Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Girl with All the Gifts

I had two New Year's Resolutions this year, and despite recent musings about resetting and body weight, they didn't have much to do with restriction or loss.  Instead, I was focused on increasing this year.  In one way, by forcing myself to try new things (Resolution #1: Try 1 new recipe a week).  And secondly, by doing my best to avoid atrophy (Resolution #2: Read 20 novels by the end of the year).  Neither of these are particularly hard, but that wasn't my aim.  Rather, what they are, in their simplicity, is a reminder to try new things, to be adventurous and to learn.  And all of this is just to say, I just finished reading a really good book.  Or rather, listened to one (I love a good book on tape).  And you totally should too.

The Girl with All the Gifts
The Girl with All the Gifts is a post-apocalyptic novel (I mean, what isn't, nowadays?) set in England a few decades after zombies (again, are we really surprised?) are the downfall for the majority of human civilization.  The survives try to find the cure.  You think it's your run of the mill zombie apocalypse story, but it isn't.

When Ben and I were honeymooning in Hawaii, we headed out one morning and drove to the other side of the island to see the Volcano National Park.  With a few hours of driving ahead of us, we compromised on World War Z as the book on tape we would listen to (Ben likes historical non-fiction, I like fiction with a good story.  A zombie book told in the style of a documentary seemed like a good compromise).  We stayed past dark at the volcano (to see it emit beautiful red light at night) and drove home afterwards.  Here's the thing about the interstate of Hawaii: there are many, many long stretches with NO LIGHTS.  And no population.  So, besides the light from a million beautiful stars, it is PITCH BLACK.  We were usually the only car on the road.  And with World War Z playing on the car stereo, with it's haunting "dboom dboom" between each chapter and haunting depictions of zombie attacks, we were past the point of logically scared.  Every creak or unexpected bump in the road gave us both pounding hearts and nervous jitters.  We were scared more than we would ever admit to each other.  We had to turn off the book, and even then were on edge.  World War Z is a scary zombie book.  I won't even see the movie now.

The Girl with All the Gifts is not that kind of zombie novel.

Your normal zombie assumptions apply: they want to eat humans, you become a zombie if you are bitten by one, etc.  What ends up being different is that there are 2 classes of zombies: (1) Your typical, brainless, non-human brain muncher and (2) the a-typical zombie: they can think and speak, feel happy and feel fear, but even just a whiff of human pheromones will send them spiraling into a type (1) zombie feeding rage.

And... and... that's all I can really tell you without ruining the book.  Which I really don't want to do, because it is such a good book.   I downloaded it on Thursday.  I finished it today.  It accompanied me pretty much non-stop during Saturday and Sunday (it's a long book...)  I was hooked.  And one of the reasons I was is that the book is a true work of science fiction.  In other words, there is real science in the book (what makes the zombies isn't a passable virus.  It's a fungus.  A real fungus, that exists today.  In ants: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.  And it mutates to infect humans.  And that seems almost real, which I suppose is a whole different kind of scary).  But you don't need a degree in organic biochemistry to understand when they speak about the science.  You understand how things happened, and it makes sense.  Although it does uses phrases like "Brownian cascades", which makes my little chemical engineering heart smile with happiness.  But that is the extent of nerdiness, and you will still understand everything, even if you don't understand Brownian motion.

Plus, the post-apocalyptic world the author has imagined seems genuine.  Events make sense and you have an intuit understanding that it is likely what the world would be like, should 98% of the world's population become zombies (unlike, say, the strangely safe and navigable world of Station Eleven, which managed to have a traveling Shakespeare company just a few years after their world fell apart).  There aren't very many stretches.  People have motives and emotions, they love and fear, and you understand why the whole time.

And then, many hours later, the ending comes.  And it smacks you that there was no other way for the book to end.  It had been leading up to that moment the entire time, even if you didn't realize it until the very last chapter.  And you don't know whether to cheer, or be sad, or just nod in understanding and... and... I've probably said to much already, so I will stop.  In summary: read The Girl with All the Gifts.  And then please, please come back here and tell me how you feel.  Because I'll probably still be unsure.

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