Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Avoiding the Z word.

The stand-in cover.

Ah, the living dead, walking corpses, rotting sacks of putrescence on shambling feet.  But not zombies, oh no, not in my story.  Why not?  It's obvious that's what they are... they're hardly a new occurrence in our pop culture, having grown hugely in popularity in the last ten years, virtually entering the mainstream.  Every week at HMV a new schlocky zombie film is released.  Every week they sell, dead this, dead that, whatsit of the dead.  By now everyone knows what to do when the dead walk.  Get a weapon.  Get high.  Cardio.  Etc, etc, etc.  It's the same as preparing for war.  It's the same as preparing for a terrorist attack.  A few little details that defuse and deflate all of the gut wrenching horror of seeing someone that you knew or loved return from a horrific, slow and painful death before trying to consume you.  With a label comes a separation, like referring to those in the axis as simply Nazis rather than "humans who perpetrated horrific unspeakable acts that all humans may be capable of", which is a lot more terrifying.  Call them zombies and you get rid of everything they were, slotting them into a genre, with all the burdens and constraints that come with it.  There are so many rules for every form of genre threat - sunlight for vampires, silver for werewolves, gravity for giant worms in tremors (love that film, motherhumpers) - that it's becoming dull, expected, mundane.  That being said, I do have one rule that I don't mind abiding by.
My walking dead are exactly that, walking. 
This is not because I consider running dead to be "wrong", but simply so I can ground the book a little more into the small amount of science I actually know.  The bodies are rotting, liquefying as the break down, leading to weakening muscles, tendons snapping.  These are not ideal conditions for sprinting after prey.  As it happens, I do actually consider running dead to be wrong, but that is by the by.  It just feels too demonic, too mystical, too angry.  I like my dead to be hungry, unceasingly famished, but that is all.  Why?  Who knows.  Maybe they crave the air in our blood.  Maybe they skipped breakfast.  Anyway, I digress.
I will not refer to my threat as zombies, simply because it leads to expectations that defuse the mystery of the unknown, which is the greatest weapon in a horror writer's arsenal.
Ah, with all this bitching you may then wonder why I'm even writing a book about the dead.  Put simply, they terrify me, ever since I first saw a program on tv when I was about five.  It was about a house by a swamp with some slow moving dead creatures walking out of the mire and terrorising the owners (I have no idea if this exists or was just a dream, but I'm sure I saw it!  If anyone has an idea what it might be, please let me know!).  I do not for one second think they will ever exist, but their unceasing pursuit, their inevitability, their single minded hunger is somehow more plausible to me as a threat to humanity than a group of blood sucking emo gimps who dress as toffs and are sexy because they don't die.  Where are the fatty boombatty vampires?  Just saying.
The dead have no need to hide.  They take over, slowly but surely.  They are just like us, slowly spreading out to cover the world.  They are the dark side of humanity.  And they want us for lunch.  It's enough to make your balls shrink.  Just don't call them zombies.

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