> Queer Books Please: The zombie series AS THE WORLD DIES doesn't really have queer possibilities

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The zombie series AS THE WORLD DIES doesn't really have queer possibilities

... but I thought it did. And was bummed when that wasn't the case.

The First Days (As the World Dies, #1)Fighting to Survive  (As The World Dies, #2)Siege  (As The World Dies, #3)

Look at those ladies! I was excited about these books. Two women join forces in a post-apocalyptic zombie nightmare, fighting for their lives. That, plus the hint of queerness really sold me on this series.

I read the whole thing. In the end it was an enjoyable read, but not what I was hoping for.

First let’s talk about the plot related merits and demerits in this series. I did like a lot of this book. Frater writes a story that moves quickly, and she packs in a lot of gruesome mayhem into well thought out action scenes. In the second book, the survivors work to clear out a zombie infested hotel in a series of exciting, cinematic scenes that I really enjoyed. And throughout the books, no character is safe from a gruesome demise, something I always appreciate in a book.

But while Frater is often ruthless with her scenarios and her character deaths, she balances it out with inexplicable luxuries bestowed upon them. There are two kinds of conflict in this book: the lovingly thought out Zombie Battles, which are full of interesting situations, terrible turns of even, and heroic problem solving. And the other conflict, meant to bridge the time between battles, and is half hearted, logistically unexciting, and often way too easily taken care of. The human villains are always really deeply terrible people, so there’s rarely any moral question as to who is right and who is wrong during the all important human conflict part of the story. The power never goes out and much needed supplies always seem to be right on hand.

I liked a lot of this book in spite of its flaws. But I also spent a good portion of the book feeling sort of tricked.

You see, I thought this was going to be a queer book. And it’s not. Not really. Maybe the author didn’t know how the book would be marketed, but I felt sort of tricked for wanting there to be a bit of queerness, and then sort of.. dismissed, as a lesbian reader, frankly, by some of the things said in the book.

I’m going to try to explain.

The things that made me think this book would have queer possibilities

  • One of the main characters, Katie, has a wife who dies at the hand of zombies before the beginning of the book. Some of the promotional descriptions of the book mention this.
  • The other main character is a female.
  • Some people tagged it as LBGTQ on Goodreads. I found it on a list titled Lesbians Vs. Zombies
  • A blurb from All Things Urban Fantasy calls the book “Thelma & Louise meets The Walking Dead. We all know that Thelma & Louise is full of lesbianish subtext.
  • The book copy reads at the end: “It looks like the end of the world. But Katie and Jenni and many others will do whatever they have to to stay alive. Run, fight, pick each other up when they stumble, fall in love … anything is possible at the end of the world.”

And I know, you’re saying, there’s no promises there. You’re just seeing things, desperate for a good zombie story that might include some lesbian possibilities. Fair enough. But then I’m reading, and this happens:

Jenni wrapped her arms around Katie and held her tenderly. Her black hair was soft and soothing on Katie’s cold skin, and Katie leaned into her … Jennie tried to kiss her, very awkwardly and tentatively. Katie caught hold of her immediately and held her back. “Don’t.”

“I just want to make you feel—” Jenni mumbled, her face reddening.

“Don’t. I’m not your husband. I don’t need sex to comfort me.”

And so that’s interesting. I don’t mind that it doesn’t happen. I do sort of feel like it’s supposed to imply that there’s a bit of a spark—yes, a spark based on desperation and the end of the world and all that—but that’s still a spark! And interesting! Let them fight zombies, and struggle with that spark, explore it!

But then… Katie says something about just because she likes women doesn’t mean she likes ALL women. Which is fine. But it’s the apocalypse! It’s traumatic! You don’t even know if you’ll ever seen another woman again, and your war buddy is smoking hot and wants to cuddle? You’re going to put your foot down that firmly? … okay

And then… Katie comes out of the closet—as bisexual. Which is okay. But as soon as she does, I get this sinking feeling…

And then… Katie and Jenni arrive at a fort. And she has this reaction to THE FIRST GUY SHE MEETS AROUND HER AGE:

Looking up, Katie smiled as she took in his appearance. He was taller than she was and sturdily built, with curly brown hair and the nicest eyes she’d ever seen. He radiated gentle power and kindness … He seemed oddly familiar to her, and she instantly felt camaraderie with him … One of those quietly strong men who inspired people to great things … We’re going to fight this war together, Katie thought. You and me, Travis. We’re important, and now that we’re both here, things are going to happen. Do you feel it?
And by his gaze, she knew he felt it too.

And that’s it. Halfway through the book, all queer content swept away.  Unless you count getting defensive about your identity as a bisexual as queer content. I just found that kind of insulting, as if the author was trying to scold me for getting my hopes up that a woman who initially identified as a lesbian might engage in a lesbian relationship.

I’m interested to know if anyone else read this book expecting something a little more inclusive of a lesbian point of view, and how you felt about it. And if you’re bisexual—did you like how bisexuality was portrayed in this book?

One more point. When I say I’m interested in queer possibilities and identities, I’m including bisexuality in that. And I don’t think I need the woman to end up with another woman. A good example of a love triangle between two girls and a boy is ADAPTATION by Malinda Lo. That book works for me because I felt like the desire she feels for both genders is given equal weight, while acknowledging the differences. And the label of bisexual is less important than the feelings.

I guess I felt like the As The World Dies did the opposite. It made the label more important than the feelings.

Okay, I hope I didn’t piss off anyone too much with this review. If you’ve read this series, please tell me what you think! And if you are bisexual, can you tell me about any books I should check out that are particularly thoughtful about what it’s like to be bi?


  1. Re: books about queer/bisexual folk or folks figuring out their attractions, I recommend the following:

    How I Paid for College by Marc Acito (male protagonist, but bi dudes are rare in YA fiction. plus it's hilarious and awesome)

    Very Lefreak by Rachel Cohn (pansexual female narrator, best plot)

    Down to the Bone (lesbian narrator who has a flirtationship with a trans masculine person and tries to date a straight dude)

    The Privilege of the Sword (everyone's pretty much bisexual in this book/universe)

  2. These all sound awesome! I've been meaning to read How I Paid for College...

    I LOVED The Privilege of the Sword. Again there was a focus on how adolescent sexuality actually looks and feels (hint: it's complicated!) without worrying too much about labels. Great book.