Tag Archives: Books

Predictive Frameshift

I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert J. Sawyer’s Quantum Night the last few months. It links human cruelty, psychopathy, and mob behavior to the nature of consciousness, mostly focusing on the main characters but playing out against a global crisis brought on by a rising tide of xenophobia.

More recently, I’ve been thinking about Frameshift. His 1997 novel deals with (among other things) eugenics, Neanderthals, Nazis, and health insurance companies doing everything they can to avoid covering people with pre-existing conditions.

I can’t imagine why that keeps coming to mind….

Newsflesh: Worst Case Zombies, Best Case Survival

Feedback, by Mira Grant

While reading Feedback, it occurred to me that Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series features the worst-case scenario of zombie design, and yet humanity survives with civilization mostly intact. That’s impressively optimistic.

I mean, look at the parameters of how zombies work in this setting:

Everyone who dies becomes a zombie, regardless of whether they’ve ever been near a zombie. This is fairly common, but there are settings where you can keep zombies out with a quarantine. Not this one.

Direct contact with a zombie is extremely contagious. Bites and scratches, sure, but imagine a zombie with late-stage Ebola. (A modified Marburg is one of the component viruses). Zombie drool landing on an open wound can convert you. The blood spatter from the zombie you’re shooting can get in your eye and convert you. The body of the zombie you just killed, lying on the ground motionless, is still a high-level biohazard that can convert you.

Anyone who goes out in the field must go through decontamination. Showers include a standard bleach cycle and won’t let you out until it’s done. Outbreak sites have to be hosed down with bleach, burned, or simply condemned.

Any blood that’s been outside the body long enough will trigger conversion on exposure, even if the person isn’t a zombie. Even your own blood.

Sometimes people spontaneously convert. It’s not common, but it’s been known to happen.

The newly-infected can be as fast as a normal person before their body starts decaying. (Yep, fast zombies and slow zombies in the same ‘verse.)

Any large mammal can become a zombie. Dogs. Raccoons. Horses. Bears. Cows. Red meat is now a biohazard.

Mobs of zombies can plan ambushes. Enough zombies together exhibit just enough rudimentary intelligence to set a trap. Even across species.

There’s a really scary twist in the virus’ transmissibility late in the second novel that I won’t spoil.

The only factor that isn’t maxed-out is their indestructibility. A zombie in the middle of the desert or at the bottom of the ocean will eventually starve.

Eventually.

And yet humanity survives the Rising and is able to rebuild civilization in many — not all, but many — parts of the world.

That’s…well, that’s kind of inspiring.

Low-Tech/High Tech B&N

I stopped frequenting Barnes & Noble a while back because they were so determined to sell you a Nook and get you out of the store, never to return. (That, and for a while we had a great indie bookstore nearby.)

Now they’re selling vinyl records.

And holding events.

They’re doing Throwback Thursdays and a Fangirl Friday.

I don’t know if it’s a desperate attempt at relevance or a brilliant return to form.

I certainly know it’s not corporate-wide, though — or at least not evenly distributed — because a week later I went to another Barnes and Noble, one near a full-blown mall, and walked straight into the giant NOOK pavilion.

No sign of any events aside from a mention of filming during the Harper Lee book launch. Vinyl was being plugged in the music section in the back, but not right up front.

On the other hand, no one was staffing the NOOK pavilion, and half the tables were empty. So maybe it’s still being phased out?

Do Not Taunt the Octopus

Do Not Taunt the OctopusMira Grant has been writing yearly novellas set in the world of her Newsflesh trilogy. A generation after the zombie apocalypse, humanity has survived, adapted, and rebuilt civilization. While the trilogy focuses an a core group of characters, journalism, social media and American politics, the novellas have opened up more of the world.

“Countdown” reveals the early stages of the Rising, including a look at what two messed-up background characters were like before everything went to hell. “The Last Stand of the California Browncoats” looks at what would happen if an actual zombie plague wiped out Comic-Con. “How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea” jumps across the world to Australia, where the people take a very different approach toward managing the zombie virus. “The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell” explores the implications of life with zombies on the school system, and it’s really freaking disturbing. The newest one refers back to it (not in any detail — it goes out of its way to not describe what actually happened), and it hit me again. That story sticks with you.

“Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus” is the latest, and picks up the tale of Dr. Abbey, who runs an underground virology research lab where they’re trying to cure the zombie virus without the politics constraining mainstream organizations like the CDC (which has its own issues), as they deal with industrial espionage, hackers, and some…surprise visitors. She grudgingly accepts the label of “mad scientist,” though she insists that while she is angry, she’s not crazy.

It’s a surprisingly upbeat story considering the setting, as is “How Green This Land…”

One interesting observation: It’s now 2015. In the Newsflesh world, the Rising took place in 2014. We’ve now branched into alternate universe territory, but there are references to historic events and pop culture that happened after the first novel came out in 2010.

Another observation: I followed this up by finally reading Unlocked, a novella detailing the background of John Scalzi’s novel Lock-In. It’s an interesting parallel, in that both Newsflesh and Lock-In pick up a generation after a devastating virus has swept the globe, killing and transforming people — in one case taking over the bodies as the mind dies, in the other leaving the mind intact but cut off from the body — and the technological, social and political changes made to deal with the new normal.

Reading More Books: A Different Problem

I’ve seen several articles lately that offer tips for those whose New Year’s resolutions include reading more books. A common thread: suggestions for what to read, or who to follow to get ideas what to read.

That’s not the problem I have.

I have stacks of books I want to read. The problem is time, not inclination. The problem, I’ve started to realize, is that I want to set aside large blocks of time to read properly, but I don’t have large blocks of time that don’t have something else that needs to be done. That, and overcoming inertia when I’m already distracted by the internet, where all the articles and streams are more suited for short blocks of time (but include a hook at the end to keep you going).

What I need to do is just grab a few pages here and there when I can. It may not be as satisfying as sitting down with a book for an hour or two, but at least I’ll get through it.