There's so much more to zombies than just The Walking Dead. Countless sci-fi, fantasy, and horror books use zombies to explore serious fears about plague, globalization, and, in at least one instance, the dangers of unsupervised U-boat excavation. These nine zombie books demonstrate the genre's flexibilty—and, of course, its capacity to scare readers witless.
Once, Peter Mellor was a professor at the college in his rural Ohio town. But since the car crash, things have been different. The world around Peter is descending into chaos: He can’t recall much from before the accident, and—oh yes—part of his head is missing. Written from the point of view of the undead, Zombie, Ohio follows Peter as he slowly adjusts to his new existence as a zombie, and comes to the realization that the car crash, which took his life and inadvertently turned him into the walking dead, was no accident. Thankfully, Peter has plenty of time to solve the mystery of who murdered him. In between feeding his recent addiction to brains, of course.
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Monster Island taps into one of my deepest (and most ridiculous) fears as a New Yorker: What would happen if the city was suddenly overrun by the undead? Set in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan where the city’s subway tunnels, office buildings, and avenues are choked with zombies, the narrative follows survivor Dekalb as he faces a harsh truth: In order to save his daughter's life, he needs to retrieve medical supplies from the United Nations building in Midtown. Supported by a fierce group of teenage female soldiers, Dekalb faces off against a city crawling with corpses—including sentient, egomaniacal zombie Gary.
The Night Boat
The son of a bank president, David has a cushy job lined up for him at home with his parents. Instead, he flees to the Caribbean, where he spends his time deep sea diving, and eventually uncovers something he shouldn't have: A still-seaworthy U-Boat, with sounds of movement coming from inside. When an unexpected charge sends the vessel towards a nearby island, David opens the hatch, unleashing an unpredictable evil onto paradise. Moral of the story: Listen to your parents unless you want to wind up swimming with zombie Nazis.
Tales of the Hidden World
In this eerie short story collection, sci-fi and horror master Simon R. Green revisits some of the darkest worlds from his novels to spin self-contained tales of deadly creatures and the humans tasked with keeping them at bay. A standout story in the collection is "He Said, Laughing," an homage to Apocalpyse Now, in which the renegade General Kurtz's army is populated by undead men — because, to his mind, "war is far too important to be left to the living." A sick look at the violence in Vietnam, this story and the rest in Green's collection will leave you feeling unsettled long after you finish them.
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World War Z
World War Z is a masterful and incredibly detailed ‘oral history’ of humanity’s war against the undead, or 'zeke.' Although I enjoyed the 2013 movie adaptation, I would caution potential readers not to let their opinion of the movie influence whether or not they pick up the book, as the film is almost unrecognizable from its source material.
World War Z (the book) is a comprehensive chronicle of how people all over the world over would be impacted by a zombie pandemic. It's a gripping, chilling, and, at times, surprisingly emotional. The book's stories, presented in interview format, envision how humans across the globe would respond to a pandemic that leaves its victims worse than dead. I was particularly impressed by the book's female characters; unlike in lesser apocalyptic narratives, the women of World War Z aren't just presented as traumatized victims. Frequently, they're brave, intelligent warriors who band together to take down zeke, and any other challengers who happen to come their way.
In Zone One, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead depicts humanity on the upswing against the zombie apocalypse. Armed forces are gradually taking back Manhattan for the living, inch by painstaking inch. Mark Spitz, a soldier stationed at Chinatown’s Fort Wonton, is tasked with helping his team reclaim everything south of Canal street, exterminating zombies that have become catatonic and effectively harmless since the collapse. Set over the span of three days, Zone One follows Mark and his fellow 'sweepers' as they reminisce about the lives they led before civilization's 'last night,' and grapple with post apocalyptic stress disorder. Some semblance of routine and normalcy is finally returning to their lives—but Mark doesn't know how fragile humanity’s edge over the dead really is.
The Girl With All the Gifts
Twenty years ago, humanity was overrun by a fungal infection that caused the afflicted to lose their mental faculties and crave human flesh. But now, a group of children 'hungries' may be the key to a cure. These young hungries haven't lost their minds, and aren't dangerous unless they're close enough to humans to smell them. Melanie, one of these unusual young hungries, is taken to a military base run by the few surviving uninfected. There, she develops a deep affection for her teacher Miss Justineau. Melanie doesn't fully understand what makes her different from other humans, or why the brief moment of physical affection she shares with Miss Justineau causes so much consternation on the base. This somber, hard science fiction/zombie novel haunted me long after I finished it. If you enjoy The Girl With All the Gifts, there's more where that came from, too — a pseudo-prequel set in the same universe comes out May 2nd.
Stephen King’s lone foray into the zombie genre, Cell, manages to rise above a pretty hokey premise—‘what is it with millennials these days and their devices? It’s like they’re all ZOMBIES, huh?'—to take a truly dark look at how a devastating pandemic could separate modern families. Maine artist Clayton Riddell is visiting Boston on a work trip when the world goes to Hell. Anyone using their phone when a mysterious message called “The Pulse” is transmitted transforms into ravenous, zombie-like killers. Desperate to reach his son Johnny back in Maine, Clayton and a ragtag group of other non-phoners begin an odyssey across devastated New England to hopefully reach Johnny—and get some answers along the way. A gory book even by King's standards, Cell is dedicated in part to George A. Romero, and should please fans of the latter's films.
This Hugo Award-nominated novel, written by acclaimed author Seanan McGuire under a nom de plume, is set in 2040 America and follows journalist Georgia Mason as she blogs the presidential campaign of a Republican senator. Georgia, her brother Sean, and their friend Georgette (aka “Buffy”) uncover a conspiracy to use zombies to undermine the campaign. The three investigate the cover-up, with deadly—and un-deadly—consequences. The exciting start to the smart, pop culture savvy Newsflesh series, Feed will leave you hungry for more.
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Featured image: Art from "Night Boat" cover
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