It’s about time Catherynne M Valente got a lengthier mention here and where better to start than with one of her short stories – The Days of Flaming Motorcycles (available here to read for free). At face value, The Days of Flaming Motorcycles is the tale of Caitlin Zielinski – possibly the last non-infected person in Augusta, Maine, living in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Delve a little deeper, however, and, unsurprisingly, Valente’s story has a little more to tell for itself. Taking a detour from the usual “them or us” style scenario, Valente suggests the inspiration for the short story came from the concept of the "quiet apocalypse" it was necessary to live through and suggestion of a scenario in which the need to “co-exist” or compromise was examined - something Valente highlights by virtue of Caitlin’s relationship with her infected father with whom she continues to live, having managed to “train” him not to try to attack her, simply by virtue of being faster on each and every occasion he tries.
Whilst the concept of family and emotional ties is a familiar theme for those acquainted with the genre, Valente’s story provides for a far more nuanced contemplation on the concept of adaptation, far beyond the usual “fight or flight” scenario we are more used to seeing played out within apocalyptic zombie film and thus follows a less familiar route. Valente’s “zombies” are not of the “reanimated corpse” variety we are used as reader to encountering; nor are they “mindless” (to quote the point of view characterisation of the short story). Instead, through observation of Caitlin’s father’s behaviour, we learn that the infected retain the ability to mourn their present state, like “lost children”, communing en masse amongst an increasing “tower of garbage” created from the physical vestiges of their previous lives; their “cathedral” of grief. By the tale’s conclusion Caitlin too has been drawn into the vestiges of grief’s “religion”. An original twist on the zombie scenario and thought provoking commentary on the concept of mental and physical decline.