Late last night I descended into a sort of fugue state while reading Mark Kidwell's '68. I plowed through Volume 1: Better Run Through the Jungle (easily the strongest), Volume 2: Scars (most haunting/disturbing so far), and Volume 3: Jungle Jim (interesting narrative conceit that doesn't always work). All of this in one sitting and while I'm at pains to stress this is not high literature- nor was it ever intended to be- the hybrid vignette quality of the narrative, appreciably Grindhouse flair applied to historical iconography, and the strange sensation of reading a book about the world ending in 1968 kept me glued.
One particular notion I've harbored about science fiction is that it is always so much interesting when the world depicted resembles a kind of alternate present or near future rather than some far flung reality. There are always exceptions to any rule, of course, but something like Star Wars or Star Trek could never hold a candle to Alien or 2001: A Space Odyssey for me perhaps because the later two feel more tangible and real, there is a textured quality to them, an echo of our current world.
Star Trek's optimistic vision of the future is about as divorced from reality as Captain America's vision of World War II.
But what is it about this notion of an alternate apocalyptic past, one where fiction reaches back in time to derail the arc of history into oblivion? Does it comfort the present to read about how close we've come to the ledge in the past? Perhaps, but this does nothing to explain the pleasure of reading about zombies in Vietnam.
As a culture we seem perpetually haunted by the past, whether it's from the perspective of rewriting or defending a version of it to making movies about history that have little basis in reality. How many people have been hurt, injured, or killed in disputes over statues in the last few years? History, reanimated, shuffles its way through our oped pages and through the electoral discourse, narratives biting and infecting from one person to the next..
Which brings me back to Mark Kidwell's '68 and the excellent commingling of the horrors of Vietnam with zombie horror. That its genre elements sometimes bend towards the nightmarish or surreal only underlines the strength of this conceit. The book exists as a far richer and more interesting source material than something like The Walking Dead and the subject matter precludes itself from ever becoming the audience friendly soap opera that book spawned. '68's gleeful prioritization of aesthetics over narrative could only make for a rewarding, albeit hyper violent adaption (no thanks, World War Z) that would rake box office or streaming receipts.
Reader, can you feel me itching to script this?