Bingo Square: Pandemic
Bingo 1: 4th column
While I enjoy the occasional zombie story, it definitely isn’t my go to sub-genre – I haven’t seen a single episode of The Walking Dead, for example. And yet, World War Z is a novel I still bring up quite frequently (and should absolutely re-read), and may have even unknowingly become one of my favorite books – top 20 for sure! I just love the complex analysis behind the novel, how Brooks used history to predict various countries’ responses to a global threat that was also a communicable disease. As a result, there was no question that I would pick up Max Brooks’ new novel, Devolution, even though the last Bigfoot or Sasquatch related media I have consumed was probably Harry and the Hendersons (not including any monsters of the week stories on Supernatural or Buffy).
Once again, Brooks wrote an incredible novel that takes something supernatural and grounds it with so much commentary on the current state; he considers different character backgrounds and motivations and how that would lead to different responses to a natural disaster and an external threat. As a logistician, I enjoyed his views on how reliant we are on immediate resupply given that the recent approach is to keep fewer and fewer items in inventory, instead relying on frequent shipments – especially with today’s pandemic, some of the immediate effects in the novel felt very reminiscent of the initial run on grocery stores and their ability to keep certain supplies stocked. I’m sure when he wrote this novel, these were thoughts and concerns Brooks had – to see some of them start to play out an extremely minor level before publication must have been interesting.
By the time the novel starts, the events of the novel itself have already long passed – so many of the major external events aren’t surprises and instead allow the reader to focus even more on how people respond as it is happening to them. The following basics are quickly revealed in the introduction – Mount Rainier had a volcanic eruption, cutting off parts of the wilderness surrounding it, killing many and otherwise keeping rescue and first responders busy. One of the communities that was cut off was Greenloop, a small, isolated, high-tech, eco-community with six homes. Unlike other people living in wilderness, these weren’t outdoors people who had the skill set to live off the land temporarily – Greenloop was run by a tech giant, and was more for very rich people that wanted to be in touch with nature and leave a green foot print. These are not people that actually know how to grow their own food or do their own maintenance (I am right there with them). However, when first responders make it to the site, they don’t discover people that have died of starvation or exposure – they discover a massacre site and lots of unsolved questions.
The rest of the novel is Katie’s diary, one of the women that was on the site. She chronicles her and her husband’s arrival through the eruption, the immediate aftermath as everyone slowly realizes how cut off they are, and the rest of the fate of the community. Interspersed throughout are articles and interviews to provide a broader context to the characters’ background, what was going on in the surrounding area after the eruption and Sasquatch lore.
Overall, this was a very good novel. I don’t think it will have quite the same staying power for me that World War Z had simply due to the topic. While the initial messages could easily be applied more widely, and make us wonder about our dependencies on technology, uninterrupted supply chain and how vulnerable we are to unexpected natural disasters, the rest of the story is much more intimate and specific. The threat of an undiscovered species is easy to avoid for a city dwelling person such as myself, unlike a deadly, global virus, which is really all a zombie story is.