One Good Detail

“…you see, a .45 will blow a barn door out the back of your head.  There’s alot of drycleaning involved.  Whereas a .22 will just rattle around in your brain like Pacman ’til you die.”    –Vinnie Antonelli from My Blue Heaven.

So, I’m halfway through World War Z by Max Brooks and it’s about the third time he mentions a firearm that’s in .22 caliber.  I just sort of glossed over it at first but I just finished a scene where an air force pilot has to bail out and defend herself with her issued weapon, a .22.  The .22 is not a combat round but as I sat there I had to shake my head at the brilliance. 

The .22 is not a combat round for people but it’s the perfect round for a zombie apocalypse.  With materiel in short supply the forces of the living need a cheap, plentiful cartridge that fires from a broad spectrum of firearms.  A zombie has one kill zone, the brain, so even a civilian who’s never touched a firearm needs to be able to make consistent head shots at variable ranges with very little training.  The accurate and low recoiling .22 is pretty much designed for that very thing.  Quite literally, a child can do it. 

Even if gun and ammo production completely stopped this instant there are literally millions of rounds to be had and scads of handy rifles, carbines, and handguns that will all chamber that one round.  The round is comically cheap to produce and weighs less than most normal combat pistol rounds.  You can acquire and carry a butload and they’ll do the job. 

So what?  Well that one detail did more than anything else to cement the book world as real in my mind.  The .22 is not a sexy movie gun but it’s the perfect answer to the problem of zombie combat.  That one good detail that shows rather than tells that this universe is real and these events are actually happening. 

These details are usually small and are probably more effective the smaller they seem.  There’s a scene in The Lord of the Rings where we catch a brief glance of Strider sharpening his sword.  Just a few seconds but it tells us this is a real weapon and he knows how to take care of it. 

In No Country for Old Men Llewellyn Moss shoots a pronghorn and ejects the shell.  He watches the antelope through the scope but before he starts to track it he picks up the spent casing and puts it in his pocket.  Maybe he just doesn’t like to litter.  Or maybe he’s a trained sniper taught to leave no trace.  If he’s a trained soldier we might believe he has better odds against the psycho chasing him. 

You probably can’t force these details and you definitely want them to be subtle, barely noticed.  But if you find one and a spot to use it, do so.  They’re incredibly effective.