Friday, February 13, 2015
6 Books that Give The Walking Dead’s Zombies a Stagger for Their Money
Day by Day Armageddon, by JL Bourne
Written in diary form from the point of view of a soldier on leave from deployment overseas, Day by Day Armageddon has a much better sense of bullets-to-kill-shot ratios than one usually finds in zombie fiction. From a purely practical standpoint, Rick & Co. simply cannot be landing as many head shots as they do. While the novel doesn’t particularly address the larger questions of human society in the apocalypse, it does very carefully address the smaller ones: the nuts and bolts of survival.
The Gospel of Z, by Stephen Graham Jones
This may be a harder sell as a traditional zombie novel, as it includes giant constructed mecha-zombies and a cult devoted to armadillos, but the zombies in The Gospel of Z are otherwise pretty traditional. (They do also have a tendency to bear-crawl, which is very alarming.) Done well, zombie stories grapple with grief, as everyone surviving has lost everyone who hasn’t. Jones runs the apocalypse 10 years down the road, from this place of familiarity to escalating weirdness, providing emotionally resonant way to express that loss.
The Reapers Are the Angels, by Alden Bell
Temple, the main character of The Reaper’s Are the Angels, is the harsh, pragmatic daughter of a zombie-blighted American south. In some ways, she’s more comfortable with the dead than the living; the simplicity of their needs is, if not enviable, then at least more legible than those of the living. The novel probably owes more to the Old Testament morality of the Southern Gothic than it does to Romero’s class commentary, but the zombies are the same, down to the fact that anyone who dies, turns. (A surprisingly uncommon detail, even in the most faithful zombie novel.)
This Dark Earth, by John Hornor Jacobs
There’s a lot about This Dark Earth that follows the tropes of zombie fiction very closely, from the zombies themselves, to broader questions often posed by post-apocalyptic fiction: how will we maintain our humanity in the face of relentless savagery? But Jacobs doesn’t have to rely on gimmicks to explore the question of society. The Prince, like Carl from Walking Dead, cannot remember the modern world, and the line between expediency and cruelty grows thin.
World War Z, by Max Brooks
When the film version of World War Z transformed the book’s slow zombies into fast ones, a million voices cried out in terror. Understandably: almost none of the book holds up with the shift to “fast zombies.” While the novel doesn’t hew exactly to Romero, Brooks’ zombies function much like Romero’s in the narrative: they are there to show society’s responses to civic trauma. Not everyone who dies becomes a zombie, leading to the awful military choice to kill the living to create a firebreak against the dead. Contrast this with the opening to Dawn of the Dead, which shows a police force at odds with the residents of an apartment building who are protecting their reanimating dead in defiance of martial law. While the zombies may be slightly different, both writers use them to show the tension between community and security.
Zone One, by Colson Whitehead
In Whitehead’s novel, in addition to the usual slow, collecting mob, there exists a small number of undead called “stragglers,” who are frozen in tableau while doing everyday things—flying a kite, running a copy machine. The characters ruminate on these creatures: was this the action that defined the straggler’s life, or just a random moment caught like a photo? (This results in some mordant comedy, such as when one character blows away a straggler standing over a fast food deep fryer “on principle.”)Zone One is less a genre exercise than a eulogy to a lost New York, and the stragglers, as they stand rotting, fit beautifully into his observations and reflections. Is our memory of the past random or representative?