Mardi Gras and Zombies

The biggest news of the week is that Carnival is alive and well in New Orleans and celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first Carnival parade. This year's parades began on the eleventh and parties are happening all over. Krewes of Hermes, D'etat, and Morpheus parades take place today with more parades scheduled and the entire season culminating in the incredibly famous Fat Tuesday shenanigans taking place on the 28th. The city is still struggling to recover from Katrina but it is definitely ready for visitors in every way that counts, in its heart and soul.

And in other news, I'm still hypnotized by the Winter Olympics but I managed to squeeze in Stephen King's new book, Cell. I did that by watching the Olympics until midnight, then reading the book until five am. I meant to stop partway through but I had a small accident with the timing mechanism on my VCR and when my television turned itself on at two am and scared me half to death I thought I would be safest if I just stayed up all night, finished the book and waited for dawn before going to bed.

This book has a couple of great taglines. One is "there's a reason cell rhymes with hell" and the other is "the next call you take may be your last." The story starts off with comic book artist and writer Clayton Riddell bouncing down the street, bursting with happiness because this is it, he has sealed a deal and sold his graphic novels and life looks sweet and glorious. Unfortunately for him the world is about to change when an attack sends a signal through the cell phone system, changing the brains of everyone who hears it. The really sneaky thing about this pulse, as it comes to be known, is that as people start to go nuts and rip each other's throats out, the unaffected people reach for their cell phones to call 911 and get infected themselves. Clay manages to live through the initial wave of craziness and death and joins up with a small band of other survivors. He is planning to make it back home to rescue his twelve-year-old son, who may or may not have his shiny, new red cell phone with him at the time of attack. The trouble is Clay is in Boston and his son is in Maine and, to make matters worse, it looks like the cell zombies are starting to work together in strange and terrifying ways. His proposed trip looks impossible and suicidal but nothing is going to stand in the way of a man determined to protect his child.

This is Stephen King's second novel about the end of world as we know it. The Stand was his huge, sprawling, post-apocalyptic novel about the clash of good and evil following a pandemic disease. The lines between the opposing sides were very clear, with some people on the side of God and some on the side of Satan. The demarcation even extended to geographical locations, with the good guys in Colorado and the bad in Vegas.

Cell is a more diffuse, philosophical book that raises questions about survival and good and bad labels. When we watch zombie films we almost feel like we're doing the zombies a favor by killing them. What kind of quality of life (or death?) do you have when you stumble around moaning and eating people? Are we really killing them or putting them out of their misery and returning them to their natural state when we shoot them in the head? When zombies are still alive and thinking, as they are in Cell, should they be classified as the enemy and destroyed whenever possible or are they a new life form that may deserve to survive? It's these types of questions that make this novel so engaging on so many different levels. On the surface it's pure entertainment. We are frightened, creeped out, and concerned about the protagonists. But at the same time our subconscious minds are collecting enough interesting information and questions to allow us to think and talk about the book long after we close the book.