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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Year the Zombies Invaded the Con

A long time ago in an itty-bitty town far, far away… there lived a bookish little girl, who’d been saddled by her peers with a (to her way of thinking) less-than-ideal nickname. No cutesy monikers flattering personality, energy, or looks for her; instead, what she got stuck with alluded to her undeniable geekiness (as though the oversized glasses and ever-present stack of books didn’t already make things clear enough).

Times have changed a lot since then, though (and hoo-boy, thank the Quantum field for that). Now, it’s actually cool to let your geek flag fly… to show off your knowledge of anything and everything, to sport nerdy (though rarely huge, thank you, fashion gods) spectacles, mismatched patterns, and thrift shop finds, and to revel in pursuits requiring brainpower instead of brawn.

Oh, and, to convene in unbelievably-ginormous numbers at yearly mega-conventions—aka “cons”—to celebrate things now part of pop culture which used to be seen as geeky or weird, from comic books and anime to sci-fi, fantasy, and horror (and quirky mashups of all the above). 

In other words, the geeks have inherited the earth; we’ve won.

Until something which trumps geek-chic comes along and spoils everything, that is…as just so happens in Mira Grant’s San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats
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Among other things, summer is the peak of “con season” (as those in the know refer to the time of year when at least one con can be found somewhere pretty much every single week/weekend), and July 2014 boasted the grand poobah of them all: San Diego Comic Con, which drew an estimated 130,000 attendees from around the world. 

It was the first night of the con—“Preview Night”—when those with special passes could get into the seller halls the evening before anyone else could (all the better to score some incredible deals, especially of the limited-edition or one-of-a-kind variety). The vendors had been rushing about unloading and setting up their booths all day, but the time was finally nigh; the halls were officially open for business, and an excitable crowd was pouring through the various doors, after flashing their shiny new badges at the guards.

If only it had just been the regular motley assortment of fans more-or-less politely pushing their way into the halls… but this year, something new was coming to the party. Something deadly.

No one will ever know exactly how, or who, but someone brought the dreaded Kellis-Amberlee viral strain (the genetically-engineered cure for the common cold, which comes with a humongous, bonus side order of also-turns-you-into-a-zombie-once-it-has-amplified-in-your-body, if you’ve yet to read Mira Grant’s “Newsflesh” trilogy*—which, honestly, you should really do posthaste, after reading California Browncoats) into the convention center. Naturally, in the way of all crazy-bad things, the K-A virus is gonna do next what the K-A virus does best: go into amplification mode and turn everyone it comes into close contact (think bodily fluids, mucous membranes, etc.) with into human-flesh-craving monsters, contaminating the next person, and the next, and so on… (Um, no, really. Trust me on this; that’s how it happens.)

And once the doors are locked—trapping all those innocent con-goers inside with the already-infected—only one thing is guaranteed: that no one will get out alive.

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I’ve been to a lot of cons, but this year marked my first time attending (gulp) the San Diego Comic Con. (I purposefully waited until after the con to read this book, for what should hopefully be pretty obvious reasons, and yeah, good call.)  

Mira Grant (urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire’s sci-fi-writing alter-ego, by the way)—a long-time attendee at SDCC—clearly knows what’s what at a con, and her depictions of the setting, the atmosphere, and the people there, are spot-on. Read her words, and you’ll get a good idea of what a con is like (not that ANY words can fully prepare someone for a monster con like San Diego, though you’ll come away with the gist, at the least).   

The real power of The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, though, lies in its structure—we know from the very first pages that no one survived the tragedy—but then we meet the people who were there, and get to know them as friends, as fellow con-attendees that we might’ve chatted with in one of those interminably-long lines…before watching them fall prey to their inevitable, horrific fates. There’s an ineffable sort of sadness at being able to put yourself so firmly into their sneakers (cosplay boots, sandals, loafers, etc.), only to watch their/your dreams and fun dashed so tragically.

The Last of the California Browncoats is an homage to the geeks, the book-nerds, the cosplayers, the gamers, the role-players, and the just-plain-different, everywhere… and I, for one, am glad it wasn’t some happy-sappy-crappy ode, but a smart, thoughtful, bloody, and scary-good one. :)
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4.5 of 5 Scared-Smart Mousies

*See my reviews of Mira Grant's "Newsflesh" trilogy here. (Note that they appear from most-recent to earliest, so scroll to the bottom and start there...)

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