I’m always interested to hear what it is about zombie stories that captures the attention of so many people. Like vampires, they may peak and trough in their popularity, but the love for them never seems to die.
What zombies represent for me is the fragility of our socially constructed existence. Every big society or system in human history has failed, so there’s no reason for me to believe that the one I live in won’t. Be it the collapse of capitalism through revolution, a natural disaster, a disease like ebola, or even riots from dissatisfied members of society; when our world falls, I expect it to be violent, rapid, and damn scary.
This is why zombie stories resonate with me. They’re the tipping point realised. Unlike a natural disaster, the collapse of civilisation takes on a human form in zombie yarns. This seems a lot closer to the reality of our world. At any one time, many people on this planet are on the move as they run away from a very real threat to their existence caused by other human beings. Chaos happens on a grand scale already. Be it a change of government brought about by revolution, or something like a new regime enforced on people like what happened in Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge. Civil war in Syria has displaced more than eleven million people and seen the death or around two hundred thousand (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-26116868). The image all over British media this week has been of a three-year-old Syrian boy, limp and lifeless as he lies, face down, in the sand on a Greek beach. His bid for a better life failed when he couldn’t remain on an overcrowded raft. As a parent to young children, that tragic image has hit me hard and will stay in my mind forever. In some way, zombie fiction can tap into that pure fear that seems to be a reality for so many people, and a worry for many others. It shows that moment when the bullshit’s been stripped away. Playstations, the local sports team, and how big your house is suddenly doesn’t matter anymore. Survival is all that’s left. You either do it, or you don’t.
I heard an interview with an artist the other day who told of how her Jewish mother left Hitler’s Germany with very few possessions. But among those possessions were the pictures the artist herself had drawn. At the time, the artist was an eight-year-old child. Fearful for her life, when it came down to it, one of the most important things to that artist’s mother, were the doodles she’d done for her. If ever a child needed an inspiration to follow her dreams…
For me, the greatest zombie tales capture the human spirit to survive; the willingness to keep going. They show us the sheer grit that sees people lose everything, and often become the subjects of intense trauma, yet they still find the courage to push on. The love and need to protect that burns bright in many of us, and when called upon can turn the most average person into a hero. Be it in refugee camps, or hiding out in places away from the chaos, it seems that people are driven to find other survivors like themselves. We find strength and support in others. It seems that in humanity’s worst moments, we also see its greatness. Although not a zombie tale, The Road by Cormac McCarthy captures this perfectly and is one of my favourite novels. Despite the dark and bleak setting where many people have turned into cannibals and rapists, the father of the story keeps hope alive for his son. He keeps ‘carrying the flame’. It’s a love letter to fatherhood and a commentary on humanity and morality. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful because it shows the one thing that keeps us going. It shows how the main characters ‘carry the flame’. It shows us one of our greatest qualities as a species. It shows us hope.
Michael Robertson is a writer of dark post-apocalyptic fiction, horror, and science fiction. He’s been writing for over fifteen years and has been published in several anthologies and magazines, as well as being published by HarperCollins.
His series of books entitled The Alpha Plague, is a post-apocalyptic world inspired by 28 Days Later.
He has plans for several science fiction books and is currently writing the first draft of New Reality 3: Fear, which will finish off his New Reality series.
As a father of two young children, he writes when he can, which is mostly before they get up and after they’ve gone to bed.
He loves reading, writing, watching movies, and spending time with his family.
To see more of Michael’s work, go to his website at: