SPOILER ALERT: THE BOAT SINKS.
I was talking to a friend about these monster history things. It seems there are two broad classes of them, the classic mash-up (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies et al.) and the secret monster history, like Deck Z: The Titanic: Unsinkable. Undead. It wasn’t the issues of state’s rights as a stalking horse for slavery, it was vampires that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was fighting. I’ve pretty well sworn off the former, because if I love the book enough to read it again with some hastily graphed monster fight scenes, then I love it enough to get all huffy and snobby about liberties taken with tone, character and interpretation. (Don’t even get me started about the shit show that is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls; ugh.) And if I haven’t read the classic in question, there’s no way I’m going to screw up my (possible, eventual) read of it due to some monster b.s. But secret histories? Even dopey, pulpy ones? Sure, why not.
On the face of it, the Titanic disaster should marry well with the concept of zombies. There’s an Onion headline from Our Dumb Century that reads: World’s Largest Metaphor Hits Ice-Berg.
The Titanic disaster and its aftermath seem almost ridiculously fraught with issues of class warfare and technological hubris, a big floating microcosm which tore open and showed the ugly realities of class divisions. When you sort the dead by class, you see precisely how lethal it is to be poor. (See also, Hurricane Katrina, but in a much messier form, and adding in the always fun factor of race in America.) There’s all these great characters and tidbits from the sinking too – J. Bruce Ismay getting absolutely walloped by Congress in the weeks to come, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, the musicians playing their last concert on the deck, Guggenheim and other industrialists choosing the heroic but kinda silly-looking end in their smoking jackets, Capt. Smith going down with the ship, etc. etc.
Zombies are often about class and colonization as well. Or at least, the Modern Granddaddy of Zombies, George Romero, has gone that way a good deal, especially in latter day stuff like “Land of the Dead”. There’s always more have-nots than haves, and they are hungry. They will storm your moated enclave once they realize you are in it. Their appetites may be unnatural, but, hey, that’s consumerist culture for you. Add in the fact that ships are cramped floating disease-breeders, and you have a built in reason why the zombie outbreak was contained – they’re all that the bottom of the sea – Titanic and Zombies seems like a really good idea.
…which is all stuff I thought when I checked this out of the library last week, and is a good example of me letting my usual over-thinking set up unrealistic expectations for the pulp crap I read. Jesus H. Christ, Ceridwen, you are reading a book about zombies on the motherfucking Titanic. Chill the fuck out with your socio-metaphorical jibber-jabber. God. Suffice it to say, all the garbage I went on about about the metaphorics of zombies and the sinking of the Titanic was either non-existent or so lightly touched as to be just an artifact of the memeplexes of those things, and not, like, deliberate. Which is totally fine, and I’m not going to throw a big tantrum about not getting the things I unreasonably want.
A somewhat mad scientist type, a one Dr Weiss is sent to Manchuria to deal with an outbreak of plague that has a new alarming strain. In an ethically problematic move, he collects the Toxin from the brain of an infected shaman woman, at which point he figures out that the German (?) government wants to use that Toxin as bioweapon against the Russians (?). I don’t really know, and I admit my history is spotty. There’s a big chase involving an Agent who is maybe a Russian Jew working for the Germans or something – seriously, I just wasn’t paying that close of attention. He ends up on the Titanic running to America to set up a new mad science lair and find a cure for the plague. The Agent steals the Toxin, and then predictable zombification of the lower decks ensues. There is also a gender-switching moppet who is best not spoken of. Moppets, man, I hates them.
At which point the story becomes somewhat first person shooter, with Weiss, moppet, Capt Smith, and various redshirts leveling up through the decks of the ship. The secret history is a little stupid, in that it’s like, oh, but Ismay was still a skin-saving knob, but now it’s because of zombies and not just the regular imminent death he faced. Smith was giving confusing orders because he’d just battled his way through Deck Z for 24 hours, and was more concerned with keeping the zeds off the life-rafts than whatever other reasons he was being confusing. The zombie fighting stuff was passable, but not particularly interesting. At one point there’s a huge fan they have to stop and then crawl through, restarting it so that the zombies would all get chopped up, which seems like a great idea, but reads real flat. Plus, I just started laughing remembering the bit from Galaxy Quest about the stupid spinning fan that was in every episode.
My ears perked up when Weiss started droning on about plague, which I eventually figured out he meant Black Plague, and I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with the Black Death. It ended up being one of those things that was annoying to me because I know too much about it, which I think is generally the death of this kind of fun. But, the incubation period! But, the survival rates! But, Jesus Christ, you are still reading a book about zombies on the Titanic; cut that out. My knowledge of the Titanic disaster is completely pop cultural, but I imagine to the knowledgeable, this would be annoying as hell. Like, I seriously googled if Captain Smith was ever in Afghanistan where he learned to be a swordmaster, and I’m thinking not. Shrug. I don’t care, but others may.
Oh, and one zombie nit-pick. For whatever reason – and I have my pet theories, believe me – zombies are almost never called zombies in zombie fiction. Walkers, biters, skels, zed-heads, Zack, the infected, ragers, phone-crazies, etc. Given that the term zombie, referring to the contagious undead and NOT a semi-golem in the thrall of a sorcerer, pretty much originates with Romero in 1969, everyone jumping to call these plague victims zombies is a little bullshit. I feel like vampyr would be a more historical appropriate term, because in the early part of the 20th century, vamps were still the yucky contagious undead and not romance heroes yet. And because Weiss is (probably) German. The zombie was still an individual monster.
Motherfucking TITANIC with ZOMBIES, Ceridwen. Shut your face.