Isaac Marion grew up in the mossy depths of the Pacific Northwest, where he worked as a heating installer, a security guard and a visitation supervisor for foster children before publishing his debut novel in 2010. Warm Bodies became a New York Times bestseller and inspired a major film adaptation. It has been translated into 25 languages. Isaac lives in Seattle with his cat, Watson, writing fiction and music and taking pictures of everything. His latest book in the Warm Bodies series, The Burning World, is published by Atria / Emily Bestler Books on February 17 and is available for pre-order here.
I first read Isaac Marion’s writing on a “general.” That’s the douchey Hollywood term for a specific type of meeting between a filmmaker and a studio exec, during which said exec pitches said studio’s available projects and said filmmaker pretends to be interested in said projects for just long enough in the hopes that said studio might think said filmmaker is cool and potentially want to do a different, better movie with you: “A reboot of Turner and Hooch? I mean, I’d have to read the script but it sounds cool. A movie based on the Lyft app? Sure. Kinda needs a story, but we should talk about it more…” In this particular meeting, a studio head who would later become a friend and close collaborator, Erik Feig, handed me a book. “Just read the first few pages…” he said.
“Right here?” I asked. He nodded. It was an odd request. But I contorted my face into a look of eager curiosity (had to cover up, as there was no possible way I would like this fucking thing) and read on …
The book was Warm Bodies and within a few words, I was hooked. It was completely unexpected and invigorating. I loved Isaac’s prose. I loved his sense of humor. I loved how his perspective could be earnest and ironic all at the same time. At the center of it was a device that I’d never seen before: we were in the point of view of a zombie, and a charming, irreverent zombie at that. It was a clever conceit, but it was the execution that really made it work.
Because Isaac’s writing wasn’t just about being clever for cleverness’ sake. This poppy action/horror/comedy/adventure was an allegory for the human condition, one that nailed its high degree of difficulty by always staying true to its sophisticated, somewhat nihilistic worldview, and never wavering in its deep and abiding love for its characters.
With the next chapter in this adventure, The Burning World, Isaac has created a surprising, altogether thrilling follow-up. He has taken the story into a tense, action-packed place, expanded the scope of the world, all the while still loving these characters — utilizing them both to tell us truths about the human condition and as a call to action: we must not sleepwalk through life, lest we become zombies ourselves. In this current shitty world climate, that feels like a very important mantra. I hung on its every word the same way I’d hung on that first sentence – “I am dead, but it’s not so bad.” – in the offices of Summit/Lionsgate that afternoon five years ago. I loved the book. Hopefully we can make it into a movie some day.
— Jonathan Levine
The apocalypse didn’t happen overnight. The world didn’t end in a satisfying climax of explosive special effects. It was slow. It was boring. It was one little thing at a time. One moral compromise, one abandoned ideal, one more justified injustice. No dramatic wave of destruction sweeping across the world, just scattered spots of rot forming throughout the decades, seemingly isolated incidents until the moment they all merged.
Some cities maintained the illusion of independent prosperity for many years, like the leaves of a felled tree denying their severed roots. But Detroit was the bottom branch. It’s been dead so long, it looks more like an archaeological site than an American city. The modern climate has turned much of the surrounding grassland into desert, and brown sand covers everything, piling up in drifts against crumbled buildings, forming small dunes in parking lots. The rising sun catches the tops of broken towers, lighting them up like beacons while the rest of the city sulks in shadow. I have no doubt we’re the first people in decades to travel toward this place.
I tighten my grip on Julie’s waist as we bounce onto the bridge over the river that was once the Canadian border. Gaps in the bridge’s pavement reveal the murky reddish waters below, choked full of rusty cars and garbage and ancient human remains. I lean into Julie’s neck, inhaling her cinnamon scent as a defense against the aromas from below.
Some might find my position on the back of the bike emasculating, but there are worse ways to travel than pressed against the backside of a beautiful woman. Bumps in the road produce movements that belong in a bedroom, and I’m glad M is in front of us where he can’t watch. For a moment I worry about embarrassing myself with an inopportune erection, then I smile darkly. Still these adolescent worries. Still the fears of a fresh pink boy living in a world of shame. That world died years ago—people struggling to survive have no time to fear their own bodies—so why does its corpse still cling to me?
We are human beings bonded by love and we deserve the gifts our bodies offer us.
Which of these assertions do I doubt?
Once we’re over the bridge and into the city, the road worsens dramatically. The ride loses any trace of eroticism as the bike bucks under us like an angry bull, levitating me above the seat then slamming me back down. Julie eases up on the throttle, but these are street bikes and this can barely be called a street. I see M and Nora struggling, too, Nora’s arms pressing deep into M’s sides to keep from flying off the bike as it sinks into potholes then bounces back up over chunks of debris.
“Ab-b-bram!” Nora shouts over M’s shoulder. “We have to st-st-stop!”
I can see Abram weaving through the junkyard with equal difficulty, Sprout clinging to his back like a frightened baby monkey, but he predictably ignores Nora’s advice. He ignores it for two more blocks, then he rounds a corner onto an arterial street, and the city overrules his decision.
The road is completely jammed with car carcasses, a river of rust and rubber. Stacks of flattened vehicles occupy all the side streets, remnants of some long-ago effort to clear a path. What made this particular traffic jam the last one? The one that would endure through the ages like a monument to a bad idea? Was it a war? An undead invasion? A descending cloud of unbreathable air? Or simply a mass realization? A thousand people getting out of their cars, looking around at the unnatural disaster of their lives, wandering home to their families? I doubt anyone knows for sure. Under the smothering cloud of fear and jamming signals, history has gone the way of art and science and most other human achievements: backward. Fact has blurred into rumor, knowledge into suspicion. Even the current year is open to debate.
Abram stares at the impassable wall of rusty steel. He pulls an ancient map out of his jacket, a relic of those strange days when technology began to roll backwards, when information returned grudgingly to the physical realm as the collapse of the digital loomed closer. He consults the lines on this wrinkled sheet of Tyvek and looks ahead, searching for street signs in the rubble. He gets off his bike.
“Thank God,” Nora sighs, detaching herself from M’s back and stretching her arms.
Abram pulls the tool bag off his bike, grabs Sprout’s hand, and climbs up the hood of a PT Cruiser.
From there, he hops to the roof of a minivan.
“You’re going to climb over all that?” Julie says, staring down the canyon of rust and broken glass.
“Airport’s just a couple miles, and I don’t see a better way through. But like I said, I don’t need you. Go play FBI agent, uncover Axiom’s evil plot, or whatever you wanted to come here for.”
Julie hesitates as if considering the offer. Then she glances at Sprout. “And her? No need for her to go into that mess if you’ll be back in a few hours, right?”
“She’s coming with me.”
Julie nods. “Yeah. Then so am I.”
Abram smiles coldly. “Oh, you’re going to guard me, are you? Make sure I don’t run off and desert your revolution?”
Julie ignores him, dismounts the bike and starts to climb the Cruiser.
Abram chuckles. He hops from the van’s roof to the bed of a truck and stumbles back a little under the weight of the tool bag. Sprout barely makes the jump.
“Hey,” M says, climbing up beside him. “Let me take that.” He holds out a hand for the tool bag. “You watch your kid.”
Abram hesitates, studying the collage of scars covering M’s face, then gives him the bag. He uses both hands to help Sprout onto the next roof, and they proceed forward with a labored but steady rhythm.
I climb up behind Julie. I notice a small pistol stuffed into the waistband of her jeans, like an afterthought beneath her shotgun holster. I don’t recall her having a pistol. I wonder where she found it and why she didn’t remark the find. She glances back at me and I see in her eyes that steel I admire so much, but I’m not sure I like the cold edge that glints in it now.