Some of my followers are already aware that I am a Walking Dead fan. Since my binge-watch introduction to the show two summers ago, it’s become my favorite portrayal of the zombie apocalypse (although World War Z is a close second and Newsflesh is a not so distant third). Once, my partner and I made these awesome brain cupcakes for a mid-season premiere party (of four people, lol, but hey- more cupcakes for us). At some point I will get around to borrowing the comics from a friend, but for now I think I’d rather just enjoy the show.
From time to time I pick up a new zombie story. My most recent find is an audiobook copy of Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, which I have not finished yet to be honest. But it’s fascinating to me because I found the attitudes in the book so irritating at first, and now it’s starting to grow on me.
The following review doesn’t exactly contain spoilers, per say, but it does go over the context of this book’s zombies and apocalypse.
This book is set about fifteen years after “First Night,” or the rise of the zombie plague. The main character, Benny Imura, lives in a fenced community of around 8,000 people who’ve been there and living in safety for years. Benny was only 18 months old on First Night but has a brief memory of his last glimpse of his mother and her “white dress with red sleeves.” (Needless to say, it was just a white dress. She was presumably killed by her infected husband very shortly after Benny’s then twenty-year-old stepbrother got him out of the house.) Benny has also never been allowed outside the fence and has no idea what it’s really like to survive in what the world outside has become.
What bothered me at first was that it seems like none of the other townspeople did either. No one talks about the zombies except for the few people, bounty hunters, who go out beyond the fence into the “Rot and Ruin” beyond. In fact, they actively avoid so much as acknowledging it.
Everyone is so infuriatingly in denial that the guards on the fence are not allowed to kill zombies without written permission from the family. These are apparently chain link fences like they had at the prison in TWD, except I just got to the point in the book where it’s specifically established that there is only one layer of fence — so in case of breaches, they have no second line of defense. Luckily it seems as though the area was cleared enough years ago that there are no longer wandering crowds that might overwhelm the fence, and they can afford to be so lax.
The bounty hunters that go beyond the wall are mostly employed for Closure jobs – they’re given a picture and/or a sketched “erosion portrait” of what a person might look like as a zombie and are sent out to try to find said zombie and put it down.
But, you might ask, after more than a decade won’t the combined be decayed beyond recognition? In TWD we’ve it three or four years by now and the corpses are pretty inhuman looking, and even though this is set in central California rather than humid Georgia the end result should be the same.
Nope. Apparently the R&R zombies get to a certain point of decay and then stop rotting. No one knows why because there is no scientific study of the zombies. Either no one knows how to do so or those who do don’t care.
The zombies also don’t move around much. When Benny’s older brother Tom begins teaching him “the family business” of zombie killing, he explains that it’s not uncommon to see a bunch of zombies just standing in the road, inactive, because two groups going in opposite directions met and couldn’t go forward. In the absence of motion, sound, or the smell of something alive in any other direction, they just stand there because they can’t move forward. Zombies generally don’t even have the coordination to open doors or climb through windows (though there is some speculation that they’re a little more with it while still very recently reanimated) so a lot of of them are still shut up in houses or cars where their loved ones last saw them. The book hasn’t mentioned the general success rate, but it must be decent enough for “Closure Specialist” to be a viable occupation.
I still think some of the details are silly or annoying (like Benny calling zombies “zoms” for short, omfg) but I’ve accepted that this is not The Walking Dead, a show that doesn’t use the word zombies even once.
Although the townspeople are deeply in denial, the fact is they were traumatized and have since been safe for years. They’ve had plenty of time to suppress the horrible memories of the things they’ve seen and had to do, and the details of what kind of monsters their loved ones have become. If they think or talk about the people they’ve lost at all its with great difficulty and a big fluffy buffer of nostalgia. They’ve gone soft the way Rick and his crew were worried about becoming when they started settling in at Alexandria. If the walls have never been breached, it makes sense that their apocalypse skills are gathering dust. They’re not even trying to rebuild or reclaim the world. It’s the less painful route.
An explanation is also provided for why the walls have held for so long. The zombies’ shuffling walk and general lack of coordination means that they follow the path of least a resistance, i.e. downhill. The town, Mountainside, is presumably on pretty high ground which helps explain why the fences are clear. It was also mentioned early on in the book that there are flags beyond the wall that are set up to frequently snap in the wind and attract the zombies away from the fence, which didn’t seem like enough on its own. The two facts together, though, seem fairly reasonable.
Overall, it took me a while but I think I’m on board with the premise of R&R. Part of it, I think, is that the moralistic emphasis on what it means to be human is a little heavy-handed to me. This is of course a theme in TWD as well, but with a lot more of the balancing act between humanity and survival. Benny in R&R is so sheltered in Mountainside that by the time he kills his first zombie it’s upsetting, but he obviously had more warning and knowledge than the people who lived through First Night.
I still think the characters are over sentimental about killing the living dead, but the portrayal of the first zombie Benny has to kill is very revealing. It’s someone he actually knew, and it’s unclear if there’s still some glimmer of the who the man was while alive still remains or if that’s just Benny’s hope projecting something where there is nothing. Between that and how far removed and in denial most of the characters are from the fact that most of the world is dead and still shambling around out there, I can accept that it’s a realistic possibility (that could only be allowed by the caveat that the zombies don’t rot to the point of complete decay for some reason).
Overall, I will definitely finish this book. I might also seek out the rest of the series, though I think that depends on how the ending goes. I’ve read some books that I enjoyed right up until the end, and then was so angry at the conclusion that I just can’t even. So far, though, Rot & Ruin seems to be going in the opposite direction.