece of information that is brought to your attention. You cannot discard something just because it is fantastical.
Things will change, that’s the nature of life. A time will come when those who survived the zombie onslaught are no more. Populations will rebound. We may not return to life as it exactly was beforehand, but, barring another catastrophe, we will revert to a less paranoid life style.
TEotWaWKI Book Review: The Rising
by Brian Keene
[Updated to remove reference to my no longer used Star Rating system.]
This is a piece of pre-SHTF fiction, and I am truly thankful it was fiction. My problem with the book isn’t that I was unable to suspend my disbelief; rather, I didn’t want to. The zombies were, in many cases, smarter than the humans they once were and, while their agility deteriorated with their flesh, they were still much greater threats than the true zombies from The War. Not only that, but all vertebrates were capable of zombification. I do not wish to downplay the threat of a real zombie, but the ones in this book freaked me out to no end. You haven’t been truly afraid until you’ve stared a zombie anaconda in the face. That, and the nightmares of being chased by zombie rabbits, kept me up for nights. I do not know if the author has survived, but I’d guess a sick bastard who could write such a story probably would.
The book starts after the Point of No Return, though there are frequent flashbacks that reach into the world as we knew it. While we follow several characters, including an addict who shook her habit while the SHTF and a scientist who may have triggered the event, the story revolves around a man who sets out on an odyssey to rescue his son. The book ably demonstrates that no matter what threat you face, what creatures God raises to oppose you, it is the ordinary human being you should fear the most.
As for the practical advice that the book offers, most of it is geared towards a world where the threat is smarter and faster. For instance, during a crisis, I would avoid using a car because the noise attracts zombies and you can just as easily evade them on foot. In the world of The Rising, though, you cannot so easily escape them, thus making the risk worthwhile. However, the book reinforces the need to maintain your supplies of food and ammunition. Listen up!
This is worth reading. It will scare the crap out of you, provide some useful advice as long as you are discerning of the context, and provide some insight into what the pre-SHTF world thought about zombies.
There are spoilers after the jump.
TEotWaWKI Movie Review: Quarantine
directed by John Erick Dowdle, Quarantine, Non-Fiction
This is why it’s not a good idea to hole up in an apartment building!
There is an interesting back story to this documentary. Historians who are researching the period just prior to World War Z have uncovered news footage of an outbreak that, at the time, appeared to have been quashed. I am stunned to learn that we could have faced much worse.
The lead is a reporter from a pre-SHTF TV station who was on assignment to follow a local fire company for a night. It was her crew’s bad luck that their first real call was to an apartment block where a pre-cursor to Solanum had infected a human. This was a particularly virulent form of the disease as it zombified its victim faster and the zombie itself was much more agile. The recovered footage clearly shows how authorities quickly and effectively implemented a quarantine that protected the general population. The director tries valiantly to evoke sympathy for those contained inside, but it didn’t work on me, given my hindsight. I would have nuked the area, just to be sure.
You must watch this movie, for it clearly shows who to trust and who to avoid. If you find yourself trapped in an outbreak, do not succumb to valiant inclinations unless they are to kill yourself in order to prevent further spread of the disease. Get a weapon, gather some supplies and find a place where you can wait out the event.
Oh, and you might want to watch this with all of the lights on. The speed of the undead will freak you out. Damn, only now has my heart slowed down.
There are spoilers after the jump.
TEotWaWKI Book Review: The Zombie Survival Guide
by Max Brooks, Zombie Survival Guide
[Updated to remove reference to my no longer used Star Rating system.]
OK, I am loathe to criticize anyone who survived The War. If the zombies didn’t get you, then there were plenty of healthy humans who would have gladly done you in. Idiots were quickly weeded out.
And I know I’m going to take some heat for not giving the book two thumbs up. It truly is required reading for anyone who faces such a catastrophe. I’d’ve given my right nut to have a copy before SHTF. My problem is that, in general, Max Brooks comes across as a master of the obvious and he does make some, well, not mistakes, but expresses subjective opinion as objective fact.
From personal experience, his statement that apartment buildings are the best places to make a stand is just plain wrong. Sure, if you know the crisis is coming, you have time to prepare and can ensure that none within the building are infected, such locations provide a strong defense. I just never encountered such a situation. In fact, several times I nearly met my end in an apartment block.
My wife claims that my beef with Mr. Brooks is personal. It is true that I was interviewed by him during his research for World War Z and was promised that my story would make the cut because it was so interesting. Alas, it did not. I do not harbor any grudges. I would just as soon continue to live in anonymity.
I am a little miffed, though, that his advice to keep your hair short, while practical during the crisis, has remained the style of choice among women. We no longer need to fear the grasping hands of the undead. For the love of Pete, why can’t these ladies grow their hair out again?
I miss that so.
What I’m Looking for in a TEotWaWKI Story
NOTE: I have ditched this process all together. See Reconsidering Reviews at the TEotWaWKI Diary for more information.
I shall be reviewing TEotWaWKI stories, both video and written word, using the following scale:
- 5 Stars: This is a must see. I will gladly read or watch this story multiple times. There is much to learn from it.
- 4 Stars: This was good. You should see it at least once. There was nothing glaringly wrong with it.
- 3 Stars: It wasn’t a complete waste of time, but there were a few things wrong with the story that keep it from being a hit.
- 2 Stars: This was a bad story, even though I did see or read it all. There was too much wrong with it to be of much use or, worse, to steer you wrong in the event of an emergency.
- 1 Star: I couldn’t even finish this story. Avoid at all costs.
What am I looking for? For non-fiction works, I need to feel like the author or director speaks from experience. For works of fiction, I don’t mind if the story strays from fact, but I do need to be able to suspend my disbelief. If I can see myself in the story or, even better, actively imagine myself playing out various scenarios in the world created by the story, then I have truly enjoyed the work.
I will flag spoilers and keep them below the “More…” links within my reviews. I do want to attempt to map out each within the timeline that I have set forth previously.
For more information, please consult these posts:
TEotWaWKI Life Cycle
I’ve given this some more thought and decided to revise my description of the possible end of times. This is really more of a cyclical rather than a linear process. This doesn’t replace what I wrote before. Instead, that initial post described just one path out of an infinite number of possibilities.
There are two key drivers in any TEotWaWKI story: the breadth and depth of the event and society’s cohesiveness.
Each event has a trigger. The malevolence of the event will spread or recede depending upon society’s reaction to it and the availability of fuel to keep it burning. Can this be kept under wraps so that the general population is unaware of what’s happening? Will the old society be forever destroyed? Humanity’s extinction may not be out of the question.
This can play out in any number of ways, as we will see in the stories I review.
Every end of the world the world story follows the same general trajectory:
- Life as We Knew It: You remember, the rat race in which you fell ever further behind, but the worst that could happen was only that you’d lose your house.
- Trigger: Something occurs that, if left unchecked, will end Life as We Know It. Could be the president pushing the button, the first infection in China or even an assassin’s bullet in a disputed region of the Habsburg Empire.
- The Growing Crisis: Things could return to normal if people just got their act together. Usually, though, they don’t realize the magnitude of the situation or hold some now meaningless fear that leads them to think they can or must solve the problem themselves.
- Point of No Return: It is now no longer possible to return to Life as We Knew It. Just how big a transformation the world is in for remains to be seen.
- The Shit Hits the Fan: Regardless of how The Growing Crisis played out, the world now knows, and is experiencing first hand, the catastrophe.
- Climax: Like many milestones in life, this one will probably pass without anyone realizing it. All fuel the catastrophe can touch is now burning.
- Survival of the Fittest: You are no longer living minute to minute, you are able to take a breath and look into the future. You will now see, perhaps, that your viability may preclude others. Do you have what it takes to continue?
- Beginning of the End: People stop acting as individuals or smalls groups and begin to think in longer time periods.
- The Dust Settles: Even though some semblance of normality is returning to life, you still must be careful. A single lapse in judgement could cost you your life.
- Return to a New Normal: The catastrophe is over or is least in remission (perhaps to reappear as a second trigger).
- Life as We Now Know It: Could be better, could be worse than before. Get used to it.
Not every story follows the full trajectory. Some may take place wholly within a single era. Others may short circuit the process by resolving the crisis before the point of no return.
Remember, the future isn’t written in stone. Never give up!