A review of Ada Hoffmann’s “And All The Fathomless Crowds” Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction (Exile Editions, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Coming of age in a world where everything has come to life is a difficult experience. Thank goodness the universities offer survival training!
In Ada Hoffmann’s “And All The Fathomless Crowds”, the world is divided into “the Minded” and “Non-Minds”. The Non-Minds are animated forces that should be dead, entities with agency but without thought, consciousness, or any real intentionality. In this world, the desire to kill without considering the intentions of the entity one encounters is considered “Romero Disorder”, a dangerous condition where a human begins killing the other without remorse like a person in a George Romero zombie film.
Through her exploration of “Romero Disorder”, and pathologisation of the slaughter of zombies, Hoffmann explores the issues with zombie films and the fetishisation of slaughter. She brings critical attention to the notion of zombie films as excuses for human beings to fantasise about murdering human beings without penalty or guilt, something that the black and white morality of the zombie film (and more so zombie video game) lends itself easily toward. Hoffmann compares this “Romero Disorder” with mindlessness, suggesting that the humans who indulge in slaughter become like the zombies they pretend to battle against.
In the Department of Survival, Queen’s University, students are taught to wait to use deadly force until they are threatened, until the Non-Minds endanger them. For their culminating examinations, students are sent out into a world that is potentially violent and hostile toward them and they pass the exams by 1) surviving, and 2) making certain not to use excessive force or violence toward anything around them that could be a Non-Mind.
Contrasting with the modern trend toward viral zombies, Hoffmann instead has her zombie future animated by magic, magic that can bring a semblance of life to anything that is not traditionally animated or alive. She brings life to fountains, coats, and, of course, dead humans.
Hoffmann makes the experience of going through tests more prevalent to the reader by writing in second person, inviting her reader to envision what they would do in a world that was suddenly animated by magic and pushing her reader dangerously close to “Romero Disorder” in their own fear over a world where everything carries the potential for threat. In our urban deserts, homo-sapiens-centric and often seemingly devoid of life we become complacent with the idea that the only things that threaten us are each other, but Hoffmann pushes the urban environment into animation, making it threatening and strange and chasing the reader out of his or her complacency and into the challenging space where perceived threats can spark violence.
You can explore more of Ada Hoffmann’s work at http://ada-hoffmann.livejournal.com/ or http://ada-hoffmann.com/
Find out more about Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2013/deadnorth.html