Thursday, November 19, 2009

Zombies, Swine Flu, and Kindling: What a Difference 6 Months Makes

Wow! I did not realize it was THAT long since I had posted here. I blame the day job, which is often the evening job and weekend job as well. Fortunately that job is going well and I am racking up kudos for my blog posts on marketing. I am also getting quite adept at the social media thing. (Here's a link to a personal post where I rounded up 19 things you should do if you want to promote your company, band, film, book, profile).

A lot of people are somewhat familiar with some of the social media basics, but it is how you employ them all in concert that makes social networking work, from Twitter to Facebook and LinkedIn, to your blog, your pics, your videos, your tr.ims, your stats and your Google Analytics (which reminds me, I need to add these last few to the list, maybe: Hey 19, Part 2, the Remix).

What has this got to do with art? Everything. There may be some artists who seek obscurity (like the Buddhist monks in Shangri-La that were on PBS last night). But most art is intended to be experienced. And that seldom happens without a push from somewhere. Consider Jeremy Dean, the Brooklyn-based artist who created the indie doc Dare Not Walk Alone (that I had the honor of producing). He has been cooking up some cool conceptual art for several years now, but it was connecting with a gallery that gave his private art a push in the public direction. Jeremy will be showing at big art events in December and March and already has some cool art video online.

Speaking of that aspect of pushing art forward which is often referred to as "publication" and/or "distribution," we are seeing the "and/or" converge taking place right now in technology like Amazon's Kindle. You can now read Kindle books on your iPhone and PC as well as on the actual Kindle device.

Which brings me to the book I wanted to review here: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. This is a novel by the first "new" author I have read entirely on the iPhone. The book came out in print a few years ago and sold well. It is currently around #300 on Amazon. But the book is in several top 10 lists on Kindle, which is how I came to see it while using Kindle on my iPhone. I was intrigued enough by the reviews to download the free preview and on reading that I figured I would like the book, so I paid for the full Kindle version.

There were three things that I enjoyed about World War Z. First and foremost I admired the extent to which author, Max Brooks, had thought through all the implications of zombieism (sp?). Then he extrapolated a new reality from a defined set of data: zombies eat flesh, zombies can only be killed by destroying the brain, zombies can survive under water, zombieism spreads through biting and the dead re-animate after infection, and so on. The book explores the logical and logistical end game. By doing so it reveals worrying weaknesses in current technology, science, cultures, and religions. (Hint, this is a global catastrophe of 2012 proportions.)

Second, the narrative structure created by the interview excerpt device was refreshing and very effective. You learn very little about zombies or the war through direct description. You get most of it by inference. And you get a lot of rich characters too, which keeps things fresh. Brooks is skilfull at giving each a unique voice and strong presence, using little more than their recorded words. He also manages some great humor of the dark, battlefield kind.

Third, I found this to be a fascinating book to read against the backdrop of the global H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic. Indeed, I think that may be part of the reason for the book's success, the series of epidemics the world has been seeing, coming from far distant places right into our everyday lives and forcing us to think hard about a lot of things we would rather keep to the back of our minds.

I am not a big fan of horror stories, particularly ones that dabble in the supernatural. The genius of World War Z is that Brooks makes fighting zombies seem very real and anything but a figment of the imagination. Consider this: In talking about the book over dinner one night I found myself saying "If this zombie thing ever happened for real, it would be really bad." Talk about willing suspension of disbelief.