The fantasy and science fiction book group at Williamsburg Regional Library gathered last night for our annual Halloween meeting. The group reads on a different theme each month, and having explored other Halloween topics like vampires, werewolves, witches, and ghosts in previous years, this time we turned to 2010’s hottest monster: the zombie.
The most frequently chosen book by far was Max Brooks’s World War Z, and praise for it was unanimous. Even readers who were skeptical about the zombie topic found this work worthwhile, as it cleverly uses a zombie outbreak to explore politics, sociology, and psychology. Modeled after Studs Terkel’s The Good War, the book is told as a faux oral history, with only an unknown interviewer recurring through vignettes from survivors from around the globe. Forget your biases about the subject matter, this is a book that makes readers think, makes them laugh, and keeps them turning the pages.
This wasn’t the only book that our readers found worthwhile. Another favorite was Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, the first in a series that combines steampunk alternate history with another zombie survivor story. In the book’s timeline, a machine built to drill for gold in the Civil War era instead malfunctions and tears up Seattle, releasing toxic gas that leaves the city overrun with zombies and just a few intrepid survivors. This fantastic adventure has some fine characters and a wonderful setting that have captured nominations for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards (winning the last).
The Walking Dead graphic novels by Robert Kirkman also had fans. This long-running series spins one of the most detailed zombie scenarios. Fans are ready for the upcoming series on AMC which debuts on Halloween night. The early buzz is as good as that for the network’s other series, the much praised Mad Men.
Humorous works featuring zombies by A. Lee Martinez (Gil’s All Fright Diner), Terry Pratchett (The Truth, Going Postal), and Christopher Moore (The Stupidest Angel) had supporters in our meeting. So did several volumes of short stories, such as the two Living Dead collections edited by John Joseph Adams and other collections edited by James Lowder and Stephen Jones. I’ve heard plenty of praise for Carrie Ryan’s young adult series that begins with The Forest of Hands and Teeth and Mira Grant’s Feed, the first in her Newsflesh series has also been well reviewed.
Conspicuously missing from the zombie love fest, however, were the two most common kinds of books in the recent publishing outbreak. In our group, nobody had anything kind to say about zombie/literary/historical mashups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. While these books have very clever titles, it seems that they generally don’t deliver pleasure beyond the cover. Nor did our readers appreciate writers who try to make zombies sympathetic by telling the story from their perspectives. Self-reflective zombies just didn’t fit the bill for this book group. Has anyone else had happier experiences with books from these two zombie subgenres?
Zombies probably aren’t the first choice of most literary readers, but many of these books are worthwhile. I promise, they won’t eat your brains.