Zombies in the house! No, I'm not talking about the fact I've slept, oh, about five hours a night for the past week. Instead, I'm referring to Generation Dead, Daniel Waters' debut YA novel. Jules sent me the book, and after I read it while tap dancing1, I was invited to chat about the book with eisha and Adrienne. I immediately sent in my RSVP to that invite. I then realized I was kind of dressed like the zombie cheerleader on the cover of the book2, and I smoothed the pleats in my skirt as we discussed zombies, unicorns, and science.
eisha: So, ladies. I'll start off by saying that I liked this book. It has an interesting and original take on zombie-ism, and I thought the way Waters used it to convey ideas about prejudice, hate crimes, social law, and societal reform was pretty cool. Also, I think this is one of my favorite covers of 2008.
However, I didn't love the book. There were some significant flaws in the writing, and in the plot, that kept me from fully immersing myself in the story.
Did I mention how much I love the cover?
How about you, Little Willow? What's your overall impression?
Little Willow: The book fell short of my expectations. I wanted to know why and how people were becoming zombies. I wanted more science, more medical history, more details. Granted, not all of the characters would have fully understood or cared about the science behind the zombification, but don't you think that they, along with the rest of the world, would want to know MORE? Yes, it was said that the newly undead were almost exclusively American teenagers and that it was possibly because they ate a lot of junk food packed with preservatives, but that was it, really–and that wasn't enough for me, not nearly.
There are novels which do explore scientific processes without overtaking the main plotline–in other words, satisfying geeks like me and making things plausible without boring those who are not interested in such things. Some titles which immediately come to mind are The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, the futuristic, tongue-in-cheek I Was a Teenage Popsicle and Beyond Cool by Bev Katz Rosenbaum, and the heart-racing, apocalyptic Soulless by Christopher Golden.
Soulless is also about zombies. It's so action-packed that I've taken to calling it a movie bound in a book. Like Generation Dead, Soulless moves back and forth between different characters and storylines, but unlike Generation Dead, Soulless kept me guessing. It had a lot of twists and turns. I love its exploration of family ties, and the questions it raised: Do we want to see our loved ones again after they pass away? If they return as zombies, unlike their living selves, would they be better left to rest in peace? And the book's climax - wow. Soulless is coming out in October, and, if you couldn't tell, I highly recommend it.
Adrienne: I was so excited about this book when I saw the cover and heard the concept. I'm a HUGE fan of zombie movies, and I loved Max Brooks' World War Z–but Generation Dead didn't quite do it for me. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it, either. I think part of it is that Waters did away with a lot of the things I've come to expect of the zombie genre: rotting corpses, eating brains, that kind of thing. (It reminded me a bit of my experience watching a French zombie film called They Came Back. Leave it to the French to make a zombie film that's totally depressing.) Little Willow mentioned missing the background and science, which I'd have to agree with, but one of the things I most enjoy about the zombie genre is that the best films/books operate on a metaphorical level. I mean, George Romero tells us over and over that plenty of people who are alive behave like they're dead, and he's got a point, which is why his films endure. In Generation Dead, I guess Waters is going for that–he certainly contrasts the emotionally dead behavior of characters like Adam's alcoholic stepfather and uber-dumb-jock Pete with the more full-bodied behavior of the zombies, but he could have done that even if, say, Tommy wasn't a zombie. Their behavior contrasts equally with other living characters, like Adam and Phoebe, so... I don't know. I can't put my finger on it. It refuses to gel for me. What do you-all think?
eisha: I definitely think he was going for metaphor here. Certainly in the way you describe, but also in the way the zombies–ahem, I mean "living impaired"-ahem-AHEM, I mean "Differently Biotic"-are perceived and treated by the living. They have no legal rights, they suffer all kinds of abuse from the a fearful and disgusted society, ranging from name-calling to being set on fire, and nobody wants them dating their children. Some people even seem to think they're contagious. Sound familiar? He uses zombies as a stand-in for virtually every disenfranchised and oppressed minority group you can think of. I did think there were times when that worked well, particularly in terms of Tommy's political activism. The contrast between his non-violent, change-the-world-through-information approach and that of the people who threw produce at him during the football game was effective.
But little, unrelated things kept bugging me throughout the novel and distracting me from the story. Like, weird antiquated words like "codger" coming out of teens' mouths. And the excessively frequent references to karate and how much Adam has changed for the better from taking it (I started hearing the cheesy '70s pronunciation in my mind every time I came across the word: "kah-rah-TAY"). And the hints of side plots that were actually interesting, but weren't fully pursued: what's really up with the Hunter Foundation, and who's behind the white van attacks? I wonder if those are meant for a sequel? The end clearly set us up for one. If there is a sequel, would you read it? What advice would you give Daniel Waters the second time around? And where do you stand in the eternal zombie vs. unicorn debate?
LW: Unicorns are friends, friendly, and flyers. Zombies might try to kill me and eat my brains. I'd much rather have a unicorn than a zombie.
(I am now picturing Unico doing kah-rah-TAY, and I am amused.)
Adrienne: Personally, I've been taking unicorns much more seriously since I read the Harry Potter books. Not as seriously as centaurs, but still. One thing about zombies is that they're usually slow, so I like my odds there. I do not like my odds with the fast zombies in 28 Days Later, though.
LW: I would have preferred it if the book had one storyline fully pursued, detailed, and realized than have had so many loose ends and unanswered questions. It all felt very unfulfilled.
By the way, while we three were all discussing this, I passed the book along to another friend. We discussed it after she finished it. She, like me, also wanted more background and science in the story, and she felt as though there were some plotholes. A few days later, another friend picked it up and read it in a day. She really liked the book and is clamoring for a sequel. The three of us then talked about the possibility of a second book. The ending of this book could easily lead itself to a continuation.
Adrienne: Even with the plotholes, some of the writing was really fun. I particularly loved Margi's dialog ("Ohmigawd, that was the longest history class ever. I think I actually became a historical figure in the time it took for that class to end."). I also liked that Waters threw in a reference to one of my favorite zombie films, Return of the Living Dead, and an uncited reference to Carrie ("Someone could dump a bucket of pig's blood over my head, and I could make the school explode with my telepathetic powers.") I always enjoy the writing of people who like things I like.
eisha: Yeah, there were some very clever bits of dialog that I thoroughly enjoyed. Adam and Phoebe sometimes had some nice repartee, as did Phoebe and Margi.
Little Willow, I totally hear you on the lack of science. It was another of the plot threads that seemed to be leading somewhere, but instead just trailed off. I wonder if that's something that will be addressed in a potential sequel, too? It seemed tied up with the Hunter Foundation's research. So, if there ever is a sequel outside my own imagination, I'd like to see that particular plotline explored more fully.
As for zombies vs. unicorns, Adrienne makes a good point about unicorns being faster than zombies, and they are certainly a force to be reckoned with. Especially since I think I lost... um... the privilege of keeping their company a long time ago. But zombies can still look like people until they're pretty close to you, so I'm not sure that being faster than they are is such an advantage. I'm gonna stick with unicorns.
Femmes, I thank you for agreeing to this discussion. Do either of you have any closing thoughts you wanna throw down?
Little Willow: In brief, I felt that the concept of Generation Dead was better than its execution. It had some interesting ideas, and I liked bits and pieces here and there, but the happenings were occasionally predictable. Kudos to the photographer Ali Smith and the art designer Elizabeth H. Clark for the great cover.
Adrienne: It looks like there will be a sequel (see Dan's blog). It will be interesting if he reveals a bit more about what he was thinking with some of those loose threads, although after my experience with this and Breaking Dawn, I feel like I might need a little break from the undead. Maybe I'll start reading books about two-headed dogs.
eisha: True dat.
Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. NY: Crown, 2006. (HC: 9780307346605, PB: 9780307346612)
Golden, Christopher. Soulless. MTV, 2008. (PB: 9781416551355)
King, Stephen. Carrie. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974. (HC: 9780385086950, PB: 9780671039721)
Meyer, Stephenie. Breaking Dawn. NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008. (HC: 9780316067928)
Pearson, Mary E. The Adoration of Jenna Fox. NY: Henry Holt, 2008. (HC: 9780805076684)
Rosenbaum, Bev Katz. I Was a Teenage Popsicle. NY: Berkley Jam Books, 2006. (PB: 9780425211809)
-Beyond Cool. NY: Berkley Jam Books, 2007. (PB: 9780425215630)
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter series. NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 1997-2007. (eisha adds: You ought to be able to find these on your bookshelf at home.)
Waters, Dan. Generation Dead. NY: Hyperion, 2008. (HC: 9781423109211)
This roundtable is also available at What Adrienne Thinks About That and Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the latter of which offers full-color images related to our literature and pop culture references, thanks to Eisha.
1 Yes, I read almost half of it while tapping. I'm a big fan of multi-tasking.
2 That is, if the cheerleader were brunette, clad in purple instead of red, and not wearing any makeup. I'm far from a dead (living?) ringer for that cover girl.