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Posts Tagged ‘zombiepocalypse’

So, just by way of background:

My daughter thought it would be fun to make some lovely edible Christmassy holly leaves and berries.

We couldn’t find any coloured icing in the shop, but that was okay. They had white icing and food colouring.

We decided to do the berries first.

“What’s the best way to do this?” I asked. “Shall we try painting the berries once you’ve made them? Or shall we try and mix food-colouring with the icing to make it red all the way through?”

We decided we’d try and make the icing red all the way through.

Here’s how well that went:

Zombiepocalypse icing

Here’s a closer view:

Zombiepocalypse icing 2

And one final shot, just to really enjoy the full effect:

Zombiepocalypse icing 3

Merry Christmas!

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After a six-week period where my entire life seemed to be taken over by “Fifty Shades of Grey”, it feels very, very good to be writing about a book I loved. “The Passage” is the kind of book where you’re torn between galloping through it at a breakneck pace because you can’t wait to find out what happens next, and going slowly so you can savour the writing.

Oh, and which also features the Immortal Undead. Always a huge plus-point. Can you tell how much I loved this book yet? I hope so.

Plot summary. The first third of the book takes place in near-future America. A single mother struggles raise her daughter Amy alone before finally abandoning her in the care of a convent of nuns. Meanwhile, Professor Jonas Lear takes a military-sponsored field-trip to a South American jungle to find and bring back a mysterious virus which he believes will allow mankind to live for hundreds of years – possibly by turning them into vampires. Finally, Wolgast and Doyle are FBI agents charged with the extraction and smuggling of Death Row prisoners – plus Amy – to a secret Government facility where they can be infected with the jungle virus to see what happens.

Unsurprisingly, giving a Vampire virus to a bunch of Death-Row murderers doesn’t go well. They mutate into weird bloodthirsty monsters, they escape, they start infecting everyone else, the whole world goes to Hell in a handcart. But Amy – the last trial subject to be injected with the virus, and the only one who has remained reasonably close to human – is smuggled out of the facility by Wolgast, and hidden away in an old summer-camp to try and ride out the Apocalypse.

I’d actually prefer the Abandoned version to the other kind.

The second part of the book is set ninety-three years later and follows the fortunes of a small, isolated colony of humans. As the descendants of a few lucky original survivors of the Apocalypse, they’re leading a moderately satisfying existence behind a huge wall and a bank of super-bright lights that keep the vampires away at night. But after ninety-odd years of service, their equipment’s beginning to wear out and the technology needed to repair it no longer exists. When Amy’s path crosses theirs, they form a desperate plan to try and save their colony from certain collapse.

While the book is billed as a Vampire novel, it’s worth saying at once that this book is far more like a Zombie story than it is like a Vampire one. If you want a story in which pale-faced old-world aristocrats play at high politics and do terrible decadent things in a carefully-orchestrated bid for power, this is not the book for you. But if you (like me) have room in your heart for both “True Blood” and “The Walking Dead”, then you’ll probably love it, because in a sea of mediocrity, this is a Zombie story that really stands out.

After several decades of Hollywood Zombie movies, the tropes of the Zombiepocalypse story are so well-rehearsed that directors have resorted to glomming two genres together and seeing what happens (Zombiepocalypse / Gangster mash-up, and it’s French!! Zombiepocalypse / Nazi mash-up, and it’s Swedish!). For the record, I’ve seen both of these movies, and they’re both kind of fun; there’s just not much mileage in pretending they’re actually any good. In contrast, what impressed me most about “The Passage” wasn’t the new elements it brought to the story (being honest, there aren’t any) but how well the story was told.

This Zombie has now automatically lost the argument.

Telling a good Zombiepocalypse story requires you to avoid a massive number of elephant-traps. The first and most basic one, But Why Would You Do Such A Thing, is the problem of why a bunch of seemingly sensible and well-intentioned people would set out to do something so utterly, pointlessly risky and dangerous (“Hey, look, a deadly virus! Let’s store some in a glass test-tube and then smash it!”) that it rapidly leads to the destruction of all mankind. The classic answers to this are Because They’re Just Evil, M’kay, and Because They Think They Might Save Mankind – usually with the not-very-subtle subtexts of Everyone In Government Is Evil, and Everyone In Government Is Stupid.

Cronin goes for the well-intentioned-but-stupid solution, which isn’t unusual. What is unusual, though, is how well he constructs it. In most Zombie stories, everyone’s just desperate to break out the leather coats and the chainsaws and get on with the schlock. This means the initial trigger-event is often confined to one clearly insane power-crazed scientist dropping a fragile glass test-tube in a lab with hard floors and no containment facilities. In “The Passage”, Cronin carefully documents the multitude of great-sounding ideas, conflicting agendas, morally dubious decisions, ill-founded optimism, small errors and inevitable technical failures that collectively add up to disaster. Cronin’s Zombiepocalypse requires a nationwide effort to get started, and it’s much scarier, because you can see how it might happen.

“I have total confidence that repeatedly blasting my Iredeemably Evil Cell-culture with Immortal Growmatic Power-Rays will end well for the human race.”

The next big elephant-trap, The Special One, is doubly tricky to pull off because Cronin’s Special One is a little girl with superpowers. I’ve written before about how inexplicably awful most writers are at female super-powered characters. Add in the challenges of convincingly writing a child, and suddenly you’re balancing on a piece of cheesewire suspended over a fiery pit filled with fire-resistant alligators and slightly out-of-control metaphors. With bare feet.

And yet somehow, Amy isn’t excruciating. In fact, she’s rather delightful. This is achieved partly by keeping her quiet. Amy hardly ever speaks to anyone, which avoids the need for the amusing misunderstandings and naive questions that set my teeth on edge about Daniel Torrance and Carol Anne Freeling. It also helps that most of the time, the adults around her are a lot more focused on not dying than they are on understanding the intricate intricacies of this intricate child’s intricate and utterly enthralling mind (Danny Torrance again, sorry. I do love “The Shining” really).

But mainly, it’s just because she’s…likeable. Not cute. Not adorable. Not winsome. Just…likeable. If I absolutely had to take someone else’s kid to a Theme Park for the day, I can imagine Amy being sort of good company. And when she’s seemingly the last character standing from the first third of the book, I don’t hate her for making it out when so many good people have been killed off.

Would not be welcome on theoretical trip to Theme Park.

Which leads nicely into the first elephant-trap Cronin doesn’t entirely dodge: the Body-Count Conundrum. In the Apocalypse instalment of a Zombie story, there’s really only two ways to go – Everyone Dies, or Lone Survivor. Amy’s status as Lone Survivor is mentioned in the first line of the book, so it’s not a surprise that she’s the one who makes it out. What I was surprised by, though, was just how very upset I was when everyone else was killed off. After several hundred pages of heavy emotional investment, it was simply awful when, a third of the way in, I realised all the adult characters were dead, and I was going to have to get to know a whole new lot of people in order to get to the end of the book.

I was expecting some of them to die, of course. But imagine if George RR Martin killed off all the Starks, all the Lannisters, all the Targaryens and the whole of the Night Watch about a third of the way into “Game of Thrones” and then started again on another continent with a whole new set of characters. Would that be fun? Even the brilliant segue of the evacuation sequence wasn’t quite enough to console me.

Like this, only you consider every single person lying there to be a close friend.

But then we have the First Colony story, which is so great that I cheered up and fell back in love with the narrative. Lying in wait for any unwary visitor to a second-generation survival colony is the excruciating Tomorrow-morrow-land Error, where the survivors are portrayed as cheerful simpletons who have no idea of the gravity of their situation, and whose bare remnants of understanding about the outside world are more of a hindrance than a help. The first time I saw children referred to as “Littles”, I admit my toes kind of curled up just a little bit. After that, I was kind of on the fence for a while. Just because there hadn’t been an annoying camp-fire reminiscence about the magic people with their special flying machines who were coming to save them one day and fix everything so just hang tight and don’t worry, it’ll all be all right folks, so far, didn’t mean there wasn’t going to be one any minute now.

Then I got to this beautiful passage:

The day-to-day. That was the term they used. Thinking neither of a past that was too much a story of loss and death, nor of a future that might never happen. Ninety-four souls under the lights, living in the day-to-day. (p292)

This is the exact moment in the book when I decided to get over my huge upset over Wolgast’s death (sorry to spoil, but that’s what happens) and enjoy the rest of the story. Unjustified optimism as a deliberate, intelligent choice. And really, isn’t this how we all live? Until we’re forced to, do any of us ever contemplate the fact of our own mortality? That’s how you avoid the Tomorrow-morrow-land Error.

And this is how you don’t.

Cronin’s already batting way, way above the average for Elephant-Trap Dodging, so I’m not going to complain about the two remaining ones he doesn’t quite manage to avoid: the Dance With The Devil, and Here Comes The Military. On their journey through the Apocalyptic wasteland, the Colonists encounter a parallel group of survivors, who seem weirdly interested in pregnancy, and weirdly short on boys. If your first thought is “Sacrificial Breeding Programme”, you can have a large gold star, and if your next thought is “Which The Outraged Colonists Will Now Destroy”, you can have two. If I was on a mission to save some paper and make this book a bit shorter, this is the section I’d delete. Maybe it’s got a bigger role to play in the sequel and I’ll be recanting later, I don’t know. But in a huge cast of well-written, well-rounded characters, the Site B people stand out as a bit clumsy and one-dimensional.

The book ends with the traditional hook-up with some army guys, the discovery of the Big Bad Apocalyptic Super-Weapon, and the final showdown with the Vampires in which Amy’s superpowers are revealed. It’s possibly a measure of how very well-written the rest of the book is, and how absorbing the stories of its characters, that I was actually a bit bored by this part. Vampires, hive-minds, still some humanity remaining inside, blah blah blah, explosion. The good guys win. Hoorah. Now can we please get back to the people stuff.

I get why this is in here, I really do. Movie-makers have conditioned us to expect the traditional Everything-Explodes turbo-charged ending, and Cronin does the very best job any writer can at re-creating this in prose. It’s just that – you know – it’s not a surprise. The only tension comes from wondering who’s going to get maimed and how badly, and whether Amy’s superpower will be Re-awakening Humanity, Horde Control, or both. And after hundreds of pages of sustained Brilliance, I was officially too spoilt and jaded to properly enjoy scenes which were merely Pretty Good.

Meh.

So, what happens next? Well, we already know there are going to be at least two sequels. The opening line of the book is “Before she became the Girl…who lived a thousand years”, which clearly suggests a sweeping-epic sort of timeframe. I can see I may well have to bid a regretful farewell to the colonists on the grounds of either Vampires or the normal aging process, and get to know a whole bunch of new people – who may also then die of Vampires or old age. Possibly I’ll have to do this several times over. I’m also sort of thinking “Dune”, and “Star Wars”, and “Clan of the Cave Bear“, and wondering if the next two books can possibly live up to the first one.

But the honest truth is, they could probably afford to be only half as good as the first one and they’d still be brilliant. I’ve pre-ordered “The Twelve” for my Kindle and damn, I’m looking forward to it.

“The Passage” is available from Amazon at £5.19 for the paperback or £4.99 for your Kindle.

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INTERIOR, DAY, MY CAR. SOMEWHERE ON THE M5.
In the car are Becky, Ben and me. We are playing a seemingly endless game of “What Animal Am I?”

BECKY: Are you a mammal?
ME: Yes.
BEN: Are you friendly?
ME: Reasonably friendly, yes.
BECKY: Do you live in this country?
ME: Yes.
BEN: Do you live in a zoo?
ME: Not usually, no.

BECKY: Are you furry?
ME: Erm, maybe more hairy than furry, but definitely sort of furry, yes.
BEN: Are you bigger than Matey the dog?
ME: Yes.
BECKY: Are you some sort of farm animal?
ME: Good question! – Yes, I’m some sort of farm animal.

BEN: Do you make something that humans can use?
ME (convinced we’re on the home straight now): Yes! Yes!

(long silence)

BECKY: Are you…are you a Meerkat?

ME: Erm, no. Meerkats only live in zoos.
BEN: Are you…an Armadillo?
ME: No, Armadillos only live in zoos too!


BECKY: Can we have a clue?
ME: Really? Oh, for God’s sake – okay then…mmmmmoooOOOOOooooo.
BEN: (excited gasp) Zombie!!!

I don’t know why Ben thought something that’s mammalian, furry, lives on a farm, makes something humans can use and is larger than our childminder’s black labrador is more like a Zombie than it is like a Cow.

But it’s good to see he’s prepared for the worst.

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Because A Good Zombie Plan Is An Important Part Of Anyone’s Education.

(This is a verbatim cut-and-paste from my friend’s Facebook feed. She is a Maths teacher. She also regularly makes cookies for her class, which all by itself makes her the official Best Teacher Ever. The fact that she’s also encouraging them to work on their Zombie Plan is just the cherry on top.)

Dear Zombiepocalypse Expert,

Today I was asked what my zombie plan was by my pupils! I promptly came out with the hot air balloon discreetly hidden away for said zombie outbreak. They replied they would be going straight to b&q where the nail guns & other such tool weapons things are to hide out. I wonder if a short stay at a b&q maybe should be incorporated into our strategy?

Dear Fellow Zombie Planner,
It’s good that they’re planning for the Zombiepocalypse, but I’m a bit worried that they’re expecting to take down Zombies with a nail-gun. Zombies are pretty well impervious to physical pain, and a nail-gun won’t do anything like the kind of wholesale damage that’s really needed to stop one in its tracks. I suppose if they got incredibly lucky they *might* manage to fire a nail right through the brain-stem. However, given the relative fire-power of your average nail-gun, as well as the distance it would have to travel through undead flesh to actually reach the hind-brain, the Zombie would need to be so close that it might be too late for this to actually be any use.

A trip to B&Q is certainly not a bad idea – they have useful supplies of wood, glue and so on, which would be useful for the construction of temporary shelters and barricades – but if they’re eyeing up anything from the Tool department, they might want to give some thought to chain-saws. Admittedly these are pretty high-risk weapons (very noisy, which tends to attract other Zombies, and also somewhat unpredictable in use; also suffer from the Proximity Problem), but in a relatively non-gun-owning country, I guess you have to improvise a little.

Perhaps one to introduce over cookies?

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Because We All Know The Zombiepocalypse Is Coming One Day Soon

 

Team Z leaders
Team Zombiepocalypse is divided into three contingents:

Cassandra is in charge of Great Britain
Kim is in charge of the US East Coast
Heidi is in charge of the US West Coast. Special attention shall be paid to the population of California. With specific reference to Hollywood.

When the Zombie outbreak hits…
Cassandra will round up her friends and family, and make a brief and perilous stop-off in London, to collect her portion of the Repopulation List. She will then hightail it down to the West Country, and locate a suitable port. Bristol seems like a good choice. She will then commandeer, de-Zombify and rapidly learn to pilot a Cruise Ship.

Kim will also round up her friends and family, and will also be commandeering and de-Zombifying a Cruise Ship. This Cruise Ship will remain in port, and be fiercely defended against all comers, awaiting the arrival of Heidifrom California. All other US team members are encouraged to make themselves known to Kim and make their way to the Cruise Ship as soon as possible.

Heidi will occupy the months leading up to the Zombiepocalypse in building a Dirigible. When the inevitable happens, she will collect the agreed World Repopulation list (assuming they have not been infected) into her Dirigible, and fly across the country to the East Coast rendezvous. Although the dangers of this task will be high, the wearing of the appropriate Team Z Outfit (see separate blog entry) should do much to ensure survival. Also, Dirigibles are awesome.

Both the British and American cruise ships will then set sail for Iceland, which will become the new centre of the civilised world and the base from which the human race will re-build, stronger and better than ever before. While the inherent difficulty of piloting a very large ship in difficult conditions is recognised, it should be remembered that, what with one thing and another, the High Seas will be considerably quieter places than they used to be.

The case for Iceland
1. Iceland is sparsely populated. The fewer people there are to start with, the fewer Zombies there will be to deal with.
2. The bulk of Iceland’s energy is generated from geothermal sources, meaning that survival in a world without fossil fuels will be a much more comfortable proposition.
3. Iceland is already set up for the growing of fruit and vegetables under difficult conditions, including geothermally-powered greenhouses.
4.Iceland is staggeringly beautiful. This will be extremely good for morale.
5. Iceland has a school devoted to Elf Studies. This may just be the most awesome fact about any nation, anywhere, that we have ever heard. Awesomeness is a critical factor in Zombiepocalypse survival.
6. Iceland is the home of
<content deleted in the interests of protecting everyone’s secret FFN identities>
7. We all want to see the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun.
8. Look, we just like Iceland, okay? This is our Zombie Plan and this is how it is.

What next?
Repopulation of the world will then commence. The Repopulation List has been carefully selected to ensure a good mix of intelligence (Professor Brian Cox), raconteurial ability (Stephen Fry), vital skills (Nigella Lawson), and beefcake (Russell Crowe). The full Repopulation List is available on request and new names can be added to it. In the interests of making the most of a limited gene pool, the generous sharing of everyone’s genes will be encouraged.

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