Friday, October 31, 2014

Great Bitten: Outbreak review

    28 Days Later is one of the two movies which tell the definitive British zombie apocalypse story. The other is Shaun of the Dead. The first gets referenced a couple of times in Great Bitten but, oddly, not the latter. I don't think Great Bitten is going to get many accolades as either film but it does manage to capture an essential British zeitgeist. Which is, of course, "What would it be like in the United Kingdom during the zombie apocalypse?"

    The lens through which this apocalypse is viewed is Warren Fielding. Warren is sort of an ur-British hero as twenty and thirty-something Brits see themselves (or forty-and-fifty-somethings looking back). Just the way brown-haired hard men making hard choices represent the way American males like to see themselves, Warren is an anti-establishment working-class background kind of guy who is angry at the world but good-humored about his distaste for everything.

    He's quintessentially British. At least to anyone born during the 1980s to early 90s.

    I know this, oddly, because every single one of my England-born players made the same basic character for our online Tabletop games. Just about every one could be described the same way, too. Warren reminded me a lot of these old friends so I'm inclined to be kind to this book, fair warning. Much of the book is about how the author sees the United Kingdom fairing during the zombie apocalypse. Some of the differences are stark and give a different sort of spin on the event than American fiction's usual, "everything falls to crap at once."

    Utilities last a long time in Great Bitten, as does things like the internet. Survivors are Twittering and Youtubing the apocalypse well after you'd think they'd be boarding up their homes. Guns exist but they're rare and something the protagonists wish they had more of. The government rabbits to the United States, doing their best to make it appear things are normal while planning for the worst.

    There isn't much of a plot for the first two-thirds of the book. It's just Warren trying to get himself, his sister, brother-in-law, and their child to safety. Warren's flawed character is studied by the author as a part of him wants to make this his hour. Warren doesn't know anything more about the zombie apocalypse than anyone else but tries to become the leader anyway. Some of his suggestions, like not drinking (still functioning) tap water, are ridiculous but show what sort of person he is. Warren wants to be useful and Z-Day is his chance.

    Or is it?

    The plot which exists at the end of the book and sets up the sequel is my least favorite part of Outbreak. It resurrects the tired old trope of, "a bunch of men start enslaving women when the apocalypse happens." The fact it was used in 28 Days Later even gets lampshaded in the text. Given I want this trope to die in a fire, I'm unhappy about its inclusion.

    Thankfully, this overused plot doesn't take up much of the book and I hope it doesn't play a big role in the sequel. I was a big fan of the characters in this book and would like to see Lana, in particular, return. Lana is a well-designed lesbian character who's self-confidence plays off against Warren's insecure masculinity. They're very entertaining together and would have been a good couple if not for their incompatible orientations. The two were developing a fast friendship in the book and I hope neither dies anytime soon.

    I'll probably read future volumes in the series but I wish the book had ended on a more definitive note. Outbreak is entertaining, well-structured, and has a different feel from most zombie-apocalypse stories. It's not perfect but, then again, what is?


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