Book Review – Shades of Survival by Robyn Watts

Let’s talk zombies. They’re the perennial bogeymen of the apocalypse, an unstoppable force that devours everything in its path, moaning disease on two legs – provided the legs haven’t rotted off anyway. The first pop-culture zombie invasion started way back in 1919 in a largely-forgotten French silent movie called J’accuse that featured romance and the rising dead of World War I. The big daddy of zombie movies, though, still has to be Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a movie Romero himself said was inspired by Christmas shoppers.

I would argue that zombie can also represent the crushing weight of day-to-day life in the modern world. They’re the constant siren-song of social media and “making it big” and keeping your head above water when most people are quite happy to stand on your shoulders to keep their own heads above water. The burdenous ennui of Godot wrapped in rotting flesh and waiting to gleefully eat your ass. Not in that way, either, ya pervs. The bad way. With teeth and blood and screaming.

In literature, the big name in zombie books has to be Brooks’ World War Z. The comic rendition of The Walking Dead was good, but World War Z was on a whole other level. World War Z had the temerity to reimagine the zombie hordes and giving us a worldwide look at how the whole planet dealt with the dead rising. Now, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: There are some similarities between World War Z and Shades of Survival, but there are important differences, too. In a genre that’s been kicking around for over a hundred years – at least in film and probably in lit, too – there’s going to be some cross-pollination going on. It’s inevitable and understandable. But each new interpretation brings the creator’s voice to the moaning, grumbling hordes of Wal-Mart shoppers at Christmastime.

So, what are the similarities? Well, for starters Shades of Survival has a similar theory of rolling out its massive, world-ending tale in bite-sized chunks rather than following a straight narrative. They’re both large tales told in vignettes. Apocalyptic amuse-bouche. There are major differences, too. Shades keeps the narrative tightly focused on one person rather than the entire planet and is told in a series of letters written by one woman as she watches first the world then her world collapse around her. Like all good stories, it has moments of levity and moments of sheer terror. It also spends a goodly deal of time taking a hard look at the living, uninfected people who still inhabit the world and just how they fall to their animal natures. Almost as if virus mutated and while it tuned the vast majority of people into nigh-unstoppable killing machines, it turned the some of the rest into massive assholes.

There’s a disconnectedness to Shades of Survival as well. As our protagonist is recounting her life post-zombie, she’s looking back through time. This kind of creates a gnawing sense that no matter how things might look in the short term, nothing good will come of this tale. In a way, it’s almost like reading Anne Frank’s diary; you just know there’s no way this will end well. And just like young Anne’s diary, you’ve got an intimate, front-row view of the end of everything.

“Hollywood shows us their idea of survival in an end of the world, apocalyptic scenario. But what would it really be like? How would you actually cope and survive? Shades of survival is a journal-type account of one person’s desperate attempt at surviving the apocalypse. Dealing with the dead walking, the living attacking, periods, and lack of hair dye. They come across different types of people, dealing with different situations and learning that Hollywood can only glamourize what would, and ultimately does, drive the average person crazy.”

Get your copy on Writer’s Republic and Barnes & Noble

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