More urban change questions


More interesting questions about humans and cities and nature…

“What is the relationship between humans and nature? How does this question play out in the specific micro-environments of cities?” (p.71)

Ref: Nicholas Low, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Green and Darko Radovic (2005) The Green city: Sustainable homes, sustainable suburbs. Routledge, Abingdon and New York; and UNSW Press, Sydney

urban change questions


These questions are posed in the context of sustainable urban development, but I think them both interesting and relevant to fictional concerns (perhaps especially those of urban fantasy and fiction more generally?):

“Ultimately,” write, “the green city will reflect a rather different future for work. On this topic there are some very large questions: can a future of cities competing against one another in world markets be reconciled with a benign future for the environment? What are the limits of competition and how can they be enforced? Does economic growth itself have limits? How can growth be steered into environmentally benign forms of production? What forms of governance are required to regulate world markets in order to guarantee social security and environmental conservation? How do culture, place and climate influence work patterns, and consequently the physical accommodation of work?” (p.132)

Ref: Nicholas Low, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Green and Darko Radovic (2005) The Green city: Sustainable homes, sustainable suburbs. Routledge, Abingdon and New York; and UNSW Press, Sydney

Zombies and global mass culture


In his analysis of zombie narrative – and of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, in particular – Gerry Canavan asserts that “the figure of the zombie now lurks at the very center of global mass culture.” (p.431)

He explains: “Steve Shaviro suggests in a 2002 special issue of Historical Materialism on “Marxism and Fantasy” that our preoccupation with the zombie originates out of the zombie’s relationship with contemporary global capitalism…. Remorselessly consuming everything in their path, zombies leave nothing in their wake besides endless copies of themselves, making the zombie the perfect metaphor not only for how capitalism transforms its subjects but also for its relentless and devastating virologic march across the globe.” (p.432)

Canavan reminds us that we must think about “the problems of subject position and identification that arise when speaking about the “universal residue” (Shaviro 288) called the zombie. The zombie’s mutilation,” he explains, “is not one that we easily imagine for “ourselves,” however that “we” is ultimately constituted; the zombie is rather the toxic infection that must always be kept at arm’s length. Because zombies mark the demarcation between life (that is worth living) and unlife (that needs killing), the evocation of the zombie conjures not solidarity but racial panic. To complicate Deleuze and Guattari’s proclamation in A Thousand Plateaus, then, the myth of the zombie is both a war myth and a work myth (425); one of the ways the State apparatus builds the sorts of “preaccomplished” subjects it needs is precisely through the construction of a racial binary in which the (white) citizen-subject is opposed against nonwhite life, bare life, zombie life—that anti-life which is always inimically and hopelessly Other, which must always be kept quarantined, if not actively eradicated and destroyed.” (p.433)

Canavan refers us to “Vivian Sobchack’s approach to sf in Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film,” to establish some generic distinctions for his analysis of The Walking Dead; drawing on Sobchack, he writes: “In contradistinction to the Suvinian approach to sf prose, for Sobchack the important genre distinction to be maintained is not sf-vs.-fantasy but sf-vs.-horror, a divide she finds to be hopelessly muddled by a blurred and indistinct “no-man’s-land” between the two populated by hybrid films (in our case, zombie cinema) that arguably belong to both modes (26–27).
The horror film,” Sobchack says, “is primarily concerned with the individual in conflict with society or with some extension of himself, the sf film with society and its institutions in conflict with each other or with some alien other” (30). It is for this reason that we find a key distinction between horror and sf to be the question of scale; we expect horror to take place in a small and isolated setting (perhaps, as in Night of the Living Dead, as small as a single farmhouse) while sf expands to fill large cities and nations, even the entire globe. We might think, for instance, of England after the Rage outbreak in 28 Days Later, or how in the recent Marvel Zombies and DC Blackest Night [-p.434] storylines in superhero comics the zombie outbreak swells to fill the entire cosmos, even the entire multiverse. If we accept Sobchack’s genre definition, we find that the zombie subgenre starts out in horror in its earliest film formulations but winds up in sf in its later ones; while “horror” entries in this hugely prolific subgenre certainly remain, the most popular and influential mode of zombie narrative (especially during the Bush-era “zombie revival” period on which I focus) has been the “zombie apocalypse”: the large-scale zombie pandemic that leads to the rapid total breakdown of technological modernity and transnational capitalism on a global scale. To put this another way: For Sobchack the local scale of the horror film is concerned with “moral chaos”—the disruption of the natural order—while the broader scale of sf film lends it to “social chaos” (30). Unlike horror’s Monster, sf’s Creature is unparticularized and uninteriorized; it does not hate, nor seek revenge, and does not even “want” to hurt us. It just does (37). The sf Creature is an eruption that is only disruption—and it is for this reason that the sf film is so often preoccupied with the reaction of society to catastrophe (on the one hand) and to a dispassionate, spectacular aesthetics of destruction (on the other). In the end, Sobchack’s division between horror and sf comes down to the difference between terror and wonder (38). If in the horror film we feel “fear,” in the sf film we feel “interest.” In the horror film we find we want to close our eyes and look away, and the excitement is in forcing ourselves to watch; but in the sf film the narrative pleasure comes precisely in anticipating, and then seeing, what will happen next.
And so, having discovered the zombie right at the intersection of these two modes—the zombie is both local and global, personal
and depersonalized, symptom of moral chaos and cause of widespread social breakdown, grossout consumer of flesh and spectacular destroyer of our intricately constructed social and technological fortifications….[Canavan’s analysis of The Walking Dead begins]” (pp.433-434)

“In such a story the fear of “moral chaos” of the early outbreak will necessarily give way to “interest” in the way society changes in the wake of the zombie disaster—and so it’s no surprise that Kirkman uses the same “waking up from a coma” trope as 28 Days Later to “skip” the initial outbreak and get immediately to the postapocalyptic breakdown world.” (p.435)

“The rotting zombie corpse inevitably suggests the psychological horror Julia Kristeva called “abjection,” the disturbing of the boundary between object and subject.” (p.441)

“…we find the zombies allegorizing the racial forms of exclusion and extermination that already surround us. Zombie narratives are ultimately about the motivation for and unleashing of total violence; what separates “us” from “them” in zombie narrative is always only the type of violence used. They attack us (like “animals,” “savages,” or “cannibals”) with their arms and mouths; we attack them back with horses, tanks, and guns.
In The Walking Dead—as in any zombie narrative—the tools and technologies of empire are continually borrowed for the purpose of priming precisely this sort of violent colonialist fantasy. Swords and guns, tanks and trucks, repeated references to the brutal physical and sexual violence of slavery and to the cowboy or “frontier” imaginary (especially through the ubiquitous riding of horses and Carl’s cowboy outfit and mannerisms) are all employed in a bizarre postmodern pastiche of the history of U.S. imperialism, as different moments of its empire collide into a single simultaneous instant in the face of an essentially inimical and totally implacable racialized threat. There are few moments in the series that suggest this pastiche as well as the splash panel at the end of issue 12, when Rick and his group discover the abandoned jail in which they will make their home through the bulk of the series. The jail is drawn so as to visually double a frontier fort (and, for that matter, a modern military base); these locations collapse into a single spatial imaginary, with only the polarity of “inside” and “outside” reversed.” (p.443)

“Whatever else might be said about The Walking Dead, or about zombie narrative in general, its uncritical relationship to a particular pre-feminist narrative about the need to “protect” women and children cannot be glossed over. “Proper” control over wombs, and anxiety that they will somehow be captured, polluted, or compromised, is a kind of Ur-myth for the apocalyptic genre in general and the zombie sub-genre in particular; speaking broadly, the function of women in most apocalyptic narratives is to code the ending as “happy” or “sad” based on their continued availability to bear the male protagonist’s children when the story is over. This theme is so common in the zombie subgenre as to constitute one of its most ubiquitous and most central ethical clichés: the question of whether or not one should decide to “bring a child into” a zombie-ridden world at all—and, as is common in many such apocalyptic stories (as in, for instance, Cormac McCarthy’s 2009 novel The Road), the death of Rick’s wife and daughter, the moment the circuit of reproductive futurity is cut, is the moment that basically all hope is lost in The Walking Dead.” (p.444)

Under the heading ‘Zombie Ethics’, Canavan explains: “So while in zombie narrative the “enemy” who is killed is always first the zombie—who is unthinking and unfeeling, and can be killed without regret—as the story proceeds the violence inevitably spreads to other, still-alive humans [-p.445] as well. Anyone outside the white patriarchal community, anyone who is not already one of “us,” is a potential threat to the future who must be interrogated intensely, if not kept out altogether. Even those inside the community have to be surveilled at all times for signs of treachery, weakness, or growing “infection.” This is the second way in which the zombie infects us, besides the obvious; they infect us with their vulnerability, their killability make us “killable” too. One’s position in the state of exception is, after all, never secure; the class of dangerous anti-citizens, bound for the camps, tends only to grow. In this way zombie narratives make the latent necropolitical dimensions bound up in both “survival” and modern citizenship explicit….” (pp.444-445)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Gerry Canavan (2010) ‘We Are the Walking Dead’: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative. extrapolation 51(3)Fall; pp.431-453

The zombies around us


As part of his discussion of race in zombie narratives, (in the same, previously mentioned article), Gerry Canavan considers the way in which the New Orleans and Haitian disasters were conceptualised. He writes:

“When Haiti—of course, the ancestral home of the zombi, where this hybridized postcolonial figure first emerged as the nightmarish figuration of a slavery that would continue even after death—was struck by its devastating earthquake in January 2010, the same stories [as were told about New Orleans] were told: rumors of widespread rapes and murders reported breathlessly by the media as inevitable and obvious fact, baseless (and, in context, often nonsensical) accusations of “looting” hurled at poverty-stricken people of color just trying to survive in the face of an incomprehensible disaster. In her Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004), Judith Butler writes persuasively of the way the inevitability of grief in human life might be employed as a ground for an Levinasian ethics of mutual vulnerability and shared precariousness, if not for the way ideology persistently codes certain lives as “mournable” and others not. Thinking both of the war in Iraq and the occupation of Palestine, she writes:

[‘]Is a Muslim life as valuable as legibly First World lives? Are the Palestinians yet accorded the status of “human” in US policy and press coverage? Will those hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the last decades of strife ever receive the equivalent to the paragraph-long obituaries in the New York Times that seek to humanize—often through nationalist and familial framing devices—those Americans who have been violently killed? Is our capacity to mourn in global dimensions foreclosed precisely by the failure to conceive of Muslim and Arab lives as lives? (12)[‘]

In post-earthquake Haiti, as in post-Katrina New Orleans, as in Iraq and Palestine, we find the moral demand made by shared precariousness once again short-circuited in favor of a prophylactic Othering. Suffering Haitians were quickly recoded as bare life—zombie life—and thereby rendered unworthy of [-p.448] proper aid and protection. Haitians couldn’t be trusted, we were told, even to accept our help. An interview at Campus Progress with Dr. Kathleen Tierney of the Natural Hazard Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder memorably called this phenomenon the “looting lie.” Misled by this racist imaginary, the international aid response—coordinated, to widespread criticism, by that imperial agency par excellence, the United States military—focused on security over support, landing thousands of troops on the island while diverting international aid flights and before allowing a single food drop from the air. Fear of the poor, journalist Linda Polman argued in the Guardian, hurt rescue efforts: “CNN won’t stop telling aid workers and the outside world about pillaging (the incidence of which for the first four frustrating days at least —did not compare with what happened after Hurricane Katrina) and about how dangerous it would be to distribute food, because of the likelihood of ‘stampedes.’”” (pp.447-448)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Gerry Canavan (2010) ‘We Are the Walking Dead’: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative. extrapolation 51(3)Fall; pp.431-453

Knickerbocker on Apocalypse, utopia and dystopia


Introducing an issue of Extrapolation (51(3)2010) that focuses on representations of post-apocalyptic utopias and/or dystopias, Dale Knickerbocker offers an interesting discussion of Apocalypse, Utopia, and Dystopia. He writes:

“The call for papers challenged scholars to consider how speculative fictions invoke and alter the biblical apocalyptic narrative, and the relationships established between the nature of the cataclysm and the type of society arising afterward. How and to what ends do utopias or dystopias treat questions of race, gender, politics, sexualities, etc.? Is it still possible to speak of “utopia” and “dystopia”? Can these fictions effect social change?” (p.346)

“However, before discussing the articles themselves, it seems advisable to address what we mean when we say apocalypse, utopia, or dystopia—terms whose meanings have been altered, stretched, and blurred over centuries of use. As Lois Parkinson Zamora has lamented, the term apocalypse has come to be commonly used “as a synonym for ‘disaster’ or ‘cataclysm,’” ignoring that “the myth comprehends both cataclysm and millennium, tribulation and triumph, chaos and order . . .” (4; original emphasis). The word itself is derived from the Greek apokalyptein meaning “to uncover” or “to reveal,” and its biblical origin is St. John of Patmos’s Book of Revelation. This text prophesied a future after the destruction of the world as we know it, a future that would, as Frank Kermode has observed, make known the purpose and meaning of all that went before. Kermode proposes that apocalyptic fictions are a necessity of the human psyche, signaling “our deep need for intelligible ends. We project ourselves . . . past the End, so as to see the structure as a whole, a thing we cannot do from our spot in the middle” (Sense 6). He states that, while the age of belief in religious apocalyptic narratives may be past and “for us the End has perhaps lost its naïve imminence, its shadow still lies on the crises of our fictions; we may speak of it as immanent (Sense 6; original emphasis). To give meaning to [-p.347] the past and present, humans create fictions (a term that for Kermode includes history, myth, and literature) concerning the end of the world. Revelation is thus a paradigmatic example of what Jean François Lyotard has termed a gran récit, or grand, master, or metanarrative, one that purports to provide a comprehensive, authoritative, and transcendent explanation of reality.” (pp.346-347)

Another oft-overlooked aspect of biblical apocalypse is its (doubly) utopian nature,” he continues: “Mass annihilation is […] only the beginning of a process that will allow the righteous to enter into the ultimate, eternal Utopia, heaven, and the unjust to be sent to that dystopia par excellence, hell. Thus apocalypse, even in its scriptural source, is inextricably tied to the concepts of utopia and dystopia.” (p.347)

“Even the etymological origin of the word utopia has been subject to debate, although I believe Margaret Atwood, who takes into consideration Thomas More’s reputation as a jokester, may finally have resolved the matter: “‘Utopia’ is sometimes said to mean ‘no place,’ from the Greek ou-topos; others derive it from eu, as in ‘eugenics,’ in which case it would mean ‘healthy place’ or ‘good place.’ Sir Thomas More, in his own 16th-century Utopia, may have been punning: utopia is the good place that doesn’t exist” (n.pag.).” (p.347)

A brief summary of Tom Moylan’s history of the development of the utopian genre should help to contextualize the essays in this issue. Moylan asserts that, in More’s time, imaginary utopian spaces were projected onto the geographical landscapes being explored by European colonizers, and offered models of perfect state, economic, and social structures. Following M.H. Abendsour, he affirms that, from circa 1850 to the late nineteenth century, utopias became heuristic in nature, emphasizing political and economic reform from within the system. Late nineteenth-century industrialization radicalized utopian [-p.348] imaginings, converting them into process-oriented visions of how revolution against the system would lead to an ideal tomorrow. At the same time, the exhaustion of new lands to colonize caused writers to displace utopias into the future. According to Moylan, as the twentieth century witnessed the advent of modern social-economic-political projects that attempted to realize their own versions of a perfect society (socialism, communism, fascism, capitalist democracy), the utopian impulse was co-opted, channeled into either the service of the state or the cycle of production and consumer acquisition. He posits that the anti-establishment movements associated with the 1960s gave birth to the “critical utopia,” a genre that “reject[s] utopia as blueprint while preserving it as dream” (10). It is a species in conflict with the status quo of its place and time, characterized by an awareness of its own limitations with regard to both the effect it may have on society and its own internal contradictions and imperfections. It therefore focuses on “dynamic alternatives” (11) to concepts of utopia as a static ideal future; as a result, I would conjecture that the concept of utopia has thereby also become predominantly indeterminate….” (pp.347-348)

“If it is possible to claim any common ground for the following essays’ interpretations of the nature of apocalypse in the texts they examine, it would seem that they coincide, at least implicitly, in seeing the fictional apocalypses studied as rejecting grand narratives. Whereas biblical-style apocalypses could be counted on to grant meaning to all preceding events, it seems that recent “revelations” reject, or at least avoid, offering closure and transcendent truth.” (p.348)

“Of greatest import, though, is the fact that all the fictions are polysemic and possess open denouements offering no final resolution.” (p.349) “If a general critical consensus might be drawn from these articles, it appears that utopianists have given up on fighting one master narrative with another. They interrogate, they suggest possible paths, but they do not propose answers or outline projects, nor are any utopias or dystopias presented as static or perfect.” (p.349)

“What the works examined in this issue, and the articles that analyze them, offer, I think, is an interesting constellation, to borrow a metaphor from Walter Benjamin. Benjamin’s concept of the constellation constituted an attack on the notion of history as linear and the associated post-Enlightenment narrative of history as progress. The idea posits, in a manner foreshadowing Foucault, that the metaphor of history as line or series of unbroken points should be replaced with a non-linear, non-causal, three-dimensional metaphor: the constellation. Historical events consequently are represented as stars whose gravitational fields mutually influence each other. These recent imaginings of apocalypse, utopia, and dystopia can metaphorically be viewed in the same way, as aesthetic events suspended in the three-dimensional field that is history, influencing and being influenced by the times and thus offering a vision of the same. The fictions seem to manifest a rejection of master narratives, a preference for questions and doubts over answers and certainties, an impulse toward utopia over political or economic programs or models.” (p.354)

Note that the quotes Knickerbocker opens his essay with are also thought-provoking:

As an undercurrent of Western imagination, apocalypticism is always with us.
~Saul Friedländer

What sort of happiness is on offer, and what is the price we might pay to achieve it?
~ Margaret Atwood

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Dale Knickerbocker (2010) Apocalypse, Utopia, and Dystopia: Old Paradigms Meet a New Millennium. Extrapolation Fall (51:3); pp.345-357

A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend – Mathias Clasen


I am interested in how bioliterary criticism is applied, so this article caught my eye…. I am also interested in the narrative treatment of fear, so… Mathias Clasen writes:

“Richard Matheson seeded several weird fish in the deep and dark waters of the American myth pool, not least as a prominent screenwriter for the legendary 1960s TV series The Twilight Zone. I Am Legend, a post-apocalyptic science fiction/horror novel, published in
1954 and set in 1976, remains one of his best known works. It shows up persistently on “Best of Horror” lists and is generally regarded as a milestone in modern Gothic fiction. What is it about this novel that has invested it with canonical status? It tells a surpassingly bleak story, one that seems to encode very specific and largely outdated cultural anxieties. And as prophecy, it falls rather flat: Matheson depicts a vampire holocaust, and the seventies came and went with no noticeable increase in the population of vampires, except perhaps on television. So why should anyone want to read this novel?
The historian David J. Skal rightly observes that “very little about the underlying structure of horror images really changes” over time. I Am Legend is the product of a troubled man in troubled times, at once intensely personal and highly dependent on local, sociohistorical anxieties. Yet, the story retains its power to engage and to disturb in contexts far removed from that of its production. I think an evolutionary perspective offers the best explanation for the underlying continuity in horror fiction. It also offers the best way to get at the continued fascination Matheson’s novel exercises on readers. Using an analytic scheme put into play by Joseph Carroll, Brian Boyd, and other evolutionary critics, I get a fix on the novel by triangulating between universal human fears, local cultural conditions, and peculiarities of individual identity.” (p.313)

One striking and presumably unique aspect of human mental architecture is decoupled cognition, our capacity for mentally producing and hosting elaborate imagined worlds. Decoupled cognition gives rise to a [-p.315] range of imaginative behaviors, from pretend play in young children to futuristic science fiction stories. It is perhaps unsurprising that natural selection has favored an ability to construct imaginative scenarios, but an ability to go from imaginations of future food sources and hunting strategies to imaginations of life on Mars and zombie invasions is more striking.
However, not each and every single one of the literally endless imaginative scenarios that could be produced by the human mind would have the power to fascinate a substantial number of persons: the what if’s that interest people are severely limited, and so is the possibility space of viable speculative narratives. As Brett Cooke observes, since science fiction “so readily outruns human experience, it typically probes the limits of human interest.” In turn, human interest is circumscribed by our evolutionary heritage. I Am Legend offers a speculative account of what happens when basic human needs are suppressed. Matheson portrays the struggles of a man completely cut off from fellow human beings and trapped in a severely threatening environment. In this way, Matheson taps into an intuitive understanding of human nature—an evolved folk psychology—to make his tale believable and interesting.” (pp.314-315)

Apparently, Richard Matheson “has pointed out, “the leitmotif of all my work . . . is as follows: The individual isolated in a threatening world, attempting to survive”” (p.316) and it is from this perspective that Clasen approaches I Am Legend:

Fear is probably the key word in Matheson’s work, and the defining affective feature of horror fiction. It is a striking fact of human anxiety that the things we fear are non-randomly distributed: humans acquire fear not just of any old thing, but of things dangerous in our evolutionary past. That does not mean that we are born pre-programmed with a completely inflexible fear system. Like so many other human capacities (such as language), the innate fear system depends on interaction with the environment for its development and optimal functioning. This [-p.317] makes sense in an evolutionary perspective, since our environments have been changing rapidly and frequently during the last several tens of thousands of years, especially due to human migration. Thus, while certain dangers have remained constant in various environments, others have changed. The threat from snakes, spiders and other people—so often the objects of phobias—probably constituted a constant selective pressure, whereas a variety of large mammals have preyed on humans during our evolutionary history. Hence, fierce predators with sharp teeth and claws play a prominent role in modern horror fiction, even as they are now, in industrialized civilization, relegated to zoo cages and televised nature programming.

“The abstract fear of death can be fleshed out in locally specific, context-dependent ways. In one context it’s the fear of a large carnivore attacking at night; in another, the fear of bombings. The adaptive fear response is largely generalized, and the physiological fear response is triggered by a range of diverse threats, from thunderstorms to predators, from darkness to social separation.” (pp.316-317)

“…we should not lose sight of the vampire’s literal presence: the vampire is, first and foremost, a predator….” (p.318) “Predation is the central theme in horror fiction. Being threatened by powerful forces, whether ghosts, chainsaw-wielding maniacs, or vampires, is a powerful motif, probably because the selection pressure from predation has been a ubiquitous fact of human existence for millennia. However, I Am Legend is slightly atypical as a horror story in that the horror of the monster is pushed somewhat to the rear. The vampires prowl relentlessly in the periphery, craving Neville’s blood, but the reader is not treated to lengthy descriptions of the bloodsuckers.” (p.318)

“For members of a social species such as ours, the horror of isolation is very real and very rational. Solitary isolation in the criminal justice system is considered an especially severe form of punishment. […] Other people have for millions of years been a crucial component of our species’ ecological niche; we are highly adapted to social life and depend on culture for our mental development. Sociality is and has been crucial to human ontogenetic and phylogenetic development. We depend on other people not just for reproduction and survival, but for psychological and emotional growth and fulfillment. This is the common-sense observation that is conveyed by I Am Legend….” (p.320)

“It is reasonable to regard sub- or para-human horror monsters as meditations on the human: zombies and body-snatchers, for example, offer apt metaphors for the masses and mindless humanity, whereas the vampire—a vastly overdetermined figure—has somewhat different connotations. The horror critic Mark Jancovich identifies a group of 1950s horror texts, I Am Legend included, that are characterized by a “preoccupation with the figure of the outsider, and their experience of alienation, estrangement and powerlessness.” As he notes, the concept of conformity in 1950s USA was not just highly prevalent in social discourse, but highly ambivalent. The paradoxical motif of being alone among others is one that finds currency in a paranoid Cold War cultural climate.” (p.321)

(While he is perhaps oversimplifying the traditional role and reception of folklore,) Clasen also comments on the figure of the vampire: “As the historian Paul Barber has convincingly argued, the modern vampire has its origin as a pre-scientific explanation for infectious disease. Before the germ theory of disease, a vampire was as good an explanation for the outbreak of lethal disease (such as tuberculosis) as any….” (p.323)

The contagious aspect of vampirism remains an essential characteristic of the archetype.” (p.323)

In fact, one of the most disturbing and dramatically effective qualities of several traditional horror monsters—vampires, werewolves, and zombies—is their contagiousness. Characters battle not just ferocious beasts, but monstrous germs, as well.” (p.324)

The vampire has adapted cunningly and with panache to ever-changing cultural ecologies over the centuries, yet never losing its essential predatory nature and its defining violation of biology, its undeadness.” (p.324)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Mathias Clasen (2010) Vampire Apocalypse: A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.  Philosophy and Literature 34(2)October, pp. 313-328

Wool – Hugh Howey


WoolHonestly, I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s history is interesting: Wool, by Hugh Howey. In his short article on Hugh Howey (a prelude to his appearance at Auckland (NZ)’s Takapuna Library this month), Stephen Jewell writes the following (quoting Howey):

“Instead of writing one book and planning to market that, I just put it out there and started writing the next one,” he says. “I actually didn’t market Wool at all, as I didn’t have any links on my webpage. I didn’t even tweet about it. But after a few years and seven or eight works, you increase your chances with every release.

Wool took off by word of mouth and it was all very organic. All the emails and reviews were asking for more, so I stopped what I was doing and started writing more.”

While it centres around a group of disparate survivors who live in underground silos on a devastated Earth, Wool‘s mass appeal could be attributed to the fact it’s much more grounded than many fantastical science fiction sagas. “I read a lot of non-fiction, like history, psychology and philosophy, and I’m fascinated with the human condition,” says Howey. “I was really writing about the things I was observing at the time, like the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which were both going on back then, so there was a real sense of uprising in the air. I saw it as the perfect chance to create a kind of microcosm, as the book is really about a society trying to manage itself with limited resources and space.”

According to Howey, the main protagonists’ motives shouldn’t necessarily be considered heroic. “The world is a lot dirtier and messier than that, as we’re now seeing in the Middle East with Egypt, which is having a hard time after its revolution,” he says. “England also saw that with Cromwell, and France experienced that with Napoleon. It’s easy to tear something down but not so easy to decide what to replace it with, because you still have human nature and it doesn’t always end up pretty.”

Conceived as a five-part series, Howey has just followed Wool with Shift, which takes place before the events of its predecessor. “The whole idea behind this was to always write what I wanted to write and not what was expected,” he explains. “The thing that is expected here is that the second book will pick up immediately after the first book left off. But as a reader, I don’t like that feeling of a story that never seems to end. So writing Shift allowed me to tell the other side of the story and more about how the world came to be like this, as it takes a whole new group of characters to the same point in time.”

Ref: Stephen Jewell ‘Apocalypse NowCanvas: Weekend Herald (New Zealand) April 20, 2013, p.29


Wool is described on Fishpond in the following way:

“The next Hunger Games”. (The Sunday Times). “Well written, tense, and immensely satisfying, Wool will be considered a classic for many years in the future”. (Wired). “Thrilling, thought-provoking and memorable …one of dystopian fiction’s masterpieces alongside the likes of 1984 and Brave New World”. (Daily Express). “Howey’s Wool is an epic feat of imagination. You will live in this world”. (Justin Cronin). “Wool is frightening, fascinating, and addictive. In one word, terrific”. (Kathy Reichs). In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive, a community exists in a giant underground silo. Inside, men and women live an enclosed life full of rules and regulations, of secrets and lies. To live, you must follow the rules. But some don’t. These are the dangerous ones; these are the people who dare to hope and dream, and who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple and deadly. They are allowed outside. Jules is one of these people. She may well be the last.

About the Author

Hugh Howey spent eight years living on boats and working as a yacht captain for the rich and famous. It wasn’t until the love of his life carried him away from these vagabond ways that he began to pursue literary adventures, rather than literal ones. Hugh wrote and self-published his first young adult novel, Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue. The Molly Fyde series won rave reviews and praise from readers but it was the release of Wool that made his career take off. Hugh lives in Jupiter, Florida with his wife Amber and their dog Bella.” ~ Fishpond.