“My mama always told me someday I’d be good at something. Who’d a guessed that something’d be zombie-killing?” Talahasee, played by Woody Harrelson in Zombieland
“The lurching soulless cadaver plodding inexorably for you holds an infinitive possibility for terror.” Horror Author Iain McKinnon in an interview here at the Guilded Earlobe.
If you have spent anytime visiting the blog over the past month, you will not be shocked to learn that May is Zombie Awareness month. There has been a recent upsurge in popularity in Zombie fiction, for many reasons. I have been actively reading Zombie literature for over 10 years now, and read and listened to around 50 Zombie novels, audiobooks, novellas and anthologies. In the beginning, my draw to Zombies was mostly due to my love of apocalyptic fiction. I wasn’t specifically a Zombie fan. I’d watched the original Romero trilogy, and enjoyed them, but, in all honesty, the Zombie gore was probably my least favorite aspects of those stories. Yet, as I began to become more immersed in Zombie fiction, and movies like the Dawn of the Dead remake, and 28 Days Later started the momentum of the zombie craze, I became more enamored of the Zombie as Apocalyptic vehicle. The thing about Zombies is they are us, stripped of everything that makes us human. Worse still, we can become them, have our humanity ripped from us and forced to walk the earth committing the ultimate crime against humanity, eating our own.
This list is the 10 Zombie novels or series that have been most influential to my zombie obsession. Now, to all you people who fill up message boards declaring a certain book or movie to not really be Zombies, for some technicality of fictional monsterism, my definition of Zombie is pretty broad. Rage Zombies, Actual Undead, radiated devolved muties with a taste for human flesh can all apply. If it shambles like a zombie and moans like a zombie, in my definition, it’s a zombie. Feel free to include some of your favorites in the comment section. I am always glad to discover new zombie novels.
My Top 10 Zombie Novels or Series
A few weeks ago, The Newsflesh series wouldn’t have topped this list. It would have been in the top 3, but not #1. Then I listened to Blackout. Mira Grant has created one of the most fascinating visions of a world living under the constant threat of reanimation. The Newsflesh series is one of the most accessible Zombie thrillers, which includes aspects of science fiction, political conspiracy thrillers, and good old fashion pulp adventures. While the series is for the most part, a trilogy, don’t forget to check out the Novella Countdown, and look for more novellas and short stories in the world in the future.
Audiobook Version: The entire series is available in audiobook form from Hachette Audio, with multiple narrators.
Whenever anyone tells me that Zombie novels cannot be literature, that they will never be as devastatingly brilliant, emotional and tragic as a novel like The Road, I point them in the direction of The Reapers Are the Angels. Temple is a character that has stuck with me since I first listened to this novel two years ago and I imagine her tale will haunt me for years to come. If you are new to the Zombie genre, and looking for a good place to start, give this novel a try.
Audiobook Version: There is an Audiobook version of this novel from Blackstone Audio, narrated by Tai Sammons.
The Rising, City of the Dead and Dead Sea by Brian Keene
Brian Keene may just be the modern literary Romero. His novel The Rising was one of the first shots in the new wave of Zombie horror. While The Rising and City of the Dead are the core of this series, Dead Sea, set in the same, or at least quite similar universe, is one of the most brilliantly conceived Zombie novels I have read. Keene’s zombies are not caused by some virus, or other human machination, but the breakthrough of demon like entities into our dimension. Now unused corpse, human or animal is safe. Keene’s vision is quite bleak, yet manages to give us unique glimpses into the human condition.
Audiobook Version: The Rising and City of the Dead are available in audio format from Audio Realms, narrated by Peter Delloro.
The Zombie perspective novel is a recent phenomenon, at least for me. Getting into the mind the undead, to see what motivates it, is indeed fascination. Warm Bodies is a modern day, zombified retelling of Romeo & Juliet, which mean, yes, this is a Zombie love story. Yet, Marion tells it in such of compelling way, full of brilliant world building and fascinating glimpses into zombie culture, it’s not as skeevish as you may think. Warm Bodies is one of the most lushly poetical, yet coarsely humorous novels I have experienced in a while.
Audiobook Version: Warm Bodies is available in audio format from Blackstone Audio narrated by Kevin Kennerly.
Blood Crazy and Stranger by Simon Clark
I may be cheating here a bit. Blood Crazy and Stranger are not related works in any ways, nor are they traditional zombie novels. That being said, these two novels are probably most directly responsible for my love of Zombiesque fiction than any others I can point to. The apocalyptic visions of these novels are best described as strange, and nature of the zombie like creatures that inhabit the pages are nothing like what you see on The Walking Dead, yet they are both quite brilliant and chilling, and offer you more than just flesh eating crazies.
Audiobook Version: There are no audiobook versions of these novels.
I think World War Z by Max Brooks may be the most recognizable piece of zombie fiction out there today. Told documentary style, WWZ outlines the steps, many of them brutal, that were taken to win the war against the raging Undead. Told in a series of vignettes, Brooks world is realistic and harsh, and never shies away from the true impacts that a Zombie Apocalypse would have on our world.
Audiobook Version: While World War Z is currently available in audio form from Random House Audio, with a celebrity cast as narrators, it is an Abridged version. With the movie coming soon, I would love to see this novel brought to audio Unabridged.
The Morningstar Strain Trilogy by ZA Recht
ZA Recht’s Morningstar Strain was one of the first Permuted Press series to receive the audiobook treatment, and deservedly so. It is full of memorable characters, brutal scenarios, and a vivid apocalyptic landscape. It combines the classic zombie apocalyptic tropes with military science fiction, and does it seamlessly. ZA Recht passed away suddenly while still working on the final novel in the trilogy. Survivors, that last entry, has now been completed by fellow Permuted Press novelist Thom Brannon, and will be available on June 19th.
Audiobook Version: The Morningstar Strain trilogy is available in audio form from Audible Frontiers, narrated by Oliver Wyman. Plague of the Dead and Thunder & ashes are currently available, Survivors will be available on June 19th.
To be honest, while I love Zombie novels, isolated Zombie outbreak novels are not my favorites. Yet, Patient Zero is the exception. Maberry creates one of the more plausible potentially apocalyptic zombie outbreak scenarios, then introduces us to my literary hero, Joe Ledger. Ledger is not your typical bad ass. While he can stand with the likes of Jack Reacher, and Jack Bauer, he is also emotionally fragile and quite human. Add to this the fact that zombies are ripping through my home town of Philadelphia, PA, and you have a total winner here. Patient Zero is a wonderful start to one of my favorite series.
Audiobook Version: Patient Zero is available in audio format from Blackstone Audio, narrated by Ray Porter.
What if the 1968 Zombie outbreak actually happened? What if after their initial rage, Zombies become just like me and you? These are the questions raised in this darkly funny, often tragic zombie novel. Raising Stony Mayhall easily deifies genre. It is part coming of age, part allegory and a whole lot of fun. In many ways, Raising Stony Mayhall is the Forrest Gump of Zombie novels, with one figure the unlikely center of many events that shape the history of our post apocalyptic nation.
Audiobook Version: Raising Stony Mayhall is available in audio form from Audible, Inc narrated by David Marantz.
Day by Day is the Apocalyptic journal of a soldier in Zombie infested America. Bourne creates an interesting future history, all told from a compelling perspective. The diary format of the storytelling only helps increase the tension, slowly dishing out the story in chunks. This type of storytelling has become more frequent yet comes off fresh in Bourne’s hands. Bourn uses his knowledge as an active duty member of the military to make his account even more realistic.
Audiobook Version: The Day by Day Armageddon series is available in audio format from Audible Frontiers narrated by Jay Snyder.