I asked author Alethea Kontis if she had jumped on the bandwagon and written any zombie fiction. The princess’s brown eyes darkened for a brief instant, but then she smiled. “Z is for zombie.” She pointed to AlphaOops! H is for Halloween, the second installment of her children’s alphabet primers.
I stared at the Bob Kolar illustration of the tattered zed. Dripping gore, its mouth a red gash across its lower horizontal. Red eyes stared from its upper bar. The resurrected letter stretched out its arms, reaching for victims, as it shambled through a graveyard scattered with tombstones shaped like fanciful game tiles for abandoned consonants. An undead mouse accompanied the letter, its red-eyes and nose beacons of its rodent depravity. Were not even children and critters safe from the zombie plague?
I found myself surrounded by zombie literature. Quirk Books started the literary zombie remix with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Representing Quirk at Dragon*Con is editor Stephen H. Segal. I could ask him about the new prequel, PPZ: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith. Even Sherrilyn Kenyon penned a zombie attack in her new YA novel Infinity, the first of the Chronicles of Nick. Zombies, zombies everywhere.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” I decided to step into the wonderland of zombies, Dragon*Con. With its zombie walk, Thriller history, and featured guests in the zombie genre, the convention proved to be the perfect place to ask experts on the undead where zombie fiction is headed.
Dabbing on some “cadaverine” as scented camouflage, just in case his close association with the undead had tragically led to infection, I sought out Jonathan Maberry, zombie author and guru. His short story “Family Business” in The New Dead (St. Martin’s Press, 2010) actually made me feel sorry for zombies. Any author that could bring me to tears over the ghouls, invent cadaverine, write the sleuth’s ultimate guidebook to the zombie mystery, and win The Black Glove‘s 1st Annual Horrorhead Award for Best Zombie Novel (forPatient Zero) had to have the answers. He did.
What else could I expect from Maberry, a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award-winner, and Marvel Comics writer, with zombie-themed works including Rot & Ruin (Simon & Schuster, to be released September 14, 2010), Marvel Zombies Return (with Seth Grahame-Smith, David Wellington and Fred Van Lente),the Zombie CSU (winner of the Hinzman and Black Quill Awards), Patient Zero (St. Martins Griffin; in development by SONY for TV), and the forthcoming Dead of Night (St Martins Griffin, 2011). Maberry is also a Board Member of the Zombie Research Society. I had found the perfect spokesman for the ranks of the nearly silent undead.
“Zombies offer a broader canvas for storytelling than any other monster,” Maberry said. “For the most part they have no personality, which means that they don’t become characters requiring pages and fleshing out, as has become the case with vampires.” They don’t sparkle, I thought, suppressing an evil, reanimated grin.
Maberry delved into the subject, as relentless as a resurrected corpse digging for brains. “Zombies represent an immediate, overwhelming, pervasive threat that impacts every other character and situation in the tale; which means we get to explore how the humans in the story react and respond to a crisis. People under stress and in crisis form the basis for all drama, so the zombies allow for good drama without letting their personalities intrude.”
Ah, yes, zombies holding up the mirror for us to examine our own humanity or inhumanity. I imagine we’ll see more of that in Rot and Ruin, Maberry’s YA novel set in the same world as “Family Business,” slated for release later this month. I can’t wait to tear into that one.
The guru continued his explanation to me, a mere grasshopper, neophyte zombiephile. “At the same time [zombies] are useful stand-ins for virtually any kind of threat: a virus, the faceless majority, global warming, military build-up, runaway technology, the depersonalization of our society through technology, consumerism, racism … the list is endless. As long as there are problems in the world we can use zombie stories to explore them.” As if to illustrate this point, Maberry wrote Patient Zero featuring terrorists planning to release a bioweapon that can turn citizens into zombies. Heady stuff. I’ve already secured my copy as a safety guide for the next invasion.
Maberry’s recent anthology editor, Christopher Golden (The New Dead) had a slightly different take on the genre, but ultimately agreed on the literary value of zombies. “I think the jury’s out on the long term durability of zombies as a sub-genre of entertainment. Vampires were a seven billion dollar business in entertainment last year, and zombies are doing quite well. If they do continue to be popular, though, I believe that will stem from the fact that we’ve adopted them as a metaphor for all kinds of things, that we’re telling stories using zombies as the vehicle, not just because we want to write about the walking dead.”
Author Lois Gresh brought an entirely new perspective to the question. She contributed that “the zombie is the new Renaissance Man, seen everywhere in literature doing everything from using online dating services to hosting television shows,” as in her story, “Julia Brainchild” in Hungry for Your Love (St. Martin’s Press, October 2010 print; Ravenous Romance, 2009 e-antho).” Gresh “suspects that the resurgence in zombie fiction will remain very popular for quite some time as the Renaissance Zombie expands his role.”
Author-editor Kerrie Hughes has also noticed “a recent rise in zombie romance” that is “a little disturbing yet humorous.” That’s also not a picture I can quite get my clutches around, but heck: Zombies are for lovers!
Not only do we have the human undead to fear, Hughes has established a firm place for zombies in the animal kingdom. “The anthology came about because I have been saying for years that any unidentified noise outside was caused by Zombie Raccoons and or Killer Bunnies. It’s really quite the concept and the authors went above and beyond.” Taking her cue from the anthology title, Jody Lynn Nye‘s story about zombie raccoons will have me jumping at every rattle and bump in the night, doomed to be sleepless for weeks. Don’t miss Nye’s story “Death Mask” in Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes (DAW 2009).
Hughes added that she really enjoys the paranormal genre and survival stories. “I see zombies as a permanent addition to fiction because they represent the ultimate unreasonable enemy . . . It’s generally the classic us against monsters scenario that unites humanity against a very disgusting death.”
Yes, indeed, “Z is for Zombie!”
For Dragon*Con zombie programming, check out zombie events, films, and panels in the Apocalypse Rising (AR), Comics and Pop Art (COMICS), and Independent Film & Festival (FILM) tracks, and these additional zombified panel experiences: “Zombies vs. Unicorns” in Young Adult Literature (YA) (Fri 5:30PM, A707 [M]); “Love Rots” in Dark Fantasy (DFH) (Sat 10PM, Montreal/Vancouver [H]) ; “Sneak Preview: Night of the Living Trekkies” in Trek Track (TREK) (Sun 7PM, Athens [S]); and “Literary Mashups” in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Literature (SFLIT) (Mon 2:30PM, Fairlie [H]).