You don’t have to like zombies to appreciate a good zombie novel. If there is one thing I have learned about zombie novels, it’s that they are not about zombies. Or more accurately, not only about zombies. Zombie novels span the entire fictional spectrum, from Jonathan Maberry’s action thriller Patient Zero to Colson Whitehead’s “literary” zombie novel, Zone One, which can be read as an allegorical elegy for the America that was lost on 11 September 2001. Then there are those stories told from the point of view of the zombie …
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
I am dead, but it’s not so bad. I’ve learned to live with it. I’m sorry I can’t properly introduce myself, but I don’t have a name any more. Hardly any of us do. We lose them like car keys, forget them like anniversaries. Mine might have started with an ‘R’, but that’s all I have now. (Warm Bodies, opening lines)
R is a zombie. He has no name, no memories, and no pulse, but he has dreams. He is a little different from his fellow Dead. Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows – warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can’t understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her …
This was recently adapted into a fairly decent movie. But read the book first. The books are always better than the movies.
Zombie, Ohio by Scott Kenmore
I remember waking up … or something … by the side of the road, near a town I would later learn was Gant, Ohio. It was midwinter. My eyes were closed as I came to, but I could tell it was winter. I could smell it. (Zombie, Ohio, opening lines)
When rural Ohio college professor Peter Mellor dies in an automobile accident during a zombie outbreak, he is reborn as a highly intelligent (yet somewhat amnesiac) member of the living dead.
With society crumbling around him and violence escalating into daily life, Peter quickly learns that being a zombie isn’t all fun and brains. Humans unsympathetic, generally, to his new proclivities try to kill him at nearly every opportunity. His old friends are loath to associate with him. And he finds himself inconveniently addicted to the gooey stuff inside of people’s heads.
As if all this weren’t bad enough, Peter soon learns that his automobile accident was no accident at all.
Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory
This is not a first-person narrative, like the others, but it is nevertheless a deeply personal account of the life of a zombie, Stony, and his incredibly close and fiercely protective adoptive family.
It was the number-one commandment in the list that had been in effect his entire life: Hide. Never leave the farm, never answer the phone, and never let visitors see you … His mother told him about the disease he was born with. She told him how some ignorant people would say he was dead, even though he obviously wasn’t, and think he was contagious, even though he definitely, definitely wasn’t, and that’s why he had to stay hidden. (Raising Stony Mayhall, chapter 2)
In 1968, after the first zombie outbreak, Wanda Mayhall and her three young daughters discover the body of a teenage mother during a snowstorm. Wrapped in the woman’s arms is a baby, stone-cold, not breathing, and without a pulse. But then his eyes open and look up at Wanda–and he begins to move.
The family hides the child–whom they name Stony–rather than turn him over to authorities that would destroy him. Against all scientific reason, the undead boy begins to grow. For years his adoptive mother and sisters manage to keep his existence a secret–until one terrifying night when Stony is forced to run and he learns that he is not the only living dead boy left in the world.
Read any of these novels, and you’ll disregard everything George A Romero ever taught you about zombies.