Monday, May 21, 2012

Them Or Us

Them Or Us
By David Moody

Enough about having kids. Let's talk zombies! (Some mild spoilers ahead. Nothing serious though).

I'm not sure whether David Moody began writing Them Or Us that he expressly attempted to write a book bleaker and more hopeless than The Road by Cormac McCarthy. If this was his aim, he has succeeded. While he may not have McCarthy's gift of poignant prose (who does?), Moody sure does have the ability to suck every ounce of hope out of a book in a right hurry. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing in the zombie genre, it takes a strong will to muscle through this series. Casual zombie fans, beware, this is heavy-duty nerd territory.

Them Or Us is the third in the Hater Series (for the others in the series see Hater and Dog Blood), and the bleakest of the lot of them. Considering that each novel ends on a low note, that's saying something. What started out as a kick-ass spin on the traditional zombie tradition (Hater) quickly descends into chaos (Dog Blood) and finally a dissertation on the apocalyptic end game.

The Hater series follows the life of Danny McCoyne, a mild-mannered municipal government employee who , along with a substantial portion of the British population, seem to randomly develop something called: The Hate. It is a disease (or whatever) of unknown origin that compels those afflicted to kill those unaffected in the most violent and cruel ways possible. the result is an all-out disintegration of modern society in a matter of weeks. The world descends into utter and complete chaos. It's an interesting spin on the traditional zombie tradition in that it gives the "zombies" a form of sentience and therefore allows the protagonist to be a "zombie" himself without having to resort to pages and pages of: "uhhhnnngh.... nnnnnggggghhhh!"

While the first novel left me elated and keen to read the rest of the series, both Dog Blood and (especially) Them or Us left me asking "What was the point?" Once it becomes established that non-Haters have lost the war and those with the Hate are in control of the world, it's like reading a zombie novel for zombies by zombies about being a zombie in a zombie world. Where am I supposed to place my allegiances? Now, I'm  pretty sure that exactly the reaction Moody was going for since there is never any explanation as to what the Hate is or where it comes from. In Moody's world, things happen far too fast for anyone to stop and consider the scientific origins of human devolution. But by the end of the series when there is obviously nothing left (not even hope) one must ask: "No, seriously... what WAS the point?"

Well, obviously, the metaphor.

Most zombie culture tends to focus on the initial rise of the undead and the chaotic first hours and days of the apocalypse as a metaphor for our own wicked ways. David Moody (as well as Joan Frances Turner in her excellent novel, Dust) is far more interested in how things play out once the apocalypse is upon us and in its denouement. With the added bonus of sentient zombies, we get an all-out war that includes the dropping of several nuclear warheads on the already scarred English landscape. Them or Us follows the final days of Danny McCoyne as he tries to maneuver himself through a politicized zombie world where non-zombies (almost) cease to exist and the rest seem to be out to destroy each other as best they can. As with so much other zombie canon, it's an unsubtle metaphor for our own over-comsuption. And while I love me a good metaphor, I don't want to be bludgeoned with it.

But even the bleakest of all zombie culture (or Cormac McCarthy novels) seem to leave an ounce of hope at the end. something the reader or viewer can take with them, an open-ended conclusion to which we can all ascribe a semblance of hope. Not here, my friends. If you are looking for a pick-me-up novel to wash away the doldrums or a nice light summer read, steer clear, my friends. But ifs you are in the mood for all out human disintegration on virtually every level (familial, societal, emotional and biological) then David Moody is your man.

Not to put too much of an academic spin on this, but I got the impression that Moody took Richard Dawkins book The Selfish Gene to it's illogical extreme and posited what would happen if we became that selfish gene and lives our lives for there express purpose of eliminating all other competition (while simultaneously NOT procreating). I wonder whether Moody has read about E.O. Wilson's controversial new Theory of Social Evolution that supposes that human altruism is an evolutionary necessity rather than simply the notion of procreating and protecting our own. Okay, it's not the best metaphor, but anytime I can through Dawkins and Wilson into a post about zombies, I have to take my chances.

All this is not to say I didn't enjoy the series. I did. Very much. Especially the first book (WOW!). But the series certainly had its flaws. There were all sorts of points where I questioned Danny McCoyne's judgment. Why would a sentient zombie who has lost his entire family, nearly died in a nuclear blast, currently riddled with cancer while being used by political factions on all sides agree to help another sentiment zombie leader after the literary equivalent of "C'mon.... just do it! I'll be your friend!" But of course, I don't have the Hate so I cannot comment on how those that do have it make their judgments. But all that is worth overlooking since Moody is exploring territory that few zombies writers (George Romero included) have not: The End of Times via Zombie. If you are a fan of the dystopian apocalyptic genre, this is certainly not a series that you can overlook.

Casual fans should stick to Max Brooks.

Zombie haters? There's always Twilight.

Shout Out

One of my favorite blogs to visit is The Boston Bibliophile. I've taken more than one recommendation from her and she is still batting 1.000.


Jonathan Wilhoit said...

I like. I really, really like.

But since you mentioned Cormac McCarthy and The Road, I gotta say--I'm still trying to figure out how to review that damn thing. It was just so freaking good, and it affected me for days on end. The images, the writing... a lot of it was probably because I was a new father at the time I read it, but yeah. That was some heavy shit.

Ryan said...

I'm glad I read the Road before starting a blog. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. Perhaps go the ultra-cool way and review it in one sentence, or with a haiku. That's what I'd do. Hide my inability to do it justice by hiding behind cleverness.

Unknown said...

This is an amazing review.

I looked at "Hater" several times and never talked myself into buying it. Now I'm rethinking that decision. Have you come across the anthology of zombie short stories called "The Living Dead"?

Seriously, this review made my day.

Ryan said...

Thanks for the compliment.

I've heard of the Living Dead but it has not, as of yet, appeared on this side of the world. I'll keep my eyes peeled. You should buy Hater. The rest of the series, though is a case by case basis...

Jonathan Wilhoit said...

There's a pen and paper rpg called All Flesh Must Be Eaten. In addition to rpg stuff, they have released several short story anthologies that were pretty damn good. The one I have is called "The Book of All Flesh." I think they were published 8 or 9 years ago, though. Somewhere around there. Before the current zombie craze, at any rate. I'm an original fan, damnit!

Buried In Print said...

You were already behind my having added the first book in this series to my TBR list; I've just added the next two as well. I would say that I'm looking forward to them, but that seems rather the wrong thing to say with such bleak stories!

Ryan said...

I still think you can say you are looking forward to them, just add a slight cringe.

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