This is a The Book That piece, by Liam Pieper, about becoming a zombie apocalypse prepper.
I should begin this with disclaimer. I like stories about zombies just fine. Movies and books and such—I enjoy them, but I’m not what you would call a fan. No more than I am of say, Star Wars, or the Bronte sisters, or The Great Gatsby. I dig it, I appreciate the artistry, the world-building, the cultural currency of it, but I’m not weird about it. I don’t think a zombie plague is coming, nor possible. That hasn’t stopped me spending hundreds and hundreds of hours worrying about it.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is an apocalyptic horror novel by Max Brooks. The narrative is a collection of individual accounts of a decade long war against the undead, each narrated by a survivor from a different nationality and background, recounting how they survived the zombie plague. It goes deep, deep, deep; each narrative vignette has a self-contained personal character arc, nested inside real-life social, political, religious and environmental issues that cause the fragile world to shatter under the undead offensive. American hubris, Russian ruthlessness, Communist China’s inscrutability, ethnic conflict in the Middle East, the malicious echoes of the Indian/Pakistani partition, all have their role to play in the downfall of humanity.
The book isn’t even about zombies, in the end, but the fragility of our civilisation; how the things, systems and ideologies we build our lives around can collapse at any minute, the gossamer veneer over global civilisation can be snatched away.
The author, who is a critic of American isolationism, wrote the book in part to inform his countrymen about some of the issues in the wider world that would affect them in their lifetimes. It was inspired by The Good War, which was itself an oral history of World War 2 and it’s maybe the best geopolitical primer of the world in 2006 I’ve ever read, plus it has zombies. It’s just a really, really great book.
I started reading it on a whim, thinking it might be the sort of light reading to tide out an apocalyptic hangover, and soon I’d forgotten all about my self pity, as I worried about impending zombie cataclysm, reading stories of how a Japanese Hikkomori, and a Sowetan slum-dweller each survived, lingering over the heartbreakingly omniscient story of the astronaut who watched the world end from the International Space Station. I finished the book in one hit, then put it down, overcome first by professional jealousy that I had not written it, and then by anxiety that my apartment was woefully insecure in the event of a zombie outbreak. I moved out soon after.
You should know that I’ve got a modest but serious plan worked out on how to get me and my loved ones to safety on Day Z. It takes into account that the public transport around my home will be shut off almost immediately, the roads soon after. I’ve given serious thought to which garden tools would make the best weapons (against the slow-moving Day of The Dead style zombies only). There’s a goodly amount of canned food hidden in the house. If it comes down to it, I know which weeds that grow wild by the river I can eat, and those I can’t.
I have a mental list of the people I might be able to save, and those who must be cut loose.
I have given serious thought to what would become of my cat in the zombie war. Reader: I have spent more than one night tearfully fretting that there might be no way to save her. When the apocalypse comes, what will become of my poor cat?
My work means I am often on the road, which I enjoy, although since reading WWZ, I get nervous in crowds. Not because of pickpockets or claustrophobia, but the sea of humanity with the potential to become cannibalistically virilised. When I land in a new city, it isn’t long before I’m assessing its logistical potential during the plague. Some of the places I’ve spent time in: Prague (excellent, castles, swords, ready access to firearms), New York City (terrible), New York State (better, but no Texas), Melbourne (not too bad, but I would decamp to Tasmania ASAP, and then to Bruny Island), Bali (terrible. Denpasar Airport is essentially a precursor to the zombie apocalypse anyhow.)
I know it’s nuts, but it’s just something I do now. I don’t consume a huge amount of zombie media, I get that it’s all make-believe. I have an arts degree, and am thus aware of the heavy-handed metaphors at work in George Romero’s shambling corpses hell bent on consumerism, or the grim existential nihilism behind the xenophobic fast zombies of 28 Days Later. Every age gets the zombie flick it deserves. An aside— television demographers have discovered that, when the American government is Republican, zombie movies, with their mindless hordes, are much more popular. When the White House is blue, then vampire movies which portray sinister, immortal, all powerful individuals spike in popularity. I know it’s all make-believe.
None of that explains why this one book from 2006 somehow rewired my anxiety centres to make me into someone who’s kind of actually worried about the pending apocalypse, what sort of atavistic reptilian reflex it fired, but every day the news grows grimmer, the air and water more toxic— as the tides rise and Trump comes within one vitriolic spit of the nukes, it doesn’t seem so silly, sometimes. Tides of refugees surging across borders to be met with hostility, imprisonment, weapons, and behind those borders, the people more scared and full of hatred, and I worry, how I worry, what will become of my cat.
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Liam Pieper is the former Editor of Writers Bloc. His 2014 memoir, The Feel-Good Hit of The Year, was shortlisted for the National Biography Award and a Ned Kelly award. His most recent book is The Toymaker, which was long-listed for best debut fiction by the Indie Book Awards and won the Fellowship of Australian Writers Christina Stead Fiction Award. @liampieper