Tag Archives: Zombies

What It Means to be Human: A Review of Let’s Play White

A few months ago, Apex Publications invited me to be part of their Back Catalogue Blog Tour. I chose to write a book review for Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White as my contribution to it. Other participants will be sharing author interviews and guest posts throughout this month, so click the link above to check them out.

Title: Let’s Play White

Author: Chesya Burke

Publisher: Apex Publications

Publication Date: 2011

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 200 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Apex Publications.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

White brings with it dreams of respect, of wealth, of simply being treated as a human being. It’s the one thing Walter will never be. But what if he could play white, the way so many others seem to do? Would it bring him privilege or simply deny the pain? The title story in this collection asks those questions, and then moves on to challenge notions of race, privilege, personal choice, and even life and death with equal vigor.

From the spectrum spanning despair and hope in “What She Saw When They Flew Away” to the stark weave of personal struggles in “Chocolate Park,” Let’s Play White speaks with the voices of the overlooked and unheard. “I Make People Do Bad Things” shines a metaphysical light on Harlem’s most notorious historical madame, and then, with a deft twist into melancholic humor, “Cue: Change” brings a zombie-esque apocalypse, possibly for the betterment of all mankind.

Gritty and sublime, the stories of Let’s Play White feature real people facing the worlds they’re given, bringing out the best and the worst of what it means to be human. If you’re ready to slip into someone else’s skin for a while, then it’s time to come play white.

Review:

Content Warning: racism, pregnancy, childbirth, deaths (including the death of a child), rape, domestic violence, and miscarriage. This will otherwise be a spoiler-free post, and I will not be going into detail about any of these topics in my review.

As much as I’d love to write a full-length review of all eleven stories in this anthology, doing so would have inflated this post to five or six thousand words at minimum because each one was set in its own unique universe. What I decided to do instead was to pick a few of the stories I enjoyed the most and talk about why I liked them so much. If any of these mini-reviews catches you attention, I highly recommend reading the whole anthology! It was well done and pretty interesting to read.

Purse

In “Purse,” a woman named Manyara battled anxious thoughts about the other passengers on the bus she was travelling on, especially when it came to a black man who was sitting near her. She was carrying thousands of dollars in her purse and worried she’d be robbed. This tale was filled with creative plot twists, so I’ll need to be mindful of what else I say about it.

What impressed me the most was how much effort I had to put in as a reader to figure out what was really happening on this bus ride. There was so much more going on with Manyara than she originally shared with the audience. This is something I’d recommend reading with as few assumptions about what is happening as your brain can handle.

What She Saw When They Flew Away

Grief doesn’t always end on a set schedule. Pearl, the main character of “What She Saw When They Flew Away,” had suffered a terrible loss before this tale began. Not only did she struggle to come to terms with it, she had even more trouble helping her daughter, Nayja, adapt to their new life together. Their sometimes-conflicting reactions to the same tragedy made me wonder what would happen by the final scene.

While I can’t say much else about their lives without giving away spoilers, I loved the metaphors Pearl used to explain how she was feeling even though I do wish she’d been given more time to show how they affected her life instead of simply telling the audience they were bringing up bittersweet memories.

Cue: Change

As the blurb mentioned, “Cue: Change” was set in a zombiepocalypse. These weren’t typical zombies, though, and their unpredictable effect on society was something I couldn’t have predicted ahead of time. I was fascinated by this twist on this monster. It was completely different from any other take on them I’ve read before, and it made me wish for more stories like this.

The humans also didn’t behave the way I’d normally expect them to in this sub-genre. Not only did they make calm, rational decisions, they stuck to their regular routines as much as they possibly could. This isn’t a common reaction to zombies, and it made me wish this was a full-length novel so I could get to know the characters even better than I did.

What to Read If You Liked The Walking Dead

Since the first post in this series was about a book published almost forty years ago, I thought the second post should feature something more contemporary from the speculative fiction genre.

I try not to make assumptions about what my followers already know about any book or graphic novel I blog about, so I’ll summarize The Walking Dead in one spoiler-free sentence for anyone who isn’t familiar with it:

After waking up from a coma, a police officer must find his missing family and adjust to a world that has somehow become overrun with zombies while he was unconscious. 

Obviously, there’s a lot more going on this world, but that sentence will give you the gist of it.

As a fair warning, the graphic novels as well as the TV show based on them are both incredibly violent. I actually had to stop reading and watching both of them a while ago due to this, although I’m still intrigued by the characters Robert Kirkman first created in 2003 and the assumptions he made about what life would be like in this sort of world.

If zombies and post-apocalyptic worlds are things you enjoy reading about, here are some other books that might be equally appealing.

Some of these titles have popped up in many similar lists online, but I’ve come up with a few classic novels I thought would work as well because of how many themes they share with this series.

Humans have dealt with plagues for millennia. For most of that time, we didn’t know why someone would seem to be perfectly healthy one day only to become dangerously ill the next.  You might be surprised to see how many similarities there are between an outbreak of cholera or rabies and a zombie infestation.

What happens when a society breaks down is another string connecting all of these recommendations. While I tend to have a much more optimistic view of how the average person would behave in that situation, not every writer agrees with that. It’s always interesting to see more pessimistic takes on the topic.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Imagine trying to stay alive in a world where nothing grew anymore. Now picture doing it while raising a child by yourself.

The relationship between the main character and his son reminded me a lot of how Rick Grimes interacted with his son in The Walking Dead. Both of these parents had been pushed to their limits by worlds they couldn’t possibly have predicted or prevented. Their love for their children was what kept them going in impossible situations.

Fair warning: this is a pretty violent story. Be sure to read some full reviews of it before checking it out if you’re sensitive to or triggered by acts of violence.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

In this tale, a group of schoolboys were stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. They needed to figure out how to survive there without any adult supervision for a long period of time.

This was one of the first classics I thought about after I discovered the zombie genre. True, there weren’t any monsters on the island, but the unstable, dangerous community these kids developed reminded me a lot of how many living characters behave in typical zombie movies.

If only William Golding were still alive. I’d sure like to see what he thought of the similarities between this book and today’s horror movies.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Zombies attacked. Humans fought back. Eventually, society stabilized enough for researchers to begin collecting stories from the survivors of this apocalypse.

I liked this more hopeful approach to how people might respond to a zombie invasion. People banded together in many of the anecdotes the narrator collected, and not all of them were the folks you might necessarily expect to make alliances with one another. Some characters also survived circumstances that seemed like they should never have worked out okay in the end. It wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Oh, and do not watch the film based on this book. The only things it shared in common with the original version were the title and the fact that zombies exist in both universes.

Yes, I might still be a little vexed about that.

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy

If you think about it, rabies shares many similarities with whatever virus, bacteria, plot hole, or magical disease that creates zombies depending on which universe we’re talking about.

This disease is spread through bites and scratches.

Once symptoms appear, death is certain.

People and animals unlucky enough to be infected with it become agitated and unpredictable.

Sometimes I wonder if rabies was one of those real-life diseases that encourages creative minds to come up with fictional versions of it. They certainly have enough in common for me to think this is a likely explanation for at least some of the zombie folklore out there.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaugh

This is one of those graphic novels that I keep waiting for Hollywood to discover and turn into a TV series. It was a post-apocalyptic story what happened to the world after a virus killed off all but one man on Earth while leaving everyone who had two X chromosomes unaffected.

It was much less violent than The Walking Dead has been so far, but humanity still had to figure out how it was going to survive in the longterm. Since even frozen sperm and male embryos died out in this plague, humanity would only continue to exist for at most another century if the characters couldn’t figure out a way to create the next generation without the help of the Y chromosome.

Most of the storyline dealt with the main character’s quest to travel to the other side of the globe and find his estranged girlfriend. That journey was far from an easy one, but it did introduce the audience to all sorts of interesting characters along the way.

The Plague by Albert Camus

This tale was written at a time when epidemics happened more often than they do in most countries today. I’ve read that Camus was influenced by the Cholera outbreaks that happened both in the setting of this novella as well as closer to home. While the storyline doesn’t mention this disease by name, it does give clues that this might be what was killing off the characters so quickly.

If you’re not familiar with Cholera, know that it’s a bacteria that causes such severe, persistent diarrhea that people die of dehydration. In short, it is an awful way to die, and the plot did go into detail about what happens to the human body after being exposed to this illness. (So maybe don’t read this while eating lunch….)

Like fictional zombie diseases, Cholera didn’t have a cure and was poorly understood. I’m not surprised Camus was inspired to write about it. It struck communities without warning and spread like wildfire through fecally contaminated water and food. Seeing how the main character reacted to an illness that no one could stop reminded me so much of Rick Grimes’ reaction to the many deaths he saw while trying to survive in a zombiepocalypse.

What other books should be added to this list? Have you read any of these titles?

Previous posts in this series:

What to Read If You Liked Clan of the Cave Bear