Will won’t stop bothering me about the lack of zombies on the site (despite our recent reviews of the Ex-Heroes series), so he has convinced me to let him do a post demonstrating the wonder and glory of the undead. Enjoy:
Can something be a guilty pleasure if you don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take from it?
Considering I edit and contribute to a blog (this one) that trades primarily in reviewing fantasy/fiction/sci-fi/whatever, I like to think that I have what could be considered generally good taste. While I may have my soft spots, I’m usually able to tell whether a book is objectively good or not, without regard to how much I may personally enjoy the story or subject. There is one genre I have more difficulty with than others, in this regard. If you’ve read my prior reviews, you’re probably already nodding your head, a tired and long suffering look on your face. “Horror, obviously. The man likes his spooks,” you say to no one in particular as you take another sip of the mediocre coffee that your company stocks in its office kitchen. Well, to anyone who said that, no points for you! The genre is “Zombie Fiction”, and I love it all. Good, bad, indifferent, I can find something to like in all of it.
Now, that being said, I understand that most people aren’t quite fond enough of the genre to forgive what is, speaking honestly, the dearth of objectively good zombie stories. It is in this spirit that I present to you the following list of recommendations. Hopefully you try them out and find something you can enjoy without having to slog through yet another self-published ripoff of Romero’s 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead.
Please keep in mind that the following books aren’t in any particular order, except that if you haven’t read #1, stop reading this and come back to the list once you’ve finished it.
1: World War Z – Max brooks
Please don’t watch the movie. Actually, go ahead and watch the movie, but make sure you pretend the entire time it’s called “Brad Pitt Saves the World from Zombies” and has nothing to do with this license.
Written as a series of interviews taking place 10+ years after the conclusion of the Zombie War, World War Z is a very different experience than the books making up the rest of this list. The reader is put into the shoes of a United Nations investigator trying to find out what the cost of the Zombie war was. You are treated to interviews with people ranging across the entire spectrum of humanity. From a doctor in rural china to a young Russian soldier to the Vice President of the United States at the start of the outbreak, the viewpoints are varied and tie together incredibly well. This is a book that rewards careful attention to detail and multiple rereads, as many of the stories are intertwined and crib off of one another. This is my personal favorite book of all time and I cannot recommend this enough.
Personal Rating: 10/10
2: The Zombie Survival Guide – Max Brooks
Set in the same universe as World War Z, and published earlier. The Zombie Survival Guide is probably the lightest entry on the list in terms of weight and depth. It is, however, effectively comedic and fun to read.
Taking the form of a, you guessed it, survival handbook for people in zombie outbreaks, this book is very similar to titles in the Worst Case Scenario series. If you enjoy how-to guides with a sprinkling of brains and machete recommendations, this is a fast, fun book to pick up. There is also a graphic novel version of this book that, while great, I would recommend reading as a supplement after the novel itself.
Personal Rating: 8/10
3: The Morningstar Saga – Z. A. Recht
This series is difficult to review as a single entity due to the tragic and untimely death of the author partway through the third and final book in the trilogy. The ghostwriter, Thom Brannan, did what he could but the change in tone and character voice is just too stark for me. With some major character arcs being wrapped up unsatisfactorily and a muddy, confusing end, I can’t personally recommend book 3.
All that being said, I thoroughly enjoy Recht’s take on zombies. He combines the two classic versions (fast rage zombies and slow relentless zombies) into different stages of the same infection. This gives a formulaic “military response to global catastrophe” story a breath of fresh air. While nothing is absolutely exceptional, all the ingredients work well together and create some zombie fiction comfort food.
Personal Rating: Plague of the Dead – 8/10 Thunder and Ashes – 9/10 Survivors – 4/10
4: Day by Day Armageddon – J. L. Bourne
Another military-focused entry on the list, which is something of a theme for the genre, Bourne eschews the more standard pov of the military machine itself in favor of a single soldier.
Taking the form of the (now ex) soldier’s journal entries, we are treated to a….day by day…look at the world falling apart and the overall struggle to survive in a worldwide collapse. With simple, direct prose informed by the journalistic window-dressing, Day by Day Armageddon is a quick, fun read that I highly recommend.
Personal Rating: 8.5/10
5: The Remaining – D. J. Molles
Well, I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but for those of you who are turned off by military fiction the zombie genre is likely not the place for you.
The Remaining is written from the perspective of Captain Lee Harden of the United States Army. Lee is an embedded agent specifically trained to maintain the rule of law in the US and rebuild after any near-apocalyptic event. If that sounds awfully convenient to you, well it is. While there are some things in this series that you may roll your eyes at, the action is well written and nothing I read was too egregious to overlook.
Personal Rating: 8.5/10
Well there you go. Now, valued and beloved reader, you are ready to take your first slow, shambling steps into the world of zombie fiction. With this list you should be able to get a nice strong start, without getting completely turned off by thinking that my zombie fan fiction is actually anything you ever want to read (you do, by the way, it’s pretty great). At the very least go read World War Z, it’s been out forever and it’s amazing. No, really, I promise, just read it and you’ll see.