There’s a lot of theory about what various monsters represent about our collective fears. Obviously we have Frankenstein’s monster as a representation of science without morality or consideration for the outcome of their tinkering. Godzilla was the modern version of that with a nuclear twist. Vampires are black mirrors of seduction; Wolfmen are cautions against reverting to our primal nature. And, of course, zombies. Zombies are so ripe for metaphorical interpretation, from concerns about consumerism (hey there Romero) to a concern that others aren’t who you suspect (Body Snatchers is kind of a zombie movie), to societal breakdown (Nice to see you, World War Z). But ultimately the fear with zombies boils down to: you are not in control anymore.
Cold Storage might just be the scariest zombie story I’ve ever read, and it’s not really exactly about zombies. Written by the screenwriter for Jurassic Park (among other things), we start in the 80s with the evolution of the story’s real main character – the fungus cordyceps novus – which through bumbling human intervention mutates from basic cordyceps (aka the not fictional fungus that takes over ant brains and controls their bodies to better spread their spores) to a version on steroids that can take over human brains and propagates incredibly quickly.
The discovery is made by Roberto Diaz and his partner, and the book picks up in the present, where an older Diaz’s worst fear has come to pass – the global rise in temperature means that the quarantined frozen sample of cordyceps novus is in danger of escaping and extinguishing humanity. He and the two employees of the storage unit that have taken over the containment facility are all that stands between cordyceps novus and its new favorite hosts, and one of them is… not so bright.
This is definitely of a kind with Jurassic Park, with humanity not paying nature its proper respect – the global warming undercurrent is present but not sanctimonious. Diaz had been the Cassandra of this outbreak, warning anyone who would listen that temperature increase could lead to catastrophe, but he wasn’t even informed of the death of his superior who could have legitimized his concerns.
My review makes the book sound somber, but it’s surprisingly funny, well written, and so very enjoyable to read. But damn if the first-person infected perspective isn’t terrifying. Cordyceps is never written as anthropomorphic, just intelligent (or at least directed) natural selection on fast forward, so its direction of its hosts always reads as that uncanny valley level uncomfortable. It’s too like the small voice in your head that makes you wonder “hm, what if I just drove off that cliff” while knowing you’d never do it, except cordyceps has control of the steering wheel.
Read it – you’ll finish it in one sitting.