In praise of dystopia…

Surely one of the most attractive aspects of much of dystopian fiction is that, in putting ourselves in the place of the protagonist, we secretly wish that significant numbers of other people will not survive. This is especially true of the zombie holocaust or pandemic type scenario. It’s almost as if the exploration of death and hastened entropy allows nature to reclaim her dominion, and that those who survive are the lucky ones despite their deprivations.

Of course Richard Matheson went a bit too far in his I Am Legend novel. Too few people are no fun. No-one wants to be completely alone, we just want enough of the world to ourselves to create our own kingdom.

I suppose that friends and family (for the most part) would get a free pass. But even then, they’d have to occupy a different part of the world/game map. They can survive, but mustn’t interfere or harm the illusion of survival and self-suffiency.

And there, I suppose is the truth of it. A ruined world is a great fantasy, but is best lived from an armchair isn’t it. I don’t think I could really kill a wild boar to survive, do you? I could make it stop living with a sharp stick or a found gun, but then I’d have no idea of how to actually butcher it.

No, tea and biscuits in the commercial break during The Walking Dead is more my style of survival horror. I suspect it’s the same for all but the most deluded urban survival nuts.

Is that why the prospect of dystopia is so comforting? Because, rather than frighten us about a horrible future, it prompts us to look around at the comfortable present? Naturally I speak of ‘we’ in the cosseted First World. Does dystopian fiction exist or look different in the developing world?

More personal research needed on the subject…

In the Flesh

Just when I think that we are running out of new twists on the dystopian/zombie trope, the BBC has surprised me with its new series, In the Flesh, which started last night.

The world has been through an – as yet unexplained – zombie uprising. And, we follow Kieran, a young man who fell victim to the plague but is now part of a government rehabilitation programme. Erstwhile zombies who have been chemically rescued are now labelled as sufferers of Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS). While retaining their undead pallor and corpse-like eyes, they have their brain functions returned to them. To augment this return to normality, they are given make-up and contact lenses in order to appear more normal. Kieran is returned to his anxious family but must contend with a hostile neighbourhood unhappy at the prospect of the undead back in their midst and with his own guilt as he has flashbacks of what he did in his zombie form.

Of course, George Romero toyed with the idea of reformed zombies in Day of the Dead (anyone remember Bub!). More recently, the Governor in The Walking Dead had similar ideas when trying to find a cure for his daughter. But In the Flesh has taken the notion several steps further. While there are angry members of the Human Volunteer Force patrolling the town to seek out reformed undead, there are hints during the episode that there is also an underground (no pun intended), movement of PDS victims with their own agenda.

If you’re in the UK, the first episode is available on the Beeb’s iPlayer.