Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How Many Ways Can You Write About Zombies? More Than You Think

I never knew I was a fan of zombie literature until I started reading it as the current wave of zombie-themed fiction started landing on my doorstep. Two of the best books I've read in the last two years ("Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest and "The Reapers Are the Angels" by Alden Bell) have featured the undead without turning the story into a cartoon. But how many ways can you write about shambling creatures that hunger for braaaaaains?

Way more than I ever could have guessed.

Here's a sample of what's out there and how the authors have put their unique spin on the genre.

Steampunk & Zombies

Steampunk is easily as big of a craze as zombies with a slew of mish-mashes going on and, according to i09, the zombie/steampunk thing has been nearly done to death. However, a search of "steampunk zomibes" doesn't bring up the slew of titles the i09 article would imply (and in fact the article itself fails to mention who, specifically, is writing all these books). Nonetheless, it's a great blending whether it's tired or not and Cherie Priest made her mark with her impressive debut Boneshaker and continues the trend with the equally absorbing  Dreadnought. But it isn't just Priest who's bringing airships and zombies together, George Mann brings his Victorian era automations and zombie goodness together in The Affinity Bridge and The Osiris Ritual, both of which are getting some great buzz.

Zombies & the Classics

Who knew that Jane Austin's timeless classic "Pride and Prejudice" could be spiced up with zombies? I sure as heck wouldn't have thought of it, but a full-fledged fad was born when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released. Since then I've seen The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead and The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, among others that include things like mummies, werewolves, sea monsters and vampires.

Sci-fi & Zombies

There's often a scientific element to the zombie story as biochemical accidents are frequently used to explain how the zombie plaque began. But it's rare to see zombie deliberately created by advanced science as they are in James Knapp's inventive debut State of Decay. So ingenious are Knapp's "revivors,"-- zombies that are scientifically manufactured to be military cannon fodder-- that it's surprising there aren't already a slew of copycats out there. But something tells me they're on their way.

Funny Zombies

Anyone who has seen Shaun of the Dead knows there is comedic potential in the zombie story. So it was only a matter of time before we started seeing the style repeated on popular fiction. Mark Henry was the first author I read who really picked up on the potential for zombie humor with Happy Hour of the Damned and his wonderfully self-absorbed socialite zombie Amanda Feral. He definitely finds a way to make you cringe and laugh at the same time. Not to be outdone is Jesse Peterson with her debut, Married With Zombies, and her recognition that in the modern world you're going to see zombies with breast implants.

Zombie Survival Guides

This is pretty self explanatory-- But rest assured, if we're attacked by zombies and you can make it to the local library, there will be LOTS of books on the subject of how to survive a zombie apocalypse. Max Brooks seems to be the expert here with many, titles, on the subject.

Zombies & God

Post apocalyptic fiction seems to bring out the inner philosopher in many authors and it's a natural question to wonder where God would fit in a world populated with zombies. In Alden Bell's The Reapers Are the Angles the main character, Temple, often muses on the character of God and the beauty of His dangerous world. My fellow blogger Stewart Sternberg has his own zombie-themed book The Ravening, coming out this November.  And, like Bell, Stewart looks at the way people react to tragedy and turn to God-- or any approximation thereof-- to make sense of the world for them. I will admit, these introspective, thoughtful books are my favorite style when it comes to zombie lit.

I never guessed zombies were such a versatile topic, but I am now a full-fledged fan. It's not just about "Resident Evil" anymore.


Sullivan McPig said...

I love zombie books! But I like my zombies of the flesh eating kind. I've read one YA book 'Generation Dead' that I didn't much like as the zombies were basically just dead kids come back to life and had no other zombie-esque things.

Elaine Isaak, fantasy author said...

Nice! A good overview. Myself, I just sold a zombie romance story to the Live Free or Undead anthology. Not that I expect there will be a trend toward this sort of thing. . .

furiousBall said...

a friend suggested this one and the pride and prejudice zombie version to me. i wish i had enough time to actually do some fun reading again.

Charles Gramlich said...

I just realized the other day that I'd written a zombie story that I didn't think of as a zombie story. Called "A curse the Dead must bear."

Budd said...

You know, for all of my love of things undead, I don't think I have read a Zombie book. Wait I got a free review copy of one It was a neat concept, but not really zombies. I guess I am just waiting for the zombie vs unicorn anthology.

SQT said...

@Sullivan-- A lot-- if not most-- of these titles have the good old brain-eating type of zombies. It's often just the context that changes. Mark Henry does give us zombies that can rationalize, but they'll likely eat you anyway.

@Elaine-- I will have to check that out.

@Furious-- I hope you get some time soon. Though I guess being busy is a good thing. At least I hope so.

@Charles-- That sounds interesting.

@Budd-- Don't go giving people any ideas. Then again, I'd like to read a zombie vs. unicorn story.

BryStearns said...

Wow that is a lof of Zombie lore. Can't say I'm much of a zombie fan myself, but I haven't read a lot of them. I would like to read the funny ones though.

Budd said...

zombie VS Unicorn is a real thing.

SQT said...

@Budd-- Nice!

Stewart Sternberg said...

Book of the Living Dead is a good book, but I'm an English teacher, and therein lies the rub. This is a book of classic literature, for the most part. Billing itself as a zombie book, although it doesn't overtly call itself such, is misleading. The person picking this up, expecting a horde of shuffling dead heads is going to be sorely disappointed. That being said, it has tremendous stories of the dead, from The Monkey's Paw to M. Valdemar. I hope some English teacher is smart enough to consider it as a text for a class on horror lit.