Novella Review: SAN DIEGO 2014 – THE LAST STAND OF THE CALIFORNIA BROWNCOATS, by Mira Grant (from RISE: A Newsflesh Collection)
Posted by maddalena@spaceandsorcery
After I finished reading Mira Grant’s last volume in her Newsflesh trilogy about the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, I wanted to know more about the changed world resulting from the rising of the dead, and discovered some of the short stories she wrote to… fill in the corners of her post-apocalyptic world.
When the author announced she was going to publish a book that would gather all this material and a few new stories, I knew I had to read it: Mira Grant (the alter ego of UF writer Seanan McGuire) is an amazing storyteller and I was looking forward to more about this dystopian version of our world, either revisiting the older stories or enjoying the new ones.
This week is the turn of SAN DIEGO 2014: THE LAST STAND OF THE CALIFORNIA BROWNCOATS
This is the most terrifying and at the same time the most poignant of the stories about the Rising, and if anything it was more difficult to bear on re-reading than it was the first time – not because I already knew what was going to happen, but because knowing that, I was able to focus on other details, the ones where human frailty and courage took center stage.
Here Mira Grant imagines what would happen at the start of the zombie apocalypse in a place as crowded as a sci-fi convention (in the specific case, San Diego’s Comic Con), and she aptly terms it “the perfect recipe for chaos”. The title takes inspiration from a very real group of people, the California Browncoats (from the delightful, unfortunate tv show Firefly), a non-profit organization that promotes charity fundraising at Comic-Con. My own sole experience of a sci-fi convention – and a very small one at that – helped me visualize the scenes in this story, and that made it even more harrowing…
In the summer of 2014, when the Kellis-Amberlee virus starts running rampant, killing people and bringing back the dead, all seems normal for the people attending the annual Comic Con convention in San Diego: little do they know that hell will break loose and in a matter of hours the convention center will transform into a slaughterhouse. This story runs on two time tracks, one following the events at the convention as they happen, and one from 30 years in the future, when Mahir Gowda (a welcome return from the Newsflesh trilogy) interviews the only survivor of the carnage. It’s mostly a story of ordinary people forced to face extraordinary events and doing their best to cope with a situation no one would ever have imagined, and there are acts of true heroism standing side by side with the inevitable terror and panic following on the heels of the outbreak.
It’s a very powerful account, one that employs with great success the image of a huge, enclosed space plunged in semi-darkness, where the living and the undead move among the stalls – some of them transformed into makeshift barricades – in a sort of modern transposition of Dante’s Inferno. The story does not only mark the beginning of the end for the world as we know it, but also underlines the loss of the most precious commodity humanity can enjoy: innocence. In Mira Grant’s own words: “We are incapable of imagining a return to a world where we could abandon all care and spend a week living in a fantasy.”
I don’t believe I will be able to ever attend any convention without thinking about this story….