I’m finally getting around to reading one of the books I got in last year’s book exchange! (And a book I am currently lending to a coworker!) I like it, but it’s not quite what I was expecting. It kind of reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s short story “The Ugly Little Boy.” In that story, scientists have pulled a Neanderthal child from the past to study it, almost like they are studying the children in The Girl With All the Gifts.
Basically, the world has gone to shit. Not surprisingly. Humanity has been infected with a fungus that basically creates zombies, or “hungries.” Once infected, the victim tries to either eat or infect others through their bite. Most victims become mindless, but certain children appear to have some resistance and can keep their higher brain function. (Fun fact – the fungus is real – it infects ants in the rainforest.)
We bounce between a few different perspectives here. We have Melanie, or test subject number one, a child who is surprisingly high functioning considering her ‘condition.’ Ms. Helena Justineau, one of the teachers and a psychologist, and the only one who is firmly in Melanie’s corner. We have Dr. Caroline Caldwell, a scientist, Sergeant Parks, the leader and field commander, and Private Kieran Gallagher, one of the soldiers under Sergeant Parks’ command.
This isn’t a story about the zombie apocalypse. It’s already happened, and this is just following a few humans as they try to get somewhere safe to survive.
They made it into a movie, which was surprisingly good. They did change some things. The first that stands out is the changing of some of the characters’ races. Melanie is supposed to be super pale and Ms. Justineau is supposed to be black, but they switched them in the movie. One thing I did like better in the movie is the explanation of where Melanie came from. It made more sense to me than what I read. The overall feel is the same, though, maybe even more unsettling because it’s visual. And somehow the ending seems more depressing.
One thing that still doesn’t make sense to me is the goal of the fungus. I know, I know, it’s a fungus, so it probably doesn’t have a goal other than to reproduce. But the fungus relies on humans as an energy source and as a part of its reproduction cycle. Once it infects every human on the planet, then what? It has no more food, unless it jumps species again. And we have the Melanies of the world, but we can’t really get any more. I mean, we could possibly get one more batch, but that would be it. Then what? Would the fungus adapt rapidly enough to the new state of things? That’s always the problem with world domination, I suppose.