Just three episodes in, and The Last of Us is already showing promise of becoming the best TV show of the year. But what if I told you that there’s a book, and a movie, with an eerily similar premise? And what if I told you that the both the book and the movie are really, really good?
When I first heard of a TV show about a deadly fungal infection which turns most of the world’s population into zombies, my first thought wasn’t of the popular computer game The Last of Us. Granted, I never played the game. What I did do, however, was read M. R. Carey’s amazing 2014 novel The Girl with All the Gifts(Opens in a new window).
‘The Last of Us’ stars Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett being interviewed together is a joy
I really want you to read it, because it’s great, so I’m not going to include any spoilers in here. But the book’s setting is a bleak future in which humanity has been all but wiped out by a deadly fungal infection. The fungi in question? Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, also known as the zombie-ant fungus, which you may recognize as one of the main plot devices in The Last of Us. And yes, one of the main characters is a young girl.
At this point, you’re probably wondering whether The Girl with All the Gifts is a blatant copy of The Last of Us, which launched in 2013. To the best of my knowledge, it’s not.
The Girl with All the Gifts is based on M.R. Carey’s short story Iphigenia in Aulis, which was published in 2012 as part of a short-story collection called “An Apple for the Creature.” And it’s not very loosely based, either; the short story, which I’ve also read, is essentially the first chapter of the novel, with the same main characters, plot and setting.
Yes, there’s a young girl in the story. But there’s a cruel twist or two that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.
Both the novel and the short story also include a heart-wrenching twist that I won’t reveal, though I will say that it rhymes with parts of the plot in Stranger Things, Season 4. The short story, while pretty great on its own, is just a glimpse into this world. The novel, on the other hand, is gripping and terrifying. M.R. Carey, who started his career as a comic book writer, knows how to push the pace; once you start reading, it will be tough to stop, and the book will haunt you until you turn that last page.
While The Last of Us and The Girl with All the Gifts have many similarities, they’re definitely not the same story. Yes, both plots involve a group of people on a perilous, zombie-infested journey, and both are centered around a young girl that’s more than she seems. But in The Girl with All the Gifts, you’ll experience several unexpected moments we can’t say too much about (did we say they’re heartbreaking, too?), and follow a larger group of people whose dynamics change rapidly under the pressures of the world’s cruel surroundings.
Oddly, we haven’t lately seen much chatter about The Girl with All the Gifts, the movie. Yes, there’s a 2016 movie based on the book, starring Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, and Sennia Nanua. And I’m happy to report that the movie is surprisingly good, given its $5 million budget was orders of magnitude below what Hollywood blockbusters get these days. Compared to the book, it does feel a little bit rushed at the end, so my recommendation is to read the book first, and then check the movie out, but both are well worth your time.
There’s more! In 2017, Carey published a prequel to The Girl with All the Gifts called The Boy on the Bridge. I haven’t read that one, but it’s set up in the same, fungal-zombie-infested world. The novel has a very good rating(Opens in a new window) on Goodreads, so it’s probably worth a read, too.
And if you’re yearning for even more dystopia from Carey, check out his “Rampart”(Opens in a new window) trilogy, which features a different, albeit no less sinister threat from nature.
Given that The Last of Us is being revealed on a weekly basis, there’s plenty of time in between episodes to quench that fungal zombie dystopia thirst you’ve probably got, so give The Girl with All the Gifts a try. And stay away from the hungries.