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.EDIT: A relevant comment at Making Light:
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.
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.