When it comes to the zombie genre, there are two quite different types of monsters. These are the true zombies and the infected. True zombies are re-animated corpses and are usually taken to symbolise a fear of death and all the rotting and decaying that it entails. In contrast, the infected are still-living humans who have been turned into zombie-like creatures by a disease or some other agent.
Rather than symbolising a fear of death, I suspect that infected represent a fear of losing our identity. As humans, we are used to being aware of our own existence and of having a sense of self, yet in the modern world, it can be easy to feel like this individuality is being sapped from us. In particular, since the financial crisis started a few years ago, many people in western countries have found that the sense of control they had over their own lives has been gradually eroded. This, in turn, and can lead to the feeling that you are being swallowed up by life and that you are becoming lost within the crowd.
It is this feeling of losing your identity, and indeed any control over your life, which is represented by the infected. They’re not dead, rather they are you with everything that makes you an individual removed. If you become an infected, there’s nothing to differentiate you from anyone else: no personality, no individuality, no self-restraint. Your consciousness and your sense of self is gone, but yet your body carries on without you.
This is, I think, an innate human fear. While our conscious self cannot exist without our bodies, our bodies can exist without our conscious self. It’s as if the bit of us which we value most, our sense of self and who we are, has been bolted on to our physical being, almost as an after thought, and this gives us a certain fragility as we live in fear of the two becoming disconnected.
This is where the infected come in, they represent that innermost fear, one we face every night when our conscious self switches off as we sleep, but our body carries on doing what it has to do without us. And it’s not just a fear of losing ourselves, but losing those we love and care for, not physically, because they’ll still exist, but mentally. There can be nothing worse than being faced with someone you love, of seeing their face, of recognising them, but there being no hint remaining of what makes them them within the body you know so well.
We are, perhaps, able to accept this when it happens as part of the ageing process, but what if this were to happen to someone who was otherwise young and healthy? And not just to one person, but everyone we know. This is an altogether more frightening prospect. To suddenly find yourself in a world where everyone you know is still present, but yet at the same time not there, is surely as terrifying as being faced with the dead coming back to life.
While the infected remain alive, you cannot argue with them, you cannot reason with them, you cannot negotiate, or plead with them, or tug at their heart strings. All you can do is fight them or run, and this is what gives them the upper hand. While we dither, trying to decide what is the right thing to do in any given situation, they simply act. While we would hesitate when faced with an infected which was all that was left of a young child, it would not do the same and it would attack with no remorse. This, therefore, is at the heart of making the still-living infected such a horrifying prospect.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.