The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey | Book Review

The Boy on the Bridge (The Hungry Plague, #2)The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much more than a zombie story, M.R. Carey’s The Boy on the Bridge blends science fiction and horror themes into a legit work of character-driven contemporary literature with insightful things to say about the human condition. The characters are complex and the dramatic tension builds throughout.

The Boy on the Bridge is set in the same universe as Carey’s first novel, The Girl With All the Gifts, which I enjoyed very much four years ago but remember few specific plot details. You can read either of these books without spoiling the other.

During the height of the Hungry Plague (aka zombie apocalypse), a small team of soldiers and scientists are dispatched to traverse the withered United Kingdom countryside to collect scientific samples that might help understand the plague and how to defend against it. The team is confined to the safety of Rosie, their oversized land rover, with occasional tension-laden excursions into the open. Discovery of a new kind of hungry presents the core scientific mystery and a Pandora’s box of moral dilemmas. Conflicting ideas about duty and loyalty drive the crew to make complicated decisions that bring the reader toward a devastating but thoroughly satisfying end.

Boy on the Bridge presents a slow start. It took me a few chapters to figure out where we were and what was happening but the action layers nicely to build a claustrophobic sense of dread and inescapability.

Boy on the Bridge is a dystopian novel with a hopeful heart. If you can enjoy reading about the collapse of civilization and the possibilities that might come after, this book will make you very happy. After, of course, it has already broken your heart.

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High School Zombie Story | Flash Fiction

The zombie apocalypse started on a Tuesday morning between fourth period and lunch, which surprised everybody. We had seen all the old movies and believed when the undead armies awakened it would happen late on a weekend evening during some kick ass party.

It happened fast when it happened. A bunch of kids called out sick that morning and more left through first and second periods. By third period more seats were empty than full.

Nobody was feeling right, and everybody was jumpy as hell. The air felt wrong and the whole school stank a little worse than usual.

Fourth period was a joke. Mr. Warner tried to lecture but he kept getting distracted by all the empty chairs. People’s phones had been going off all morning with the heavy traffic of text messages and the teachers had finally given up trying to tell people to put away their phones. Mr. Warner halfway tried to talk about covalent bonds and the mysterious forces of atomic attraction, which usually got him all hot and excited, but today he couldn’t stop checking his own phone every time it made even the slightest noise. Nobody knew why they were checking their phones every few minutes, sending and receiving messages. The text messages were just everybody randomly checking in with their friends, their family to make sure they were okay for no specific reason.

U ok?

Yup. U?



feel like sht. just pked mi guts out in locker. omg.

Everybody was randomly opening, closing and refreshing their web browsers in between texts, summoning explanatory breaking news headlines that would not come.

I guess that we knew without knowing. Some of us. Or suspected.

But nobody was for real sure until Ainslie Marsden staggered into the cafeteria during lunch, all sweaty and slack faced, stabbed Couch Jones in the neck with a butter knife and proceeded to open his skull with her bare hands, pulling his face open from the eye sockets and nostrils and then hungrily devouring his brains.

Ainslie Marsden was one of the hot girls and seeing her pull Coach’s brains out with both hands through his face was a bit too much.

A few kids puked. I pissed myself.

“I thought Ainslie was bulemic,” Jimmy Napolitano said in a shocked whisper, which was an asshole thing to say but Jimmy could be an asshole that way.

“No. She’s vegan,” I explained. I can be an asshole, too.

We stood there, a cafeteria of us, watching Ainslie go to work on her hideous meal.

We all started making our way to the exits.

But then other slack face kids we knew came staggering in the double doors with that low, plaintive guttural growl that meant we were probably going to need to fight to keep our brains inside our heads.

They circled us. It was Sloppy Joe day in the cafeteria so we threw our plates of Sloppy Joe at them for distraction and lifted our cafeteria trays as makeshift shields to press our way through the advancing wall of newly necrotic flesh.

We knew it was for real when we heard a scream behind us and turned to see little Charlie Helton working his teeth into our English teacher, Mrs. Walsh. Mrs. Walsh was one of those well-intentioned teachers who enjoyed ruining something perfectly cool like The Walking Dead by explaining how the recent popular fascination with zombie apocalypse represented a deep, nihilistic dread corroding our culture. She said stuff like, “Nihilism is what’s left when a culture has lost all its beliefs but doesn’t yet have new beliefs sufficient to replace them.”

Heavy stuff. Except when a zombie’s munching on your teacher’s face, nihilism is what’s left during the time while your teacher’s face is getting chewed but you’ve still got your own.

Trays up. Circle around. The zombie apocalypse had begun.

What’s With All the Zombies?

If you spend time in America, you will have noticed all the zombies. Seriously, they are everywhere: in our TV shows, our movies, our literature, even our phone commercials. We are deeply fascinated by the living dead.

I grew up loving horror films but never really liked or understood the zombie subgenre. When I was a kid, zombie films were thin plots stitched together with guts and gore. The perverse frisson came from rather blunt places — children eating their parents’ brains with garden trowels. Not much subtlety or subtext.

Then, as now, I liked my horror dark, cerebral and full of existential dread. There should certainly be blood and guts but there should be darker things still — existential threats, commentary on man’s inexorable slide toward annihilation, the loss of hubris when one finally peers behind the veil and sees the mechanics of reality and realizes that the universe does not need us. We are grist for the mill. I dug Hellraiser, Nightbreed and Barker’s other films way more than any of Romero’s works.

I still find zombies a bit pathetic. And yet, I am fascinated by the resurgence of the subgenre and am deeply enthralled by my favorite story cycle of the moment, The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead isn’t really about zombies. Zombies are a plot device. The story itself is about community, survival instinct and how the choices we make either reinforce or diminish our humanity. Really brilliant stuff told over a story arch that is calculated each week for exquisite tension.

So , as much as I loathe zombies and love The Walking Dead, I am getting really interested in studies about how a particular age’s monster stories reflect the emotional or psychological sense of the times. In other words, the monsters we project in our stories reveal the deeper discomforts of our shared mindset.

During the Cold War, we had alien invasions which bespoke a fear of global conflict. The 70’s gave us slasher films, an expression of new sexual codes and gender roles. The last decade gave us vampires, a fascination with blood and disease. And now, zombies.

What should we make of the current zombie invasion? What does it mean?

I think Chuck Klosterman has it right in his article “Bonus Feature/ Reconsideration: The Real Reason Why Zombies Are Scary” (New York Times Magazine, October 27, 2013, Lifestyle: page 47). The fear of zombies is an expressed fear of monotony, the kind of mindless repetition brought by technology that dehumanizes our daily lives and bruises our souls. Here’s how he puts it:

Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails, or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will never be finished with whatever it is you do. The Internet reminds us of this every day. Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed.

This, I think, is a reality more terrifying that drained corpses and dangling entrails. The very likely prospect that I will never successfully deal with all those emails or read all those tweets or watch all those shows captured on my DVR. This is why zombies are so terrifying. It isn’t because they are the dead and we are the living. It is because we are already both. We are horrified by the prospect of becoming more of what we already are — the undead, the walking dead, corporate customers in a 400 emails-a-day kind of world.