Editing to add: consider this my last post for AROW80 Round 2 of 2018. I’ll be posting my Round 3 goals post soon.
Hi! It’s been a while since I updated, mainly due to circumstances that are almost entirely under my control and which amount to “I wanted to do something else” instead of posting an update. So, here we are.
First things first: Omegas: Cake Walk proceeds slowly. I’m working on Chapter Twenty-One and I’ve hit a wall. The reason for the wall is that I’m about to unveil some information that is going to be crucial to figuring out What’s Really Going On — so, the information has to make sense and be consistent with what I’ve previously written. Or at least not so wildly divergent from what I’ve already done that editing will be even tougher than it’s going to be.
On the plus side, I’ve got an idea of what the Crucial Information is going to be and how to go about explaining it, so it’s just a question of getting the words to cooperate and get out of my head and onto the page. The easy part, right?
*laughs hysterically, weeps a bit, laughs a bit more* Yeahhh, so, on to other things..
The month of June is proceeding apace. There’s not a whole lot to report. Work is work. Amazon Prime has season 20 of Midsomer Murders, which is happy-making.
On the Netflix side of things, I started watching Colony and really enjoyed the first season. Very nicely done story about alien invasion that reminds me of a more grown-up version of the miniseries “V” from back in the 1980s.
Also watched some of the later seasons of Death in Paradise which is a fun little British mystery series set in the Caribbean and features Danny John-Jules as one of the local constabulary (he played Cat in Red Dwarf). They did something really interesting when the show switched detectives in the third season that I won’t discuss as it’s a massive spoiler. There’s a cute lizard in the show too.
Reading-wise, I read a really, really great book recently: Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (link goes to the author’s page and her summary of the book). It’s a book that I bought after reading the first couple pages of the sample I got from Amazon and I read it in about two days during downtimes at work. It’s one of those books that I kept switching out of because I didn’t want to finish it too soon.
The premise behind the book is this: the dead began to rise during the Civil War, leading to the Blue and the Grey ganging up against the Green, so to speak. As part of the effort to prevent the zombie apocalypse, African American and Native American children were placed in combat schools and taught to fight the dead.
The main character, Jane McKeene, was born two days before the dead began to walk and, when we meet her, she’s in her senior year at a prestigious academy that trains African-American girls to be “Attendants” to wealthy white families — think of them as a combination ladies’ maid and anti-zombie bodyguard. What Jane really wants is to go home to the Kentucky plantation where she was born and help protect her mother and the people she grew up with from the threat of “shamblers.” (Yeah, it’s another case of a zombie story avoiding the Z-word but considering the time period, it works better than ‘zombie’.)
Quick backtrack: the opening line of the book is what sold me on this story. Because Jane talks about how she *almost* didn’t live long enough to see the dead walk because when she was born, the midwife nearly killed her because a dark brown baby wasn’t supposed to come out of the plantation owner’s wife. With an opening like that, you have to read on to find out more. And you do and it is worth it.
Dread Nation was right up my street for a few reasons: first, I’m a sucker for well-done historical stories (Lindsey Davis’s Marcus Didius Falco mysteries and the follow-up series featuring his adopted daughter Flavia Albia come to mind as first among equals.). And, from there it’s a hop, skip and a jump to enjoying a good alternate history story (In the Presence of Mine Enemies is a nice example of Harry Turtledove’s alternate history stories and is a standalone).
Dread Nation is also a good example of a post-apocalyptic society, in the literal sense that the apocalypse is over (more or less) by the time the story starts. Society has moved on and adjusted to the new status quo: namely that the dead will rise and someone must put them down when they do. The zombies of Dread Nation are the usual sort: people turn when they are bitten, the ‘fresher’ the corpse, the faster and more agile they are, but by and large the shamblers are rightly named, and the only way to be sure is to decapitate the zombie. The likely cause of the apocalypse is a virus of some sort — though nobody in the book calls it that, since we’re still pre-germ theory of medicine. Mentions are made of Lister and Pasteur, which made my nerdy self go squee!
There’s even mention of the fact that society is changing even from the events of the apocalypse: Jane and her classmates are concerned about the fact that since the worst of the zombie problem appears to be over, there’s less of a demand for Attendants, except as status objects for wealthy white families. So, if they can’t get hired as Attendants, chances are they’ll end up on an ordinary zombie killing work gang.
As someone who has read a lot of apocalyptic fiction — zombies, nuclear holocaust, etc. — seeing a writer take into account the fact that societies don’t remain static is a huge plus. Especially when I’ve read other post-apocalyptic books where society doesn’t change over a period of several hundred years. To the point that people six hundred plus years in the future continue to reference 20th century films as if there’s been no other culture in between. But that’s a rant for another day.
As a writer, there was one aspect of Dread Nation that made me sit back and go “Wow!” — namely the way Justina Ireland adapted real history to create her fictional world and also incorporated the real history in as well.
In the afterword, Ireland talks about how she learned about the U.S. government forcibly removed Native American children from their families/tribal groups and sent them to boarding schools (also called industrial schools) to educate them. If you’ve been reading the news/following current events on social media, you might have heard something about this since it’s being compared to the forced removal of migrant children from their families. To make a long, disgraceful story of American history short, Native American kids were taken from their families in an effort to forcibly assimilate them into Euro-American culture. This was done by refusing to allow the children to be “Indian” in any way — their clothes were taken from them, their hair cut, they were forced to speak English in an effort to make them forget their native languages, etc. In addition, all the other sorts of abuses you can expect in a situation where minor children are at the mercy of adults who see them as something less than human happened too. There’s more information available in the above link or you can hit up Wikipedia’s article on Indian Boarding Schools.
Ireland isn’t, far as I can tell, Native American herself. Instead of trying to tell her story from a Native American perspective, she adapted the history in order to create a plausible world for Jane to live in. Her reasoning was pretty simple too: if Americans would attempt to “kill the Indian to save the man” (paraphrasing a real quote) during a time of relative peace and prosperity, what lengths would they go to during a disaster of apocalyptic proportions? Particularly to people they already didn’t think of as really people anyway?
Ireland spins out from the idea of boarding schools and uses this to tell a story that layers in questions of race and class as well as who matters in a society. And she does this while also balancing the spinning plates of “crafting a plausible alternate history,” “doing something fresh with the idea of zombies” and “giving you characters you care about.” She succeeds on all counts and on a few more I didn’t mention.
The other book I read recently (ok, listened to) that touched on current issues was Stephen King’s Firestarter. Since the library’s going to close in about 15 minutes, I’m not going to get to ramble about this one as much as I’d like so here’s the high points:
- For an adult man, Stephen King does a halfway decent job of crafting a little girl (ok, it helped he had a daughter who was about Charlie’s age at the time but even still).
- If you want an example of the use of psychic powers in a prose book, pick up Firestarter. You’ll also want to grab Carrie and Dead Zone, also by King.
- Dead Zone also does a pretty decent job of portraying someone in a coma and the effects it has on the people around them.
- If you want an example of the banality of Evil, read Firestarter. The government agents after the McGees are, almost to a one, punch-clock villains who don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.
- This is a book that couldn’t be written today. Well, it could, but certain plot aspects would have to change. Charlie scavenging change from pay phones for one, and the fact that the government couldn’t issue an Amber Alert for Charlie, among others.
- King’s older stuff is among his best stuff.
Ok, on that note, I have to pee and I want to go home and eat so I’m out for now. Hopefully you all are having a great week and will continue to do so.
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