Zombies give us a lot of ways to explore philosophical, sociological, and political issues. And I’m not just talking about the heavy-handed symbolism of films like Land of the Dead here. In a zombie story the writer and audience gets an opportunity to explore what it means to be human, the price of survival, how society copes with crisis, and hundred of other topics. Unfortunately, it’s fairly rare that zombie books, films, and games make much use of this opportunity. Dead Meat steps up to the plate to give it a shot.
Let me get this out of the way right off: it doesn’t really answer any of the questions it answers, but I have to respect it for asking. Yes, I wish some of these issues would have been given a bit more consideration and fleshed out, but Dead Meat left me thinking, and I consider that a success.
So just what kind of questions does the book ask? The most obvious one to me is how people would cope with killing zombies, who still look very human. This is an issues that seems to be very rarely discussed in zombie stories, in fact, most go the opposite direction and just have people be at ease with it, some even embracing the violence.
While zombies look human, they are most certainly not. On top of that, they present a very real and immediate danger that must be addressed in one of two ways: avoidance or violent confrontation. Yes, a character could theoretically trap the zombies, but in every iteration I’ve ever seen, that ends with disaster.
So essentially zombies are a problem that must be avoided, or destroyed. It’s very simple, and I think that’s one of the reason it appeals to people so much: it’s a major problem with a simple solution. Compare that to other issues for a moment. Take terrorism, for instance. Many people favor war as a way to combat terrorism, but the war on terror has done little more than create new terrorists. So what is the answer? Negotiation seems like a bad idea, as it empowers and encourages other terrorists. Perhaps we could help the region develop economically? That’s possible, but odds are it would only alienate the current powers, who would respond violently.
There is no simple solution to terrorism, the economic downturn, global warming, gun control, or any of the thousands of other issues facing modern society. Zombies, on the other hand, can simply be shot in the head. Looked at in that light, you can see the appeal.
Of course, that’s only when viewed as entertainment media. Consider how people might react if they were actually forced to take out a zombie. Suddenly, it’s a much less attractive proposal. So much so that the vast majority of people would have a lot of difficulty doing so, and would likely need to come up with all manner of coping mechanisms to deal with it. In Dead Meat, the characters simply refuse to see the humanity in the zombies, and refer to them as “bees”. This little dehumanizing trick helps them overcome the psychological toils that would come with killing something that still looks very, very human.
Dead Meat handles several other questions in a similar vein. It wants to know what people would sacrifice in the name of survival, whether you could trade one life for another, and how to keep going when your motivation to survive is stolen. As I said, these are really great questions, I only wish the book would have spent a little more contemplation on them.
Outside of that aspect, Dead Meat is a fairly normal zombie survival book. The story has a few surprises and tense moments, but don’t look for anything too revolutionary in terms of plot, setting, or character.
One thing that really bothered me about Dead Meat was the ending. I can’t really talk about it without spoilers, so skip the next paragraph if you want to avoid being spoiled.
Dead Meat ends when the main character, Gavin, is shot and killed by a young woman named Henrietta (called Henry) who they picked up about halfway through the story. Throughout the book, her only real purpose is to disagree with the other characters, and be sexually desirable. There’s no real definition to her character, and the murder is something that isn’t really built up to. Henry is the book’s biggest weakness, and I really wish she had either been excised or completely rewritten.
Overall, Dead Meat has a lot of promise. It’s never fully discovered, and there are some character issues, but I love the way to looks at zombie survival in a different light than what I’m used to.