Monday, January 16, 2012

The New Zombies

For the last few years, it’s been sparkly, sullen vampires who’ve ruled page and screen. But slowly, steadily creeping up on the bloodsuckers, is a new version of an old favorite: the zombie. Films like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, plus Max Brooks’ and Seth Graham-Smith’s tongue-in-cheek books The Zombie Survival Guide and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, lead the charge with a sarcastic, wholly unique 21st century brand of humor. Other novelists have contributed a new intensity and complexity that comment on modern society and politics—or make some very intriguing changes to the traditional zombie genre. Zombie books are hitting the bestseller lists hard, and readers cannot wait to devour them.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, 2004, Image Comics (Horror/ Graphic Novel). 

When small-town sheriff Rick Grimes wakes up from a gunshot-induced coma, the concerned faces of his family and friends do not surround him. Instead, the dead have become the undead, moaning and groaning and eating brains. For all intents and purposes, life as Rick knows it is over. There are few explanations here, and the story is better for it—Rick and the reader are flung headfirst into a ruined world and forced to battle hoards of reeking zombies for a very slim chance at survival. As Rick desperately searches for his missing wife and son in this, the first volume of the graphic novel series that inspired AMC’s hit TV show of the same name, authors Kirkman and Moore craft a compelling, character-driven story supported by black-and-white artwork that is finely detailed (and very often violent, zombies not being for the faint of heart). It’s human relationships that are at the heart of The Walking Dead, and the twists and turns that this new life throws at Rick and the other survivors are consistently thrilling and surprisingly thoughtful. The Walking Dead, Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves came out in December 2011—just in time for a very gory Christmas. 

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore 
Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye 
Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us 
Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars 
Vol. 4: The Heart’s Desire 
Vol. 5: The Best Defense 
Vol. 6: This Sorrowful Life 
Vol. 7: The Calm Before 
Vol. 8: Made to Suffer 
Vol. 9: Here We Remain 
Vol. 10: What We Become 
Vol. 11: Fear the Hunters 
Vol. 12: Life Among Them 
Vol. 13: Too Far Gone 
Vol. 14: No Way Out 
Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier, 2010, Margaret K. McElderry Books (Short Story Collections/ Young Adult Fantasy). 

This wildly inventive short story collection pits the undead against an unlikely foe: unicorns. Yep, unicorns with their pointy horns and ability to sniff out virgins go head-to-head with the moaning, groaning zombie. Though the unicorns are entertaining (Meg Cabot’s unicorns literally fart rainbows in “Princess Prettypants” and the mythical beasts prove surprisingly unnerving in stories like Margo Lanagan’s “Thousand Flowers” and Diana Peterfreund’s “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn”), it is zombies—in this blogger’s opinion, at least—that get the last laugh. Carrie Ryan continues to build on the worldwide zombie apocalypse she began in The Forest of Hands and Teeth with her story, “Bougainvillea.” Libba Bray’s “Prom Night” and Scott Westerfeld’s “Inoculata” both feature teens in a world that’s short on living adults but overflowing with undead ones. And tales like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s haunting “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and Maureen Johnson’s satirical “Children of the Revolution” stand the zombie tradition on its head. Editors Holly Black (Team Unicorn) and Justine Larbalestier (Team Zombie) debate the finer points of rotting flesh-eater vs. magical horse in witty asides between stories (the controversy began one day during the comments section of Justine's blog). Much more than just a clever gimmick, Zombies vs. Unicorns is full of strange, suspenseful, captivating stories. 

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, 2009, Delacorte Press (Young Adult Fantasy/ Horror). 

In Mary’s world, there are two kind of people: her fellow villagers who dwell under the protection of the religious Sisterhood, and the hoards of the Unconsecrated undead who claw at the village’s fences. Despite the zombies—many of who bear the faces of former loved ones—Mary’s life is simple. The Sisterhood is preparing her for a preordained marriage and Mary will go live with her new husband. She’s in love with another young man, but the Sisterhood’s rules are what keep the village safe. But Mary’s love triangle takes a new turn when the zombies breach the fence and overrun the village. Now Mary and a few others—including her fiancé and the boy she loves—are on their own. A few gated paths wind through the forest, but no one knows where they lead. And the Unconsecrated are always nearby, lurking just on the other side of that deceptively secure chain-link fence. The combination of horror and an old-fashioned way of life is unique, and the suspense runs high. Author Carrie Ryan crafts a detailed new world, with causes and consequences that propel the story forward into two sequels that together create an intense new zombie mythology. 

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Trilogy by Carrie Ryan 
1. The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009) 
2. The Dead-Tossed Waves (2010) 
3. The Dark and Hollow Places (2011)

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, 2009, Tor Books (Fantasy/ Science Fiction/ Steampunk/ Horror). 

1863. The Alaskan Gold Rush is in full swing, and inventor Leviticus Blue is commissioned to build an immense steam-powered ice-drilling machine. But then Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine comes bursting out of his Seattle basement and destroys the city. Worse, the machine opens a vein of toxic subterranean gas (dubbed “the Blight”) that turns everyone who breathes it into zombies. Sixteen years later, Seattle is an abandoned wreck surrounded by a wall that keeps the Blight’s rotting victims contained. Outside the wall, Blue’s widow Briar Wilkes lives with her son Zeke. When Briar won’t answer Zeke’s questions about his father, the boy sneaks into the city. Briar goes after him, and soon they meet a rag-tag crew of survivors who have eked out a life for themselves. Some of these survivors help mother and son, and some hinder (including mad scientist Dr. Minnericht, who bears an eerie resemblance to the infamous Levi Blue), but all of them add to the action-packed adventure of Boneshaker. Author Cherie Priest paints a vivid portrait of an alternate Seattle, gives readers a delightful pair of heroes with wiseass Zeke and tough-as-nails Briar, and throws in lots of good and gory zombie action.

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, 2011, Del Ray/ Ballantine Books (Young Adult Science Fiction/ Steampunk/ Fantasy). 

Romance with a zombie? That’s hard to swallow! In the year 2195, a new civilization modeled after the prim-and-proper Victorian Era rises from the ashes of natural disasters and war. Nora Dearly is a New Victorian who should be focused on social calls and marriage rather than on politics and history. But then Nora is kidnapped by a band of zombies—zombies who don’t want to eat her up. The so-called Lazarus Virus reanimates the infected, but a lucky few manage to keep their bodies whole and their minds clear. Bram Griswold is a solider in this unique zombie army, and it’s up to him to convince Nora that they’re actually allies. Soon, Nora is loosening her corset to make room for a holster and gun, growing close to the handsome and helpful Bram, and blowing open a massive conspiracy involving her recently-deceased scientist father, the anti-Victorian counter-culture known as the Punks, and a mysterious undead army that is considerably less friendly and more hungry than Bram’s group. This is not your traditional “eat-your-brains” zombie story—it’s an imaginative adventure with dashes of dark humor and steamy romance. And like any good young adult sci-fi novel, there’s a sequel (Dearly, Beloved) already in the works.

Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Browne, 2009, Broadway Books (Fantasy/ Dark Humor). 

Andy Warner died in a car crash. After his preserving treatment at the funeral home but before being buried, Andy woke up as a zombie. This is not incredibly unusual; it just happens sometimes. But zombies are not exactly welcomed back into polite society. Instead they’re considered less-than-human and policed by Animal Control. Andy’s too dazed to mind at first (he can’t even talk because his lips are stitched together) but he finds time to attend Undead Anonymous meetings. There he meets a sexy suicide named Rita and undead stoner Jerry. When fellow zombie Ray introduces the trio to the joys of the afterlife, Andy finds himself refusing to sit in the back of the bus and picketing for zombie civil rights. With pretty Rita at his side, Andy might get used to life-after-death—unless the human “breathers” have anything to say about it. Feeling sympathy for a zombie is new for most readers, but that’s what makes Breathers such a unique read—it’s gruesome, endearing, and darkly comic all at the same time. Author S.G. Browne describes his debut novel as a zom-rom-com, a zombie romantic comedy. With a genre-bending label like that, what more can you ask for?

Zone One by Colson Whitehead, 2011, Doubleday Books (Science Fiction). 

The zombie apocalypse has come and (mostly) gone. Mark Spitz survived, and so did lots of other people. Okay, maybe not “lots,” but enough for the reformed government to set up a few refugee camps and attempt to rebuild. Manhattan has been cleared of all but the “stragglers”—zombies that, for whatever reason, are stuck repeating some mundane former behavior instead of chasing after the living. Part of a three-person sweeper crew, Mark Spitz tags and bags the leftover undead and tries to cope with his—and everyone else’s—PASD (Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder). As his team frees the city of its dead, he reflects on life before “Last Night,” other survivors he hunkered down with, and his new life among the slogans, sponsors, and theme songs of the new era (“Stop! Can You Hear the Eagle Roar?” [theme from Reconstruction]). The future is a tentative thing, and Mark Spitz is both lulled by its promise and wary of it—and with good reason, because it’s only when you let your guard down that the zombies get close enough to bite. Satirical and darkly clever, Zone One is a fresh, intelligent examination of the zombie genre, a probing examination of what it means to be a survivor, and a searing look at what it means to be human.

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