Writing the Future, or Why the Zombie Apocalypse is Never in the Past

I think it’s a fantastic thing when thousands of people fill an auditorium to listen to a writer talk. Which is what happened this past Thursday when Margaret Atwood came to speak at the University. The topic of her talk, “Writing the Future,” was “whether or not one can write about ‘the future,’ and why prophecy is dodgy. This will include an in-depth dive into the meaning of the Zombie Apocalypse, which always takes place in ‘the future.’ Unlike vampires.”

I’ve only read two books by Ms. Atwood: The Edible Woman and The Handmaid’s Tale, and the latter only just recently. (Yes, the gaps in my reading are more like yawning chasms, and you’d be appalled by all the other classics I haven’t read.) Oryx and Crake is sitting on my shelf and waiting to be read. What you wouldn’t guess from her novels is that she has a wicked sense of humour, delivered in such a dry, deadpan manner that you’d be forgiven for missing it, but then she dips her head and smiles to herself and lets you in on the joke.

Before her talk, I had pretty much soured on the subject of zombies. (This will no doubt sound like sacrilege to my friends Christine and Alzana, but I’d tell them to fret not, I still want to go see World War Z with them.) Much like bacon, it seems that zombies are everywhere, including the aforementioned upcoming movie release. As a vegetarian, I have no use for bacon, and frankly, zombies are the new bacon in my book.

But, as Ms. Atwood pointed out, they don’t sparkle.

It hadn’t occurred to me before listening to her that zombie apocalypses, quite rightly, always take place in the future. And it’s a fairly grim future, usually. Zombies, she says, are a lot like us, only without hope. Which is why these stories tend to crop up in unsettled times, and if these aren’t unsettled times, I don’t know what are.

I think I’m still missing the appeal of zombies: intrinsically, I don’t find them very interesting. How people cope with them and react to the new reality of a world with them in it? Well, that’s another story. Because a zombie story is never about the zombies, is it? Maybe that’s appeal enough.

As if that weren’t enough literary awesomeness for one weekend, Saturday was also a book launch for Leah Horlick‘s first poetry collection, Riot Lung, including readings from Adrienne Gruber and Megan Backer. There was a capacity crowd for this one too, and it was quite spirited. Unlike the zombie apocalypse.

One thought on “Writing the Future, or Why the Zombie Apocalypse is Never in the Past

  1. Color me jealous. I’d love to hear her talk. I doubt my forthcoming evening tonight listening to Robert Pinsky read his poetry will be quite the same, but it is my first literary outing in awhile, so some is better than none.

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