Friday, September 24, 2010

Book Events: Zombies Vs. Unicorns Debate at Symphony Space

Seeing as I follow one of its editors and her spouse on Twitter, I've been hearing buzz about this Zombies Vs. Unicorns book for awhile, but I'll admit I felt no great compulsion to run out and buy it. I am an unrepentant zombie fan, sure, but unicorns? Not so interested.

And then I heard that not only were several of the authors going to do an appearance in NYC, but they were going to have a debate. As a former speech geek (closely related to debate, though I never actually went to the dark side), I knew I had to see this. And, well, since there was going to be a signing afterwards, I might as well pick up a copy for myself, right? If it sucked, I could always try to give it away on the blog, right? (Spoiler alert: I'm not giving away this copy!)

As our tickets were being taken we were given instructions: zombie fans sit to the left, unicorn fans sit to the right. We were also given nifty buttons so we could show the world our allegiance! The audience seemed about evenly split. The panelists were, for Team Zombie Maureen Johnson, Scott Westerfeld and Libba Bray. Representing Team Unicorn: Holly Black, Naomi Novik and Alaya Dawn Johnson (who is really Team Zombie, but confessed to some high school debate experience so when Team Unicorn realized they were at a disadvantage they recruited her as a double agent). Justine Larbalestier was on hand to serve as the totally impartial moderator. She came out wearing an anti-unicorn T-shirt and shuffling like a zombie until Scott reminded her that she was supposed to be impartial. Also I must note Justine was wearing kickass cowboy boots. They had crossbows on them! Sooooooo jealous. (I wish I had pictures, but my digital camera has disappeared and my cell phone takes epically BAD pictures. They really were awesome though.)

Team Unicorn may or may not have won the coin toss to go first, but Alaya ended up speaking first, in a really weird pro-Unicorn argument that had something to do with how seagulls are like unicorns and how everyone wants zombies in their living rooms? It wasn't the strongest argument.

Maureen Johnson came out next, dressed up in her finest debate duds, and broke out into a populist faux-Sarah Palin pro-zombie speech, with the help of Zombie Joe as her "translator." Zombies are mavericks! They just keep coming at'cha, like a real American! And unicorns are French. At the end it looked like Zombie Joe may not have been adequately fed before the debate. I think he took a chunk out of Maureen's hand...

Naomi Novik was next for Team Unicorn, and she came prepared with visual aids! Her argument basically was, unicorns are made for crushing evil, zombies are 100% evil and shed body parts (ew). QED, unicorns win. Her final unicorn poster was also quite sparkly

Scott Westerfeld's pro-zombie argument involved looking at the literary fruits of the two species, comparing A Unicorn is Born to Max Brooks' zombie classic, World War Z. The excerpts from A Unicorn is Born may be some of the most frightening and nauseating things I've ever heard. Apparently it goes into the details of unicorn sex, though we were spared that. Instead we got to hear Scott's interpretation of the Battle of Yonkers. It was much better than unicorns. And as a former speech geek, I have to congratulate Scott on his excellent time allocation. He was given 2 minutes for his presentation, and right at the 1 minute warning he was switching smoothly from A Unicorn is Born to World War Z.

During all of this Maureen has been slowly fading. When Scott takes his seat next to her, it looks like she bites his hand!

Holly Black, as the captain of Team Unicorn, now gets 5 minutes to sum up her side's argument. She tries to bribe us with packets of glitter - one hit me on the head! She also described unicorns as sparkling "like a suicidal Edward Cullen" which may be my favorite simile EVER.

Scott isn't looking too great at this point, either. He and Maureen are both kind of slumped over with glazed looks in their eyes. Rude audience members? Or is something more nefarious afoot?

Team Zombie's captain, Libba Bray, one-ups Holly's bribery attempt by having a MUSICAL NUMBER for her closing argument. Highlights from her bluesy/gospel song: the most famous undead person ever - Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead and told his followers to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. Also, after everything the zombies have been through, they have the right to sing the blues. Another famous zombie? The scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz - he did ask for brains, after all!

As Libba's time winds down, Zombie Joe reappears from the wings. The sound of his shuffling sparks something in Maureen and Scott! They stand and all three shamble over to Libba - Maureen and Scott have turned into zombies and they're carrying the team captain away!

Okay, not really. Well, they did pick up Libba and carry her off the stage, but no one was actually turned into a zombie over the course of the debate.

At the end of it all, Justine was waffling over whether we should just say everyone's a winner or if we, the audience, needed to applaud to declare a winner. I shouted out that we needed a winner, so the two halves of the audience cheered in turn for their respective teams. Justine claimed it was a tie, but I'm darn sure Team Zombie was louder!

There was a Q&A session afterwards, but with so many people on the panel it was hard to get all of the questions and answers written down, so I'll just share some of the highlights.

"How did you discover your affinity for unicorns or zombies?"

Libba: claims she was a creepy kid who loved horror stories and always loved zombies. Her first viewing of Dawn of the Dead was at a drive in theater in a small town in Texas, which she says is the absolute best way to see a zombie movie.

Maureen: her mom was a nurse and would share the gory details of her medical thrillers with young Maureen, so she's always been interested in the first infected/patient zero aspect of stories. Seeing Shaun of the Dead was her zombie epiphany.

Holly: was drawn to the natural history aspect of unicorns - we have centuries of stories and text books talking about unicorns as if they were real creatures. Why does she hate zombies so much? She was totally creeped out after watching Night of the Living Dead and the trauma was solidified by the fact that she had to walk to school through a graveyard the next day.

How long did it take to put the book together?
Justine: Took way longer than she thought it would. It was supposed to have been easy, but instead she found she had to bully and beg people to turn stuff in.
Libba: Thought writing for a themed anthology would be easier than writing on her own. Ended up essentially writing two stories - the first one was filled with grown ups and just wasn't going to work for a YA anthology, so even though it was a great story, she had to turn around and write something completely different!

The Zombies vs. Unicorns debate moves to Baltimore tonight as part of the Baltimore Book Festival. This time it's Justine, Scott and Carrie Ryan on Team Zombie and Holly, Kathleen Duey and Diana Peterfreund on Team Unicorn. If the NYC debate was any indicator, it sure to be a hilarious evening!


vvb32 reads said...

yeah! for team zombie. thanks for sharing this experience.

ivanova said...

That sounds like so much fun! I wish I had been there. But your description was so vivid I feel like I was there in an undead-spirit kind of way.

Angela Craft said...

vvb - Team Zombie all the way!

Ivanova - so glad you enjoyed the write up - that's exactly why I do these things. I know I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to book events here in NYC, so I figure the least I can do is share as much of the experience as I can for people who don't have things like this happening in their backyards all the time.

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