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Kelly Link's Magic For Beginners is reviewed in the New York Times by Michael Knight (yes, really). He seems a bit confused:
Take ''Some Zombie Contingency Plans.'' It's about a recently released convict who drives around the suburbs looking for parties to crash because he's lonely. There are zombies here, but are they real? The premise is fresh and the characters (the con, the girl whose party he crashes, her little brother who sleeps under the bed) are likable and Link puts a metafictional twist on the narrative voice (''This is a story about being lost in the woods,'' she says), but the story doesn't quite come together, and those zombies -- are they supposed to be a metaphor?
Scott Westerfeld explains:
Allow me to explain, Mr. Non-sf-Reading Reviewer Man. Sure, zombies can “be a metaphor.” They can represent the oppressed, as in Land of the Dead, or humanity’s feral nature, as in 28 Days. Or racial politics or fear of contagion or even the consumer unconscious (Night of the Living Dead, Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead). We could play this game all night.

But really, zombies are not “supposed to be metaphors.” They’re supposed to be friggin’ zombies. They follow the Zombie Rules: they rise from death to eat the flesh of the living, they shuffle in slow pursuit (or should, anyway), and most important, they multiply exponentially. They bring civilization down, taking all but the most resourceful, lucky and well-armed among us, whom they save for last. They make us the hunted; all of us.

That’s the stuff zombies are supposed to do. Yes, they make excellent symbols, and metaphors, and have kick-ass mytho-poetic resonance to boot. But their main job is to follow genre conventions, to play with and expand the Zombie Rules, to make us begin to see the world as a place colored by our own zombie contingency plans.
EDIT: A relevant comment at Making Light:
I got into a rather heated argument a few months back with someone who was insisting that Tooth and Claw was good because "it isn't really about dragons." I said that it was too really about dragons, and that it would have been a much worse novel if it had not been really about dragons. "But I mean, really about dragons," said the other person. And I said yes, really about dragons. It didn't matter how many kinds of typographical emphasis she attempted to vocalize: Tooth and Claw is about dragons.

It also does other things, but if every little thing in it was a metaphor for man's inhumanity to radishes or some damn thing, it would suck.
 
 
 
 
 
 
It's a shame that Link's fiction didn't get talked about more on the 'Waiting For The Fantastic' panel because I think her stories are perfect examples of what John Clute was calling 'equipoise' - they could be anything from outright fantasy to mainstream metaphor and there's absolutely no way to tell. Indeed, the joy is in the fact that they are all these things at the same time.

So I'd say that Michael Knight does get it, in a way. And in a way, Scott Westerfield doesn't. Yes, zombies in 'Some Zombie Contingency Plans' are plain old literal zombies. But that's not the only thing they are. They are metaphors too. Not as well as being literal zombies, but in direct contradiction to that reading. The literal and metaphorical readings are incompatible and both present at the same time. Fucking wonderful.

So yeah, I'd say that Knight's confusion constitutes getting it, in some sense. What he hasn't grasped is how to properly appreciate that sense of confusion and uncertainty.
So yeah, I'd say that Knight's confusion constitutes getting it, in some sense. What he hasn't grasped is how to properly appreciate that sense of confusion and uncertainty.

Yep, that's a more accurate way of putting it. But perhaps not as entertaining. ;-)
sense of confusion and uncertainty

Or perhaps the confusion and uncertainty only exists within genre circles. There's a lot to be said for the idea that ambiguous genre tales - those that straddle the mainstream and the generic, and do so by using genre staples in mainstream ways (i.e. as something less or more than literal) - question not mainstream sensibilities, which are quite used to metaphors thankyouverymuch, but genre ones. The genre sensibility is the only one that is used to zombies being Just Zombies, and also the only one that sees the point in that. In this way, Link is exploding genre preconceptions, not mainstream ones.
Untitled by Anonymous :: Expand
They are metaphors too. Not as well as being literal zombies, but in direct contradiction to that reading. The literal and metaphorical readings are incompatible and both present at the same time. Fucking wonderful.

Oh, man. I don't have my mind completely around what this might mean. But I like the way it feels, a lot. Gorgeous. Thank you.

The other thing about the zombies...there aren't any zombies in "Some Zombie Contingency" plans. Not in the shambling brain-eating sense of zombies. There's lots of talk about zombies. There's lots of thinking about zombies. There are people who may be zombies in other senses. But actual rotting undead zombies? Are not in this story anywhere. Even when the zombies are literal here, they're sort of metaphors.
Literary seriousness detected. Paging chance88088 ... Repeat, paging chance88088 ...
eeep! sorry - it snuck in while I was having a nap after being up since 3. stupid jet lag.
28 Days Later has "Rage ZOMBIES ZOMBIES ZOMBIES Victims": 28 Days was about a boozy Sanda Bullock.
So they're both about humanity's feral nature?
So, as an SF reader, you found Austen's Persuasion to be superficial, and complained that you had already worked out the entire story in the first twenty-odd pages, becuase you're used to stories with more depth; but when a "mainstream" reviewer reads a zombie story and wonders if the zombies constitute some kind of metaphor, he's being foolish and missing the point?

Hmm, interesting perspective.

BTW: "Yes, they make excellent symbols, and metaphors, and have kick-ass mytho-poetic resonance to boot. But their main job is... to make us begin to see the world as a place colored by our own zombie contingency plans."

Redundant use of the word "but", I think.
Everyone seems to have missed the part where I ended my Austen post asking people to explain to me how and why I was being wrongheaded. When I write a post claiming that because I can't read it it must be bad, rather than saying that it appears bad because I don't seem to be able to acquire the protocols to read it, then your comparison will be valid. I admitted I don't know the context of the book I was trying to read; Knight doesn't.
Hope you don't mind a stranger butting in, but that is awesome. Thanks for posting that!
Heh, you're welcome. Glad someone else enjoyed it. ;)
Glad someone else enjoyed it

Oh, shush; don't pretend you don't enjoy the attention :-p
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Totally! I think it's very fair and very true to the feel of reading the book (at least, the feel for some readers of reading the book).

Which doesn't mean I don't think the conversation about it has been interesting. I do, I do! Just, I like the review, and I like Westerfeld's thoughts, and I like the conversation, and I like the book.