In celebration for the release of the irreverent, self-depreciating, profane, and funny PETER WATTS IS AN ANGRY SENTIENT TUMOR, Tachyon presents glimpses from the essay collection.
Why I Suck.
Blog June 6, 2013
just sat through an entire season—which is to say three measly
episodes, in what might be the new SOP for the BBC (see Sherlock)—of
this new zombie show called In the Flesh.
I know. These days, the very phrase “new zombie show” borders on
oxymoronic. And yet, this really is a fresh spin on the old paradigm:
imagine that, years after the dead clawed their way out of the ground
and started feasting on the living, we figured out how to fix
them. Not cure, exactly: think diabetes or HIV, management
instead of recovery. Imagine a drug that repairs the mind, even if it
can’t fix the rot or the pallor or the eyes.
the gradual reconnection of cognitive circuitry, and the flashbacks
it provokes as animal memories reboot. Imagine what it must be like
when the sudden fresh remembrance of people killed and eviscerated is
regarded, clinically, as a sign of recovery.
is only the beginning of what In the Flesh imagines. It also
imagines government-mandated reintegration of the recovering undead
(“Partially-Deceased-Syndrome” is the politically-correct term;
it comes replete with cheery pamphlets to help next-of-kin manage the
transition). Contact lenses and pancake makeup to make the
partly-dead more palatable to the communities in which they once
lived. Therapy sessions in which the overwhelming guilt of
freshly-remembered murder and cannibalism alternates with defiant
self-justification: “We had to do it to survive. They blew our
heads off without a second thought—they were protecting
humanity! They get medals, we get medicated …” Hypertrophic
Neighborhood Watch patrols who never let you forget that no matter
how Human these creatures may seem now, a couple of missed
injections is all it takes to turn them back into ravening monsters
in the heart of our community …
science fiction’s mission statement, again? Oh, right: to explore
the social impact of scientific and technological change. Too
much SF takes the Grand Tour Amusement Park approach, offers up an
awesome parade of wonders and prognostications like some kind of
futuristic freak show. It takes a show like In the Flesh to
remind us that technology is only half of the equation, that the
molecular composition of the hammer or the rpms of the chainsaw, in
isolation, are of limited interest. Our mission hasn’t been
accomplished until the hammer hits the flesh.
the Flesh rubs your face in that impact. It rubs my face in my
has its share of zombies, you see. They show up at the beginning of
the book, in the Oregon desert; through the course of the story,
various cast members wrestle with zombiesque aspects of their own
behavior. Echopraxia’s zombies come in two flavors: the
usual viral kind sowing panic and anarchy, and a more precise,
surgically-induced breed used by the military for ops with high body
counts, ops for which self-awareness might prove an impediment. Both
breeds get screen time; both highlight philosophical issues which
challenge the very definition of what it means to be Human.
really tries to answer questions like: How do you deal with the
guilt? Or How do you handle the dissonance of becoming a local
hero through the indiscriminate slaughter of rabid zombies, only to
have your son come back from Afghanistan partially-deceased with a
face full of staples?
the Flesh does a lot of the same things I’ve done in my own
writing. It even serves up a pseudosciencey rationale to explain the
zombie predilection for brains: victims of PDS lose the ability to
grow “gial” cells in their brains, and so must consume those of
others to make up the deficit. (I’m not sure whether this is an
inadvertent misspelling of “glial” or if the writers were savvy
enough to invent a new cell type with a similar name, the better to
fend off the nitpickery of geeks like me.) It doesn’t hold up to
rigorous scrutiny any better than Blindsight’s invocation of
protocadherin deficits to justify obligate cannibalism in my own
undead, but in a way that’s the point: they’ve taken pretty much
the same approach that I have.
difference is, they’ve done so much more with it.
I used technobabble to justify a philosophical debate about free
will. In the Flesh used it to show us grief-stricken parents
dealing with a beloved son after he’s taken his own life—and come
back. Side by side, it’s painfully obvious which of us used our
resources to better effect.
only wish I’d have been able to see that without the object lesson.
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