The Ten Best Books About Zombies
It must be because I read Frankenstein at such a young age, but I have always been fascinated with zombies and their kin. If you haven’t already made the connection, Frankenstein’s monster is the first zombie. If he had a name, it should be “Adam” or “Adam Redux.” Either way, I’m a sucker for a good zombie story. A quick glance through my library and you’ll find quite a few books that have zombies as the theme.
Although I love the genre, there are also some stinkers out there. So I thought I’d put out a list of books that I feel are worth any zombie aficionado’s time. Feel free to add any that I missed in the comments area. Or, if you didn’t like any of these, let me know why.
Ben’s List of the Ten Best Zombie Books (in no particular order):
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
I would summarize The Forest of Hands and Teeth as one part M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, one part George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and one part Hughes brothers’ Book of Eli. The first of a planned trilogy, the world Carrie Ryan creates is one where, a hundred years or so after the Return, the undead have risen and wiped out all normal life in the world. Set in the middle of a forest, a small band of people have made a life for themselves despite the threat of zombies just outside their gates. The story follows a teenager, Mary, who lives within the confines of the fenced in community, where no one dares escape to the world outside. Of course, the story is fraught with teenage angst and longing for escape. But instead of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll corrupting young Mary, there’s the looming threat of a world that is destroyed and populated by flesh-hungry zombies, with no hope for any other kind of life for her. Or is there?
Day By Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne
What I love most about J. L. Bourne’s Day By Day Armageddon is that it not only is a gripping and realistic work of fiction, but the way with which it came about is fascinating. What started as an online journal soon transformed into a DIY project to see his notes, scribbles, and “account” of the zombie apocalypse bound and published. The popularity and acclaim this story received has led to a second book, as well as future planned stories. The story itself follows a Naval Officer as he documents his travels in a zombie wasteland and struggles to survive. The side notes and spelling errors add a sense of realism to the journal aspect of the story, and the human emotions add depth to the character that are usually missing from most zombie stories.
World War Z by Max Brooks
The premise behind Max Brooks’ World War Z is that it is a set of interviews from a report that was commissioned by the United Nations, approximately ten years after an outbreak that caused the dead to rise and take over the world. For me, this is the quintessential zombie book, because it is really just a bunch of short stories that paint one, larger picture. It’s Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of The United States—if zombies took over the U.S. (some would say they already have). The stories are realistically told, as if by real bystanders or witnesses to the zombie epidemic. There are stories that reveal a governmental cover-up, despicable human behavior, survivalism at an almost visceral level, and heartfelt stories of loss. It’s a great read, and, coming soon to a theater near you.
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
I’ve never really been too interested in reading crime literature or detective novels. The closest I have ever gotten are the Jim Butcher Dresden File novels. But in Patient Zero, I was introduced to Joe Ledger, and might have found a hero I could follow indefinitely. Joe is the leader of a task force with one mission: keep the zombie apocalypse from happening. He and his elite team are sent out like Jack Bauer and his team of operatives to stop would-be zombie-terrorists from releasing “the infected” into populated areas and political events. Imagine a presidential election where the inaugural speech was interrupted by zombies unleashed not only in the crowd of onlookers, but also in the cabinet and Congressional offices as well. Of course, books of this kind always have the hero winning in the end, but while reading this novel I was constantly aware of the possibly imminent doom of Mr. Ledger and his team. A favorable outcome wasn’t always certain, and, in the end, it’s clear that while his “Seal Team Six”-like victory may have won the battle, the war is far from over.
Tooth and Nail by Craig DiLouie
Not as much a zombie novel as a military novel, Tooth and Nail tells the story of a military unit and their attempt to secure a facility in New York City after it has been overrun with zombies. What is most gripping about this novel is the squad-based action throughout. You get a sense that you could insert “terrorists” or “hostiles” into the book wherever “zombies” or “the undead” was used, and you’d still have an excellent novel. Of course, the catch in that statement is that whenever a comrade goes down in normal war situations, they aren’t immediately turned against their squad as they are in the case of zombie attacks inflicted upon the commandos. Dealing with loss within the squad is heartfelt, and makes you reflective of the wars we fight, and the price we pay, and whether or not it’s worth it. This story is action-packed throughout and adds a zombie theme to an excellently written military drama.
Cell by Stephen King
Disclaimer: I am a Stephen King fanboy. I feel he gets a bad rap sometimes, yet the man knows how to tell graphic, horror-filled stories like no other. In Cell, Stephen King not only throws a new twist on how “zombies” are created, but he also makes social commentary (oh so subtly) on the whole technology-fueled masses. You could say the story is an allegory, or it’s just another great novel in a long line of classic Stephen King stories; either way you slice it, it is fast-paced, gruesome at times, and one of my favorite takes on the zombie genre. Essentially, there is a digital plague that infects people through technology, turning them into rage-fueled zombies. Only people who avoid cell phone use (i.e. hippies) are spared, and must fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic Boston.
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of coverage and attention given to The Walking Dead, as it has become a hit TV series on AMC. What you still may not know is that the show is based on an excellent comic book series that goes way deeper, in a more gruesome way, than the TV show. The premise is the same; the story follows various characters and their comrades as they navigate the zombie wasteland. The zombies almost take a back seat in the books, as the real horrors are what humans do to one another. The comic is collected in trade paperback and hardcover formats, and while it is hard for some people to get into a book once there is a movie or live-action version of it, this is one series that excels in comic form, above and beyond the TV series.
The Rising by Brian Keene
You might know Brian Keene from the film 28 Days Later. He is pretty much credited with bringing the popularity of zombie lit into the mainstream. His take on zombies has always been outside of the usual. His zombies move fast, are fairly intelligent, and are always created in some bizarre way. In The Rising, his zombies are really demons that have come to possess human bodies. There are lots of metaphysical, and even spiritual, aspects to this novel. It may not be what you think of when you think of shambling and bumbling zombies, but the horror in this novel is top notch.
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Zone One is a great read that follows a group of “sweepers” who are busy clearing out the remaining undead in Manhattan. The story focuses on Mark Spitz, a sweeper himself, as he recalls life before the “Last Night” of the zombie apocalypse, as well as feeling compassion towards some of the undead that he must dispatch in his daily job. At times, this novel reads like social commentary about how elitists see the dawdling masses of the world. But Colson Whitehead writes with such skill and characterization that you realize that he’s not condemning humanity in this novel, he’s really praising it. This story is really about hope and rebuilding something for everyone, and it’s about the social bonds we make in life that create a world where, no matter what the catastrophe, humans will always band together to fight back despair and entropy.
Monster Island by David Wellington
Plague of the Dead by Z.A. Recht
The Autumn Series by David Moody
White Flag of the Dead by Joseph Talluto
Dead City by Joe McKinney
Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lundqvist