Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Warm Bodies

A novel told from the POV of a zombie suffering an existential crisis? Yes, please.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion was such a terrific read. I started it around 4pm yesterday and finished it 3am this morning. It was worth having bags under my eyes today. On the surface a love story, like any good zombie fiction it ultimately delves much deeper into questions of existential meaning, religion and human nature. The metaphors are everywhere. Zombies are never just zombies (unless you're playing Left 4 Dead).

In the zombiescape of Warm Bodies, the undead feed on the living not for nutritional sustenance, but in order to absorb the living aura and energy from them. And if they're lucky enough to get a bite of their victims' braaaaiiinnnnss, then they experience a much savored snapshot of that person's life and memories. The dead can't remember anything from their own past lives, so they hunt on the living to experience theirs.

Everything changes when the zombie R (the only syllable of his name he can remember) meets Julie, the living girlfriend of the man whose brain he just devoured. Whoops. Now he has memories of Julie and an overwhelming urge to protect her, and a surprising friendship forms. But their relationship sparks a revolution in the zombie populace, and not everyone would like to see a change from the status quo.

My only problem with the story is we're never given any real scientific reasoning behind the cause and cure of the undead plague. We're basically told it happened because of the moral bankruptcy of humanity, implying some sort of mystical or divine influence, damning mankind with a curse. Instead of just giving us something vague and mystical like that, I think it could've been better by providing a concrete event from which we could imply humanity's failure. Example: nuclear war where the residual radiation causes everyone who dies to rise again.

Then again it's a bit refreshing to read a scifi story that isn't drowning in unbelievable exposition. The characters we encounter are teenagers. They have no idea why this is happening, and they're not medical experts. So we know what they know. 

Overall a wonderful book. Here are some passages:

I don't know why we have to kill people. I don't know what chewing through a man's neck accomplishes. I steal what he has to replace what I lack. He disappears, and I stay. It's simple but senseless, arbitrary laws from some lunatic legislator in the sky. But following those laws keeps me walking, so I follow them to the letter. I eat until I stop eating, then I eat again.

"Yes. The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest known works of literature. Humanity's debut novel, you could say." Rosso flips through the brittle yellow pages. "Love, sex, blood, and tears. A journey to find eternal life. To escape death." He reaches across the table and hands the book to me. "It was written over four thousand years ago on clay tablets by people who tilled the mud and rarely lived past forty. It's survived countless wars, disasters, and plagues, and continues to fascinate to this day, because here I am, in the midst of modern ruin, reading it...The world that birthed that story is long gone, all its people are dead, but it continues to touch the present and future because someone cared enough about that world to keep it. To put it in words. To remember it."

I split the book open to the middle. The pages are riddled with ellipses, marking words and lines missing from the tablets, rotted out and lost to history. I stare at these marks and let their black dots fill my vision.

The ellipses reference is very important. The zombies' speech is riddled with ellipses, marking their effort in forming sentences at all. Their knowledge of words and communication is "rotted out and lost to history." Such a great cross reference by the author.

We were fearful in the best of times; how could we cope with the worst? So we found the tallest walls and poured ourselves behind them. We kept pouring until we were the biggest and strongest, elected the greatest generals and found the most weapons, thinking all this maximalism would somehow generate happiness. But nothing so obvious could ever work.


It's also been adapted into a movie that'll be out February 1st. It'll have Rob Cordry and John Malkovich in it, and was directed by Jonathan Levine, director of last year's wonderful 50/50. It can't go wrong.


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