How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea by Mira Grant
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to books; I prefer paper and ink to Kindles. But even I have been forced to admit that there are distinct advantages to using a machine for reading. Amazon has been promoting inexpensive novellas exclusively for the Kindle for a few years now — a story length I’ve always thought ideal and criminally underutilized. These nice long stories make good reading while one is awaiting the next novel in a favorite author’s series. Because the setting and characters are familiar, they require little in the way of explanation before the author can dive into the story. In this case, How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea is a welcome addition to Mira Grant’s NEWFLESH trilogy.
The hook for the story is that Mahir Gowda, the head of the After the End Times blog once the Masons (the main characters of the trilogy) have left the business and the lives of their coworkers and the politics and biology of the zombie apocalypse, is traveling to Australia to see exactly how the residents of that country — and, we are repeatedly reminded, continent — have dealt with the zombies, and particularly with the effect of the Kellis-Amberlee virus (which causes zombification) on kangaroos and wombats. Australia had special problems when the virus arrived there because of the immense amount of space not inhabited by humans; the lack of urbanization made the type of indoor existence that arose in the United States impossible to maintain. More than that, though, the desire of Australians to maintain their relationship with the out-of-doors, and their even more intense desire to preserve the diversity of their wildlife despite its danger, has led to some unique ways of dealing with the public health crisis that changed the world.
Grant shows us from her opening paragraphs how all-encompassing the changes to the world are. Travel is no longer something people do for fun. Airlines now not only require that you keep your seatbelt fastened; the seatbelt will not release until you have taken a blood test indicating that you have not become a zombie during the flight. And any passengers who are too aggressive in dealing with flight attendants are summarily sedated, regardless of the fact that they’re not in the least likely to pose a real danger; Gowda tells us this is a form of “security theater” instead of actual security (something we’ve already seen in the wake of 9/11). But it still takes a good 24 hours to get to Australia from England, and Gowda knows how to deal with security, so he arrives safe and sound.
Once he’s there, though, he notices huge differences between Australia and England almost immediately. For one thing, the home in which he is a guest has enormous windows. They have automated shutters, but the vulnerability of plate glass still seems like a huge risk to take. It’s even more of a surprise to learn that the trip Gowda is taking with his Australian guides to the rabbit-proof fence will take them a good three thousand miles from where they are. The “rabbit-proof fence” is a structure that actually exists in our own world; it is more formally known as the State Barrier Fence of Western Australia, and was built in the first decade of the twentieth century to keep rabbits and other agricultural pests from farmland. In Grant’s world, the fence now also keeps kangaroos and other dangerous animals from encountering humans. It is a true frontier, very dangerous, and indicative in its very existence of how Australians view the world. Other human populations would likely wipe out a dangerous species (and the kangaroos, when the virus in them amplifies and turns them into carnivorous, aggressive beasts that will attack, kill and eat humans, definitely qualify as dangerous); the Australians want simply to keep them isolated until a better way to deal with or wipe out the virus is found, and the animals can be reintegrated into the whole of Australia.
Grant gets a bit preachy, criticizing the American way of dealing with biological and security problems (cage it or kill it, no matter whether “it” is a dangerous human or a harmful animal, basically) by showing how another population chooses to deal with even worse problems. I can’t say whether her portrayal of Australians as more inventive and more ecologically conscious is accurate, but I can say that her tale made me wonder. Still, despite the lecturing, there’s an exciting adventure here. The novella isn’t as entertaining as her NEWSFLESH trilogy, but it’s a fine way to occupy one’s time.
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