That? That ain’t no miracle, that’s just the way things are.

I get that zombie stories are usually natural-disaster-survival stories. How far would you go, what would you get stripped down to to avoid getting stripped down to the bone, all this. But it amazes me how throughly that’s integrated into the in-character perspective of the stories, how they’re seen as nothing more than an emotionally charged mechanical threat.

I mean, this is a genre that involves dead people getting up and walking and then (usually) falling over when you damage a particular chunk of their body which by virtue of being dead they are not using for its intended purpose. That doesn’t happen. There is no currently plausible scientific mechanism by which it can happen. Viruses (virii?) do not do that, bacteria do not do that, radiation does not do that… And yet so few people in these stories ever suggest a fantastic explanation, a supernatural or super-scientific cause. The closest you get is the line “When there’s no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth,” and that is treated more as an expression of the unknowable monster we are helpless against. Not as a cause to hit the Orne Library and look up “Property Expansion, Infernal”.

I am not saying this is a bad thing, mind. Around the time you start digging into the exact structure of an archetypal monster, you start off the line of approach that leads to “Ah, well this is just a condition,” and take that too far you get “A misunderstood condition, which in actual fact is manageable,” and then you are telling an entirely different kind of story and a lot of the power to horrify seeps out of the monster.[1] But it’s kind of surprising that the characters never try to attribute causes. “Dead people walking around” is not the kind of thing you would expect people to shrug off with “just a disease”[2]; that’s an explanation that’s so facile and blatantly unlikely…

I mean, you wouldn’t expect people to handwave it with “Just a disease” if everyone who died got up and grew wings and flew away. I know people are probably not up for deep theorizing, what with trying to avoid being eaten, but there are times when the characters have a chance to talk and humans try to explain things. Put labels on them.

I mean, I understand that generally, attempts to explain the zombie apocalypse don’t matter.  That’s a basic conceit.  And yet, in a story about surviving a natural disaster, you could expect to touch on people’s attempts to explain it and thereby cope with it in more contexts than just watching them scrabble for answers while falling apart.


[1] I mean, consider the vampire. Yes, the basic idea of the monster is horrific, but at this point I think some variation of the phrase “he’s not sparkly, he’s a real vampire” would creep into a lot of explanations of that. And when the sparkle gets so deeply associated with the perception of the monster, when it becomes not only familiar but banal, the story-telling power of the tool is weakened.
Of course, you can also say that the association of “destroy the head, and it’s okay” with the zombies is an idea with a similarly neutralizing effect on the horror of the monster. Associates them with a purely mechanical solution, takes the focus away from what they are… And I suspect this shorthand, this taking the focus away from the zombie, is what allows zombie stories to be about people.
Okay. Footnote getting way too long, back to text.
[2] Or radiation from a downed satellite, or whatever.

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