“And the Next, and the Next” — Genevieve Valentine

Genevieve Valentine’s first novel, Mechanique: a Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, is forthcoming from Prime Books in 2011. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Running with the Pack and in the magazines Strange Horizons, Futurismic, Clarkesworld, Journal of Mythic Arts, Fantasy Magazine, Escape Pod, and more. Her work can also be found in my anthology Federations and in my online magazine Lightspeed. In addition to writing fiction, Valentine is a columnist for Tor.com and Fantasy Magazine.

In Dawn of the Dead, George Romero’s follow-up to his classic, genre-defining Night of the Living Dead, we see hordes of zombies converge upon a shopping mall, bust through the doors, and proceed to shamble aimlessly up and down its halls. We are told that they remember what was important to them in life and are moved to re-enact their routines in death, and so we are moved to reflect that these mindless dead are not so very different from our own consumerist neighbors who also seem to converge on the mall and wander its tacky displays for no better reason than a kind of grim atavistic inertia and lack of conscious thought.

As terrifying as it is to imagine being bitten by a zombie and transformed into a mindless shell of your former self, even more terrifying is the idea of having to pretend to be one of them, to enact a meaningless ritualized existence while fully conscious and never giving away that you are actually wide awake. Many stories have played with this theme, from its humorous treatment in Shaun of the Dead to its more serious treatment in the 2007 film Invasion to its positively grueling treatment in Adam-Troy Castro’s “Dead Like Me,” which appeared in the first The Living Dead anthology.

Maybe you feel like you’re surrounded by mindless drones and that you have to pretend to be something you’re not just to fit in. If so, the scenario presented in our next tale may feel eerily familiar.