Bookbanter Column: “Zombie is the New Undead” (April 11, 2011)

You sit in your favorite chair, in your favorite room of the house: the library. Your legs are comfort- ably crossed, the temperature is just right: warm and cozy. You’re reading your favorite book on your Ipad, swiping your finger rapidly across the screen to turn the page and continue with the gripping story. You’ve tuned out the world, focused on the captivating story with the unstoppable heroine who is fighting to save the day; you know she will triumph, but you still read for the inevitable surprise. As you begin a new chapter, you finally here a scratching at the door. But you have no pets; who could it be? The scratching continues, as if whatever is on the other side is trying to claw their way through the door. It is then that you hear the deep, inhuman groaning. You put down your Ipad, fear crawling its way up your spine, as you hesitantly walk towards the door. Building up your courage – kidding yourself that it’s just your little brother playing around, but you secretly know better – you fling open the door and scream as the zombie reaches out for you . . .

Zombie. Dictionary.com defines it as “the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.” Wikipedia says, “A fictional undead monster or a person in an entranced state believed to be controlled by a bokor or wizard.” But if I was to refer to Night of the Living Dead, you would have a concrete image in your mind of a weak, slow-moving undead human with its arms stretched out, groaning and moaning, hungrily in search of brains. While the concept of zombies has been around for a long time, George A Romero’s cult classic brought the idea of the walking dead human back to life in a whole new way, spawning countless successive zombie movies.

28 Days Later  Shaun of the Dead

Zombies have appeared numerous times in literature, but it wasn’t until the publication of The Book of the Dead in 1989 that we first saw a collection of zombie stories, based on the premise from Night of the Living Dead. The image of the archetypal zombie described above had fully solidified in our society’s conscious. But during the first decade of the twenty-first century there was a drastic change in the familiar paradigm of the zombie, thanks to the likes of 28 Days Later (2002) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) in film, and Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide published in 2003, followed by his New York Times bestseller World War Z (2006).

  World War Z  Breathers

All of a sudden the zombie wasn’t a scary, slow-moving creature, but one that was an incredibly fast, terrifying nightmare, or could be funny and entertaining; a pet to be kept in your shed. It was a creature we fought a war with and barely survived. It was, jokingly, something we might one day have to face, and here were some detailed ways to protect yourself. S. G. Browne, author of the bestselling Breathers – a book about how zombies would be treated as members of society – has this to say about our contemporary zombies:

“In addition to running like Olympic sprinters and making us laugh, modern zombies are domesticated as pets (Fido), write poetry (Zombie Haiku), and have invaded classic literature (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). They can also be found on the Internet going to marriage counseling, falling in love, and singing to their former co-workers (Jonathan Coulton’s “Re: Your Brains.”) In short, they’ve expanded their range, become more versatile. More well-rounded. And who doesn’t enjoy a more well-rounded zombie? Plus, zombies are tragically comical. Shuffling along, losing their hair and teeth and nails and the occasional appendage. Add the fact that they used to be us and we can’t help but relate to them.”

And what is it about these undead that fascinates us so? Browne’s last sentence does point out an interesting fact that zombies were once people, and when we recognize the person, that is when we have issues in “putting them to rest.” But what is resonating with humanity on a psychological level to want to read and watch and experience the thrill of a living corpse coming for you? Browne continues:

“The prevailing argument I often hear describes the current popularity of zombies as a direct reflection of global fears regarding the economy and terrorism. Horror as catharsis for the fears and anxiety of a society making commentary on itself. I disagree. I believe the current fascination with zombies has less to do with economic angst and more to do with the fact that zombies have been taken out of their proverbial archetypal box. No longer are they just the shambling, mindless, flesh-eating ghouls we’ve known and loved for most of the past four decades. Today’s zombies are faster. Funnier. Sentient.”

This is but one opinion on why we enjoy watching and reading about zombies. Mira Grant, author of the bestselling Feed – set in a techie near future where a virus can turn anyone into a zombie – presents another viewpoint:

“Zombies are, in many ways, a blank slate for our fears — they let us fear illness, fear sublimation, fear the terror of the familiar becoming the alien – without admitting that those fears cannot always be fought in a physical form. And in a time when so many of the classic monsters are being sexualized and humanized, zombies are one of the only things it’s still acceptable to hate and fear on sight.”

Grant brings up an important point. The world of vampires over the last two decades has certainly been revamped (pun intended!) with the likes of Louis (Brad Pitt) and Lestat (Tom Cruise) in the 1994 adaptation of Interview with a Vampire, Angel and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and – of course – Edward (Robert Pattison) from The Twilight Saga. While there have been a number of stories and books about “likeable” zombie characters, no true hero has been raised from the grave.

And yet zombies continue to pervade every sphere of entertainment, as well as every genre of writing, whether it’s bestselling anthologies like John Joseph Adams’ Living Dead, or Christopher Golden’s New Dead; to original novels like Brian Keene’s The Rising, Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, or Stephen King’s Cell; to the popular graphic novel series (and now successful TV series) The Walking Dead; to international levels with Swedish author of Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead. To say I am barely scratching the tip of the iceberg does not do the list of zombie literature justice. Readers may want to check out the Wikipedia page on a “List of Zombie Novels” for further details.

Living Dead  Cell  Handling the Undead

Jonathan Maberry has even brought the subject of zombies to the popular world of young adult fiction with his first book in the series, Rot & Ruin. Maberry came up with the idea when asked to do a story for the New Dead anthology: “I decided to explore the experience of a teenager dealing with something vastly beyond his control. During the writing of the novella I fell in love with the characters and the world of the Rot & Ruin (which is what everything is called that’s beyond the fence line of the small town in which the characters live).” With the success of the first book, Maberry has three sequels planned, with Dust & Decay coming out in August. Even he has been surprised with the success of the “young adult zombie” novel: “It’s won a number of awards already including the Cybils and Dead Letter Award, and has been nominated for a Stoker, the YASLA and others.”

But will the zombie fascination ever come to an end? As a bookstore employee for the last seven years, I have seen the rise of zombie fiction, and while it does seem to have slowed a little, an end appears nowhere in sight. On this topic, Grant says,

“I don’t think the zombie fascination will die down or cool off until we stop being afraid of going to the doctor, of the man on the subway, of the woman with the pamphlet telling us to repent. They’re the monsters for this modern age. The vampire had a pretty good run as the biggest bad in existence — about five hundred years, give or take. I doubt the zombie will break that record, but it’s going to try.”

While John Joseph Adams, editor of the successful Living Dead anthologies, has this to say:

“I think it’s safe to say that zombies will continue to be popular for the foreseeable future. In literature, everything zombie-related has so much competition right now, however, it’s become really hard to stand out. But I think there’s a core fan-base for zombie fiction that will buy up every zombie book they get their hands on, so it’s a safe bet from a publishing point of view–i.e., put zombies in it, and it’ll sell. (The art director corollary is “Put an airship on it, and it’ll sell.) It’ll be interesting to see how things develop; if the zombie genre is going to continue to thrive, its practitioners will have to figure out ways to innovate while keeping things traditional enough so as not to alienate the existing and loyal core fan-base. Fortunately for the genre, zombies work well as a blank canvas and can be easily made to do the writer’s bidding.”

The Age of the Zombie is still alive, undead, and well, because the archetype of the zombie has been so drastically altered. Zombies are like superheroes now, in that there is little limitation to what they may be capable of. Writers are constantly coming up with new and different ways to present the living dead, whether it’s decaying family members we feel the need to aid in Handling the Undead, or the concept of a zombie prostitute in S. G. Browne’s short story “Zombie Gigolo” from Living Dead 2, or even zombie Stormtroopers in Joe Schreiber’s Star Wars: Death Troopers. Anthologies, on the other hand, help to reveal zombie stories known authors have written, but also pose a challenge of writing a zombie story by a writer not know for this genre. In fact, in five years time it is far more likely that the remaining bookstores will have an individual zombie section, separate from their horror section. It really boils down to a relatively simple concept, which Adams pointed out above: as long as there are people buying and reading zombie stories, publishers will continue to publish it, and writers will therefore continue to write it, as well as parody it. Think of it as a never ending cycle, if you will, or perhaps an undead cycle that cannot be put to rest.

Living Dead 2  Death Troopers

Author’s note: The zombie works mentioned above are just a smattering of the whole body of zombie work, covering all mediums. As a reader and movie watcher, I know I have only been exposed to a small amount. I invite readers to post comments on their favorite zombie stories, or perhaps rare ones that not many are familiar, as well as anything else they might want to mention about the living dead.

“Discount Armageddon” by Seanan McGuire (DAW, 2012)

Discount Armageddon
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It has been readily agreed by most fans that Buffy the Vampire Slayer needed to end in season 7 when it did, but it has still been greatly missed.  The comic books from Dark Horse have done a little to fill this empty void, but thankfully Seanan McGuire, bestselling author of the October Daye books, has a new series with a new character that feels much like a new incarnation of Buffy, except less with the superpowers and more with the weapons and kickass fighting skills.

In this world every ghost, ghoul and monster you’ve read about since you were a kid exists; a number of them look almost human, or can make themselves look presentable in everyday society.  They’ve been around for a long time, and sometimes they overstep their boundaries and enjoy the taste of some human flesh.  There are two groups in the world that exist to control and police these cryptids: one is the Covenant, a religious group that has been around for centuries and sees the cryptids as a scorn upon the earth to be killed and got rid of, whether they be succubus, boogie man, or dragon (but dragons haven’t been around for hundreds of years); the other is the Price family.

The Price family have also been around for quite a while, and they’re the good guys who separated from the Covenant a long time ago because they had this crazy notion that some cryptids deserve not to be hunted to extinction.  There was also some inter-marrying going on.  Enter our heroine, Verity Price who enjoys spending her free time running and base jumping along the rooftops of New York, checking on the local cryptids and making sure they’re staying in line.  She earns some okay money and decent tips at Fish and Chicks, a local strip club, where she waitresses only, even though her boss — a bogey man — would love to have her do more; hence Verity’s choice uniform on the cover of the book.  Verity also happens to be a talented ballroom dancer, which keeps her in shape and her martial arts skills honed, making her made up dancing persona quite the celebrity in the ballroom dancing circles.

Things begin to get pretty crazy when a young, muscular and surprisingly attractive Covenant member shows up to start purging the city and Verity keeps running into him and seriously falling for him.  Then cryptids start disappearing and it seems like there might be something really big under Manhattan either killing them or making them get the hell out of town; plus there’s some strange snake cult looking for virgins.  And then she has this large nest of Aeslin mice living with her, celebrating all manner of weird mice-sized festivals.

Discount Armageddon at first feels a lot like a combination of the October Daye series and McGuire’s other Newsflesh series under her Mira Grant pseudonym, as the first person perspective makes it seem like the reader is enjoying one of those books just with different details.  But by halfway through the book, Verity Price establishes herself as a strong independent protagonist, part of a tough and interesting family, and the world is complex and fully established, with a cornucopia of cryptid species that each have their own established and researched pedigree.  By the end of the first book in the Cryptid series, readers will be thoroughly hooked and checking out the cryptid glossary at the end of the book and wanting more cryptid crunchy goodness.

Originally written on December 30, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Discount Armageddon from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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One Salt Sea  Late Eclipses  Feed  Deadline

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer Volume 3: Wolves at the Gate” by Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard, et. al. (Dark Horse, 2008)

Buffy Volume 3starstarstar

The latest collected volume of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 features a single issue scripted by Joss Whedon, as Buffy comes to a startling realization with her personal life that mixes with her job as the lead slayer over all the Chosen.  The development continues in the Wolves at the Gate series as an attack is made on the Chosen base in Scotland by a horde of vampires that can turn into wolves, fog, and even a swarm of bees.  Enlisting the help of a very old and forgotten friend who is a natural wealth of information on the events at hand, Buffy travels to Japan with her powerful army to find out who or what is behind the group of Goth Japanese vampires who have these incredible powers.

Wolves at the Gate continues Buffy’s adventures in classic fashion, with all the main characters, leaving the reader impatiently waiting for the next collection, as well as to some possible answers to why Buffy is doing what she is doing, and what’s behind it all.  Clearly the writers have a master plan building that will hopefully see more light in the next trade coming in May.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 10th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer Volume 2: No Future For You” by Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, and George Jeanty (Dark Horse, 2008)

Buffy Volume 2starstarstar

Buffy and Joss Whedon fans were delighted to discover that there would be a graphic novel version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, continuing on from the end of the show.  But fans also know there are two true slayers currently alive in the Buffyverse, and in No Future For You, with help from writer Brian K. Vaughan (of Y: The Last Man) we get the story on what the other slayer has been up to.

Watcher’s Council extraordinaire Rupert Giles needs the help of Faith, the other slayer who has always seen Buffy as the perfect blond who can do no wrong, while she is a convicted murderer, and has had to fight for everything in her life.  But Giles has a mission for her now: to infiltrate the mansion of a rich family in England and take out a girl who is using all her power and resources to kill slayers and anyone with slayer abilities.  Faith will have to go through a rigorous training process in being a proper English noble.  She will also have her faith tested in being a good person, as she finds she has a lot in common with this girl who wants to put an end to Buffy.

Meanwhile back in the castle where Buffy is, Dawn still has her “giant” problem, Xander is making with the hilarities, while Willow continues to be an awesome witch with a scary amount of power, and there is the strange sigil that continues to have deep and sinister ties.  The graphic novel story continues to be an entertaining tale as good as the original TV series.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on July 26th, 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer Volume 1: Long Way Home” by Joss Whedon, et. al. (Dark Horse, 2007)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Volume 1starstarstarstar

For Buffy fans who felt that when the show ended there was still more to be said about the Buffyverse, writer and creator Joss Whedon thankfully has turned to something else he does just as well as TV: comic books.  With the first trade of what is officially being called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight” now out, it is clear that there is still much to be told by Whedon about Buffy and her friends.

Little time has passed since the town of Sunnydale was turned into a giant crater.  While there was originally one Chosen One, there is now a veritable army of “slayerettes” in training to be as good as the real thing.  There are also two doppelgangers of Buffy, one in Rome and one literally underground in a different world, each intended to distract any enemies from the real Buffy.  But at the same time there’s a secret government group – not the Initiative – which feels that the world isn’t safe when there’s such a powerful slayer on the loose, and with some help from some of Buffy’s old enemies, they intend to put an end to her once and for all.  There’s also a strange symbol that keeps showing up, indicating something much larger and more sinister going on.

Long Way Home features some beautiful artwork, giving life to characters that many fans thought were done with; the trade also has full pages of the alternate covers from the first five issues.  It’s the introduction to what looks to be a long series in the continuing story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 6th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Conversations With Dead People” by Dark Horse Comics (Dark Horse, 2008)

Conversations with Dead Peoplestarstar

With the growing enterprise that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer – even though the show is long finished – doing very well with the successful comic book series co-written by creator Joss Whedon; Dark Horse Comics presents the original Buffy board game: Conversations With Dead People.

The board game is essentially a fancy-looking Ouija Board lavishly designed with clear letters and flowery corner patterns.  With a large planchette that makes the board very easy to use, it is the ideal gift for any Buffy fan who has ever wished to dabble in the “dark arts” and take a step into the “supernatural world.”  It is also an excellent Ouija Board for those looking, regardless of their interest in the successful show.

And for those novices looking at the Ouija Board for the first time, there is a one-page entertaining comic instruction featuring Willow, Dawn, and Xander as the wise witch gives Xander the details on how to use the board, and that it is not for fun, to which Xander replies, “What? I’m serious . . .”

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this game, click here.

Originally written on October 10th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.