Archive for December 22, 2015

Christmas Dystopia: The Real Season of Fear

‘Tis the season to be afraid.

No, I’m not confusing the Holiday Season—fuck it, I mean the Christmas Season—with Halloween. I mean the real season of horror, the one when the days are shortest, when Winter is not only Coming but finally Gets Here. The one when if, at least in some parts of the world, you’re kept out of the inn, you might freeze to death… if the creatures of the long night don’t rip you and your newborn to pieces first.


Winter is here: Jasen Dixon of Ohio anticipates the Resurrection as a symbol of changing seasons with a zombie nativity scene.

If you pay attention to, well, people who know things, you know that the Jesus Christ of the Bible wasn’t born in late December but likely in April, but the Catholic Church decided many moons ago that timing His birthday around big pagan party time, already existing Solstice celebrations, would lubricate conversion. Christmas goes hand in hand with Easter: the coming and going of the cold months, the hard months—the birth, death, and resurrection of the Savior—fit neatly together, becoming a package of holidays to celebrate light at the beginning and end of the year’s greatest darkness (at least in the globe’s northern hemisphere).

My point is that historically, Christmas Day itself is a symbol of light deliberately placed in the middle of great darkness, and as such it calls attention to the dark mire it would illuminate. And for many of us in the Christmas Belt, an accessory that holds up much of the world’s economy around this time of year, it does. I paraphrase a line from the Christmas horror film—one of many—Gremlins (1984), which made a deep impression on me as a child: commenting that “the suicide rate’s always the highest around the holidays,” a character remarks of some unhappy people, “While everybody else opens up presents, they’re opening up their wrists.”


I suppose seasonal affective disorders (the SADs!) could explain a lot of the suicides, as well as the popularity of my genre around this time—more about that in a moment—but I think not, and I don’t think many of you readers would let me go with such a facile explanation, either, because if you’re a grown-up who finds the idea of a strange man invading your house via chimney more terrifying than otherwise, you know that this time of “magic” has a lot to do with the Dark Side of the Force.

Let us consider, then, five reasons beyond seasonal affect why this season is one of darkness and doom. Afterwards, I’ll close with something less depressing, but first, I’ll note that all five of these reasons are major themes of everyone’s favorite Christmas horror story—not the one about putting an eye out, which is horrific enough—but Charles Dickens’s story about ghosts that gleefully torture an old man, “A Christmas Carol:” dickenschristmascarol

  1. Money. This year, like every year recently, I tuned into news on Black Friday and heard both stories: first, retailers were disappointed by people not spending enough, and second, retailers were beset by outrageous violence committed by people too desperate to spend. ‘Tis the season to spend on yourself, on others, and there’s never enough. You never get enough or give enough, and in the process of being inadequate, you do damage to yourself and others. You feel your inadequacy and the damage you do, and do you feel good about giving and receiving? Of course not. You feel like the shit of the capitalist world.
  2. Charity. Santas and others ring bells outside grocery stores and everywhere else, trying to guilt people into giving to strangers while they’re trying to stretch their budgets far enough to accommodate everyone on their lists. Let’s face it, the world is falling apart. It needs people to be charitable, and we all know, as Bernie Sanders keeps reminding us, that most of the wealth is going into the pockets of 1/10 of 1% of the population and just disappearing there, so the rest of us are supposed to sustain the exploding population with the scraps, but we… can’t… do it. So, defeated, most of us don’t even try very hard, or at all. And we just feel shitty about it, because shitty feelings are really all we have to spare.
  3. Love. Speaking of things we all want but don’t get enough of, what but pictures of beautiful people enjoying each other’s fond company as they revel in gifts can remind us better of what we don’t have? More poignant than the missing presents is the missing people, and for every person who’s happy in love, you can find two who have lost each other, or who have each other but have lost whatever brought them together, or who never found one another to begin with. As the nights get longer, people get lonelier, and the illusion that everyone is celebrating togetherness underscores loneliness like nothing else can.
  4. Age and Death. People have more to lose than romance. Christmas magic, if it worked for you at all, probably worked for that short span of years when your brain was underdeveloped and you could actually believe in flying mammals with glowing noses. Your childhood is gone. What did you lose with it? Who used to be with you on these holidays who isn’t now? For many of us, this is a season of remembering, and remembering ain’t always a happy act.
  5. Family. Those who don’t have family, mourn, and those who do—well, those who do aren’t necessarily happy, either, because with all the other crap happening, families are seldom at their best when they finally all gather ’round that tree or sacrificed feast animal or whatever it is that brings them all to one place to judge one another and seethe. For many, Christmas is the time to peel away scabs or simply reopen old wounds. Have some more nog and let loose on those weaknesses only you know about, push those buttons only you can—you’re family.

Now that I’ve argued that pretty much everything good is bad, you might think I’m advocating for the Gremlins-described suicide solution or at the very least for cancelling Christmas, but far from it. Although it’s not my favorite holiday, I like Christmas and have, in fact, already told you why: it is the light placed here to remind us of all this darkness, and as a sort of memento mori, Christmas deserves acknowledgment for what it is, a fuzzy center in a hole of suck.

OtrantoThanks to Charles Dickens, Joe Dante’s Gremlins, and everything from the original Dec. 24, 1764 Gothic novel Castle of Otranto to the present-day Krampus, our popular culture has served up a large vein within the horror genre to slice into as a means of exploring the suckhole of Christmas, not as a religious holiday but as a cultural phenomenon that combines the best and worst of humanity in a colorful package with a bow on top. These fictions of fear can displace all the terrors of our lives’ vacancies onto monsters we can see and maybe even fight and destroy. We can’t easily solve the problem of who’s not with us by the tree this year, but we sure can imagine using simple sunlight to beat back the tide of gremlins, and hey, maybe all it takes to make charity work is to show the most monstrous of the 1% a few well-timed ghosts.

KrampusThe fantasies are simple on the surface, yes, but so are the illusions of childhood, and come Christmas time, don’t we all deserve a little bit of simple? The problems with which they help us to cope are about as hard as problems come, so maybe some simple is what we need to crawl out of the suckhole, at least for a day.

Peter Welmerink’s Transport, Hunt for the Fallen: Taking Zombie Fantasy to the Next Level

Book Synopsis for Hunt for the Fallen:

Captain Jacob Billet

Journal Entry – Sunday April 5, 2026

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the undead are roaring…

Amassed at the UCRA east end enclosure, the dead strain the fence line while soldiers keep watchful eyes, the survivors on the opposite side of the rising river about to lose their minds.

It’s a crazy time: nonstop precipitation; everyone’s up in arms; paranoid city council members with an asshat City Treasurer. Water, water everywhere. Zees dropping into the churning drink. Troops afraid of being stitched up and thrown back into the fray as Zombie Troopers. Tank commanders getting itchy to head out on their own after drug-laden shamblers. Reganshire insurgents trying to extract our west side civvies for some unknown reason, possibly pushing the city into taking heavy-handed action against them.

Then there’s some black-haired dead dude staring at me through the fence, grinning like he’s off his meds.

And I thought Lettner was a headache.

All this sh*t might give me a heart attack.


I reviewed Welmerink’s Transport in June 2014, so when offered a review copy of the follow-up, Transport: Hunt for the Fallen, I happily accepted. Welmerink’s world gives the zombie subgenre a much-needed facelift, keeping the fundamental edges of violence and desperation but refreshing the conditions for storytelling. In brief, the Transport series takes place near Grand Rapids, Michigan, a city re-established years after a zombie plague has brought on an apocalypse, and charts the adventures of people trying to navigate a newly emerging world (dis)order in the city and outlying areas.

By skipping over the familiar—the initial horror of figuring out what’s going on, of watching the population’s rapid decline, and especially of figuring out the relationship between the living and the dead (they’re us!)—Welmerink creates an opportunity to use the “Zees” and human survivors in unfamiliar scenarios, adventuring in a world rebuilding itself rather than a world falling apart. Without acknowledging the existence of other zombie fictions, the writing admits that you might know them and benefits from the admission: the existence of zombies in the fictional world of Captain Jacob Billet and the crew of his transport vehicle the Huron is just as quotidian as the existence of zombies on TV and in the movies. Welmerink doesn’t need the monsters to be novel and in fact benefits from their familiarity. The more you know about typical zombies, the more you can pay attention to Welmerink’s innovations (so plentiful that Book 2, like its predecessor, has a glossary).


One of Welmerink’s innovations, present in the first volume but more crucial in the second, is the role the undead have assumed in the post-apocalyptic society. In what reads to me as pervasive satire on extremes of political correctness, even “zombie” seems like a bad word in the polite society that has preserved and domesticated hordes of the walking dead. The zombies are “undead civilians” kept in Urban Civilian Retention Areas (UCRAs), retained and even revered as the loved ones of survivors who just had the misfortune of rising from death with a hunger for human flesh. Nevermind that if a UCRA has a problem, and these civilians get loose, they readily dismember and devour the same people who maintain them on diets of doped gore rations. The more disgusting the creatures, the more defense they get from the government and civilians, much to the chagrin of Billet and his military crew, who find their hands tied again and again because saving the living by shooting the dead courts political blowback that’s more of a headache than the Zees themselves. The city’s inhabitants, relatively safe in their enclosed environment with the apocalypse a fading memory, don’t see the monsters as a threat. They hardly see them at all, but instead see their own wishful thinking projected on ambulatory decay. This satire might be problematic if the zombie masses had—as they do in many other stories—a close association with a particular type of person or group, but they don’t. The satire works because without attacking any specific political class or viewpoint, it shows that, like cockroaches, hypocritical denial and refusal to face unpleasant physical circumstances will likely survive the fall of civilization and be with us as long as there’s an “us” to be with.

A less gleeful dimension of this commentary appears in the division between military and civilian, with the civilian getting far more respect, a respect painfully ironic because the word “civilian” is the most common and proper term for undead flesh-eater. Jake Billet, considering that the government expects soldiers to keep soldiering even after death, “doesn’t like what he sees and doesn’t like the implications… For the military, if a soldier isn’t blown to little red bits, it is experimentation and the life of a ZT, zombie trooper… [whereas] undead neighbor[s] find themselves protected and fed until they fall to the elements or rot to nothing and dissolve to a gooey paste” (68). That rotting corpses rank higher in the social schema than self-sacrificing soldiers is a fact of daily life about which Billet can only brood. Soldiers are tools, dehumanized, used as much as their bodies will tolerate (and more); civilians, even when they are inhuman, receive the best possible human comforts—so what if they can’t enjoy the advantages? Read against the backdrop of a real-life American culture that has waged constant wars in the twenty-first century while the ruling elite have gotten richer and richer, this hierarchy resonates powerfully, implicitly calling not just for a rethinking of the new society in Transport’s pages but of the society it has replaced.


This rethinking, though, is almost all implied, as Welmerink is too busy delivering a fast-paced action yarn to get bogged down in political rumination. A continuation of the adventure begun in Transport, Transport: Hunt for the Fallen is also episodic, hurling Billet and crew into a series of conflicts that, as before, ultimately end up on the road, this time hunting for and retrieving various types of “fallen” folk, including escaped undead civilians for whom the living military must risk life and limb (and limbs and other bits do fly). A lot of the book’s fun, for me at least, lies in not knowing where the story will go next—the serial, episodic structure of events and the unfamiliarity of the world Welmerink is building keeps at least one eye blind to what’s ahead—so I won’t say more about the plot. I will say, though, that each episode escalates, and the best part of the book is the final third, in which the storytelling concentrates on hard-hitting battle sequences. A spoiler-free sample:

“A gurgling snarl brings the gunner back to the forefront as the big zomb swipes at him with a tree trunk thick arm. Necrotic flesh flaps like loose strips of dead bark” (122).

Vivid present-tense narration and unabashedly visceral description make these scenes intense and enjoyable. The ending has chilling surprises, too, and the final image includes some of the best writing in the series so far.

I have some quibbles, of course. Like the first book, the second could use more editing, but more important, I might like to see the glossary expanded further to include key characters and locations as well as more of Welmerink’s cool terminology—with more than a year between my readings of books one and two, I needed some cross-referencing. And while I like the unpredictability of the story’s structure, which builds up to the thrilling fight scenes toward the end, I might like to see more heavy artillery fighting and a little less build (mostly because the action scenes are the book’s best).

Quibbles aside, I recommend Hunt for the Fallen to anyone who has started the series and the series to anyone who enjoys zombie stories or just stories rich in imagination that pack a hard-action punch. Transport’s gritty characters, visceral description, and fresh vision of the post-apocalypse are worth taking for a ride.


About the author: Peter Welmerink was born and raised on the west side of pre-apocalyptic Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes Fantasy, Military SciFi, and other wanderings into action-adventure. His work has been published in ye olde wood pulp print and electronic-online publications. He is the co-author of the Viking berserker novel, BEDLAM UNLEASHED, written with Steven Shrewsbury. TRANSPORT is his first solo novel venture. He is married with a small barbarian tribe of three boys. Find out more about his works and upcoming projects at: