Hope for the Zombie Genre

Constant readers of this blog know of my love/hate relationship with all things zombie.  There was a time when I found the reanimated, flesh eating corpse one of the most terrifying things in the horror genre.  And of course, George Romero deserves unending accolades for dreaming up the modern day zombie and setting it free to haunt our nightmares.

Unfortunately, these days, zombies are everywhere.  You've got your zombie walks, your zombie runs, your zombie cartoons, your zombie plush dolls, your zombie ice cream and, yes, even your zombie porn; and as such, a once blood curdling fantastic creature is now about as scary as a Smurf.  I half expect a Disney animated musical about zombies to show up one of these days.

That's why I am always surprised when I come across any zombie-themed work these days that is actually worth my time.  Happily, there are some works out there using the tired old shambler and infusing it with such spark and panache, one finds themselves understanding that all may not be lost when it comes to this genre.  For instance:

Tonight the AMC network begins season II of The Walking Dead, and if it's anywhere as good as last year's season, I think we are all in for a fun ride.  I was constantly impressed with the style of this series - great acting, believable characters, and, most importantly, terrifying zombies.  Of course like any good zombie tale, The Walking Dead gives us survivors that we can relate to; people who are not survivalist soldiers, but average Jane and John Doe-types driven to extraordinary measures to make it through the day (and night).

Colson Whitehead's Zone One is a witty, fatalistic novel concerning a post-zombie-Armageddon New York City where groups of clean-up crews sweep through the streets and office buildings eradicating the stray living dead in preparation for resettlement.  Presented in a non-linear style, Zone One is a narrative that uses its theme as an allegory for life in post 9/11 America.  Whitehead is a writer a million miles ahead of the pack, and that he decided to produce a novel like this one begs the question, "Why bother?"   The answer is found within the pages.  The hero known as "Mark Spitz" (it's an inside joke), seems coolly detached from the proceedings, even when he describes the events of his own personal, "Last Night" (the term used to describe the night the dead came back and everything went to hell).  Everyone has a "Last Night" story - where were you when the lights went out? - where were you when the planes hit the World Trade Center? - where were you when your neighbors started eating each other? - and soon those sad stores all seem to blend together. 

Despite it's rather lofty goals, Zone One also satisfies in terms of terror.  The scene in the book describing the fall of Broadway alone is one of the most sensational and breath taking descriptions of a nightmarish zombie infestation one might have ever read.

Do yourself a favor, read this book.

Kelly Jameson's Z=mc2: Time-Travelin' Zombies vs. the Garden State is an over-the-top, science fiction/horror, political satire novel that starts at a break neck speed, and just gets faster until it threatens to shatter the speed of light.  Set in the not so distant future (a future that amongst other things, features Sarah Palin as the President of these United States) , Z=mc2... tells the story of what happens when a dumpster behind a restaurant in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey serves as  a portal that allows time traveling, genetically mutated zombies  to find there way to the Garden State to pick up some good eats.

Set in and around "The Pines", this novel is a kitchen-sink-stew of absurdity, laughs, gross outs, existential rants, and brilliant prose.  It's obvious that Jameson is using her story to satirize America (and South Jersey in particular), my only fear is that much of it might go over the casual reader's head (god knows, I had to go back re-read every few pages).

Any book that includes the zombie of Albert Eisenstein, chainsaw wielding bikini clad gals, and an institutionalized man  who quotes lines from Ed Wood's films, as well as  a portly attorney who goes by the name of Hilarius Fuchs (say that out loud) stands the chance of possibly becoming so character driven the reader may get a tad confused as to who's who and what's what.  And yet, despite the (seemingly) hundreds of characters populating Z=mc2..., Jameson never looses sight of the zombies.  Her monsters are brain eaters like we saw in Return of the Living Dead, and they are most certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Bottom line, if you want a change of pace in your zombie-lit experience, this is the book for you.  Also, I can't help but love the fact that all of the action is taking place in my back yard (full disclosure, I live just on the border of the infamous New Jersey Pine Barrens).


Prospero said...

Having just finished seeing the season premiere, I'd say Darabont left "The Walking Dead" in good hands. The 'herd' shuffling by was one of the most tension-filled scenes I've seen in any genre. They're certainly off to a good start.

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