We have a little less than one month until October 23 and the premiere of The Walking Dead’s seventh season! I enjoyed the Alexandria arc, but the last few episodes of the sixth season felt like Rick, Michonne and the rest of the gang were being moved around like chess pieces. I wasn’t fond of the horrible cliffhanger, either. But overall The Walking Dead is one series I can’t quit.
A friend who has an aversion to zombie stories once asked me why I was so fascinated with The Walking Dead. Back then my reply was that a good zombie story is less about the zombies and more about the survivors. In the case of The Walking Dead, I’ve read about halfway through the comics, but the show’s actors do such a good job of (forgive me) fleshing out the characters that it’s easier to root for them. I pointed out that “the walking dead” doesn’t exactly refer to the zombies — it refers to the little band of human survivors, who, in the show’s mythos, are all infected with the virus. They will turn when they die, regardless of whether or not they are bitten by a zombie. So: who exactly are the dead in this story — or in any post-Romero zombie story?
Most zombie stories are told from the survivor’s point of view, and there are a lot of great examples out there (see our reread of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series) and lots of different angles. In recent years, a few writers have begun to take this narrative and turn it around — telling the story from the zombie’s point of view. It’s a bold choice that allows for a little more complexity to the zombie phenomenon — and thus, perhaps sheds light on the human condition. So I cobbled together a short list of three zombie stories that are sure to make you think — or at least entertain you! — without making you want to put a stake through your eye.
First up: Raising Stony Mayhall, by Daryl Gregory (2011). This brilliant novel is both an alternate history and a comment on the U.S.’s post-9/11 hypervigilance. The premise? The events in the 1968 George Romero classic Night of the Walking Dead really happened (the film is referred to as a “documentary”), but the zombies were… contained. A rural Iowa woman finds a baby born to a recently deceased zombie, and raises the baby out of sight of the U.S. military, which has been on high alert guarding against and quashing any zombie recurrences. Stony doesn’t eat. He doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t even have a heart, but he grows up just like other kids. He is forced to leave home and joins up with the Living Dead Resistance — a multifaceted movement that wants to claim civil rights for existing zombies. It sounds funny, and it is — imagine our history told from a zombie’s point of view — but overall Gregory’s novel is an exploration of what makes a zombie a zombie, and secondarily an examination of political movements, which often are not unified, but patchworks of groups with different beliefs and methods unifying for a common goal.
Second up: Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion (2010). Both a book and a movie — usually classified as YA, but I’ve never let that stop me, and neither should you, because you’ll miss out on one of the most positive, humorous, and yes, heartwarming zombie stories of the decade (see what I did there?). Like Raising Stony Mayhall, Warm Bodies is written from the zombie’s point of view. R, an empathetic zombie who can’t remember his full name, has taken up residence with a community of other undead in an airport. Unlike his fellow residents, R doesn’t like eating flesh to maintain his lifeless existence, but ends up killing a guy named Perry during a hunting party, and then eating Perry’s brain. In doing so R absorbs and relives Perry’s memories, and starts to regain his own. When his party comes across a group of survivors, R recognizes one of them as Perry’s girlfriend, Julie, and spares her. He kidnaps Julie and takes her back to the airport, where he finds himself falling in love with her, but then has to come clean about his role in Perry’s death (by the way, he’s been hoarding bits of Perry’s brain to gain more memories of Julie and what it means to be human). Squeamish readers might want to skip the helpful drawings in the book. Watch the movie for some funny scenes, the chemistry between the actors in a decidedly weird concept story, and of course, the end.
Last, but definitely not least: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey (2014). Read it before it hits the silver screen; it’s about to be released in the UK with Glenn Close and Gemma Arterton in two of the starring roles. In this story set in Britain, the zombie apocalypse is fungus-based; it has turned humans into flesh-seeking zombies. But the main character, Melanie, isn’t aware of that. She knows only that she and her classmates are kept under lock and key in a military base, and that one by one, her classmates disappear and don’t come back. The only thing that sustains Melanie is her Matilda/Miss Honey love for her teacher, Miss Justineau, and Miss Justineau, for her part, senses Melanie is something special. When hungries attack the base, the truth is revealed — Melanie and her classmates are a new, naturally occurring special kind of zombie who retain their mental faculties and can constrain their hunger. Melanie is forced to flee the base with Miss Justineau, and a contingent of soldiers led by Colonel Caldwell, the lead researcher who thinks Melanie is the key to a cure. If the movie doesn’t get the end right, read the story for a total twist.
Honorable Mentions: Sometimes zombie POV stories are just plain old fun. Check out Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series, starting with — what else? — My Life as a White Trash Zombie. Angel Crawford wakes up after overdosing on painkillers, then mysteriously lands a job transporting bodies to the county morgue–where she discovers her former addictions have been replaced by a horrible hankering for brains. And then people start dying in really weird ways and Angel realizes there is a serial killer on the loose.
That’s what I’ve got! Have you read any of these, or do you have others to add? Keep the chain going in the comments!