June 2nd, 2008

Waking Greg Nowak

On Friday night, May 30, members of Milwaukee Fandom gathered at Lytheria, the communal house that is the physical center of fanac in Milwaukee, to honor the memory of our departed comrade. It was a good gathering, not overcrowded, but some people who hadn't gotten together in years showed up. I made a bowl of "Blue Stuff" (a.k.a. "Tequila Moonglow") which was the official "blog" of Milwaukee's X-Con convention for many years. Since "Animal" had been the mix-meister of this beverage for the entire time we used it, it seemed an appropriate memorial. Not a lot of it got drunk, but the ritual gesture was made. Henry Osier contributed a bottle of Beam's whiskey, and a "smooth" was also done in Animal's memory. Georgie Schnobrich gave a preliminary showing of her latest portrait of "Mercenary Imp," mourning his lost friend. The caption is, appropriately, merely: "Damn!"

Despite the booze present, it was a fairly sober and low-keyed affair, but there was a lot of comfort given and received as memories were shared. I spoke to some of the people who had made it to the formal funeral and was pleased to hear that it was at least tastefully done, despite how little the family really knew about Greg in life. Georgie and I slipped out about 10PM, being both physically and emotionally wiped out, but the gathering continued well after that.

MilwAPA collation

May MilwAPA collation was held Saturday afternoon at the home of Leah Fisher. Turnout was lower than usual due to some members being held up by work or illness, and tone was a bit subdued. Leah brought out her "Books of Destiny" to be scanned through. The "Books of Destiny" are books that Leah has been taking around to SF conventions and other events for decades, gathering autographs, greetings, bits of artwork, poems, and other remembrances that people might care to inscribe. Over the years, it has become a truly extraordinary collection. The purpose of going through them was to locate Greg Nowak's entries from years past, but in so doing, we also remarked upon the other "absent friends" who had gone before, the famous names, the funny entries, or the notations we ourselves had made and long forgotten.

The June issue of MilwAPA will be the official Greg Nowak Memorial issue. Collation will be held at the residence of Todd Voros Saturday afternoon, June 21, and will include the usual cookout and pool party that we have at Todd's in summer. Past members of the APA have been invited to contribute to the issue.

Book Review: "World War Z, An Oral History Of The Zombie War", by Max Brooks

Sunday night, I finished reading "World War Z, An Oral History Of The Zombie War", by Max Brooks, which is quite remarkable in a number of ways. In acknowlegements, the author credits both Studs Terkel (compiler of "The Good War" and other "oral histories") and General Sir John Hackett, author of "The Third World War: August 1985", which inspired a number of other "historical might-have-been" military history books.

That pretty much tells you what the book is about. It is entirely presented as a work of non-fiction, purporting to tell the story of humankind's struggle against the effects of a "zombie plague" that breaks out in China (and perhaps other places) and quickly spreads world wide. The book tales off from the ideas set out in the satrical "Zombie Survial Guide" by the same author, but is done "dead" seriously, and quite well.

Once you accept the premise of the mysterious zombie disease, everything else is worked out with rigorous logic therefrom. (The origin of the zombie virus and how it actually works in the body, or how zombies actually function, are topics still "under investigation" at the time of writing, according to the book.) Brooks, the author of the Survival Guide which was supposedly helpful during the great outbreak, was allegedly commissioned by the United Nations to author a formal report on the disaster: the personal reminisences he compliled are 'edited out' of the formal report, and he is given leave to edit and publish them as his own book. "World War Z" is the supposed result.

The book is a fascinating study. Imagine reading Terkel's "The Good War" if you had never heard of World War 2 and had no familiarity with the history of it. "World War Z" manages to both sustain the illusion that he is writing for an audience who survived and were profoundly affected by the events described, and to supply enough information for the reader to piece together the sequence of horrific events. Although the tales told in the book are horrible enough, the convention that they are being told often by ordinary citizens and soldiers who are reticent about going into "gory detail" helps keep the gruesomeness level of the book more in line with an early Steven King thriller than the movie gross-out fests that some "zombie" movies have become. (George Romero is specifically acknowleged, along with Terkel and Hackett, though--.)

The progress of the zombie outrbreak, and the probable responses by governments and individuals are in general very well worked out, although there are some improbable bits, such as Japan's spiritual savior being an elderly gardener who had been blinded by the Hiroshima bomb blast. The strategic and tactical difficulties of fighting a zombie horde are convincingly detailed, although I have to say that I think the ultimate solution, at least as described as used by the United States, has some holes. There is no quick or magical solution, which seems realistic, and the fact that goverments would fall is certainly believable, although there's little idea given of how day-to-day society would have changed.

All in all, a very interesting and creative work if you are at all interested in future histories, military what-ifs, or the current popularity of zombies in popular culture. If none of the above, there's no reason to pick it up.