Who’s for dinner? All those fine young cannibals in post-apocalyptic fiction

Cannibalism is one of those subjects that is a little touchy to talk about, at least in real life. As a culture, we have a dark fascination with real life stories involving it, whether it is the historical account of the Donner Party or the the real life events of the famous 1972 Andes Plane crash. Yet it is a subject that we seem to be more comfortable discussing in fiction rather than in fact…. In mainstream films, the topic is rare: One of the few films on the subject is the 1989 film Parents, a creepy, detached, understated piece set in 1950s suburbia,  where a young boy begins to suspect that his parents are cannibals.

Fiction seems to do a little better at tackling the subject. And, in science fiction particularly, cannibalism is not new at all. In fact, it is such a common trope in the genre, it has its own mention on the Cannibalism in Popular Culture Wiki page.

We see the trope in its traditional sense in the Time Machine, H.G. Wells’ classic novel which was published back in 1895. Wells describes two groups, the Eloi and the Morlocks. In the novel, the Eloi are presented as almost angelic lotus eaters and the Morlocks, who practice cannibalism, are portrayed as evil monsters.

Science fiction master Robert Heinlein used the concept in his Hugo award-winning novel, Stranger in a Strange Land(1961). This book was particularly noteworthy because he challenged the usual stereotype and the moral view that cannibals are bad by having his hero, Valentine Michael Smith, practice cannibalism.  He also mocked traditional religion by comparing the ritual of the Eucharist to cannibalism in the same book.

And, don’t forget about Soylent Green, the film based on Harry Harrison’s book,  Make Room! Make Room! While the focus of the book is overpopulation, not cannibalism, the movie gave birth to a pop culture catchphrase with that unforgettable scene in the film where Charlton Heston shouts: “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!”

Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of cannibalism in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, in both the Young Adult and Adult fiction categories. I must note that for the purposes of this discussion, like the expert in George A. Romero’s 1978 film, Dawn of the Dead, I do not consider zombies themselves cannibals (cannibalism is an intraspecies activity; zombies do not eat each other…).

Max Brooks deals briefly with the issue and its aftermath in one section of his book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. In the book, the absence of food and a harsh North American winter forces a group of survivors into cannibalism. It is a very emotional and memorable section of the book.

In one of the most culturally significant of these recent books,  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a man must protect his child from being eaten by cannibals. The film adaptation caused a controversy of its own by showing a human baby being roasted on a spit, a scene that was later cut from the film but survived in some of the trailers.

There is no denying that this book is considered culturally important.  Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize, this book has spawned academic treatises discussing its significance. Look at Styles of Extinction: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Adventures in Reading Cormac McCarthy and see what I mean.

A disclaimer here: Due to descriptions of its totally depressing nature, I have not personally read The Road. As a parent, the idea of trying to protect my child against cannibals is more than I can bear to think about and is certainly more than I can handle as entertainment. I prefer a dash of hope with my apocalypse….

I recently talked to two of my favorite authors who have used cannibalism (quite effectively) in recent novels.  Mike Mullin is the author of Ashfall. This award winning novel shows what happens when society falls apart after the eruption of the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park. In the sequel,  Ashen Winter, groups of cannibals known as flenser gangs endanger survivors .

Keith C. Blackmore is author of Mountain Man and its sequels, Safari (Mountain Man Book 2) and Hellifax (Mountain Man Book 3)The Mountain Man series is set in Canada two years after a zombie apocalypse has destroyed civilization. In the latest installment, Hellifax,as  food becomes scarce, a vicious group of cannibals emerges.

As they talked about their approach to using cannibalism in their novels, I noticed that there were some striking points of similarity and differences.

According to Mike Mullin, “Cannibals crept into Ashfall without much planning on my part. I wrote the scene in which Alex encounters an escaped convict, Target, roasting a chunk of mystery meat and realized that many would assume he was eating human flesh. That seemed cool in a slightly disgusting way, so I purposefully left that scene open-so that the reader can interpret it however she wishes. But writing that scene did spur me to do more research on cannibalism, and, ultimately, to include more explicit cannibalism in Ashen Winter.

Keith Blackmore, on the other hand, deliberately chose these characters for their villainy.

“Well, cannibals,” according to Keith, “that is to say, folks who kill other folks solely for pleasure and then devour them–represent an evil, a base savagery, which I find terrifying. Killing a person and eating them is fucked up (can I say that here?) er… screwed up and a person’s instinctive reaction is to be horrified by the act or even the willingness to carry out such an act. It triggers a primeval revulsion, of something gone way too far. It’s not a wild animal, but a person willing to devour another person for sustenance, and at the very worse, you probably won’t realize it until it’s too late. In a zombie story, it fairly easy to spot a zombie and avoid it. Not so with a living, breathing, honest-to-gawd person who’s reverted to cannibalism. Having a character in a story who is capable of such an act is damned frightening, so having several characters should be terrifying… or so I hoped.”

The two authors differed in their approach to researching the flesh-eaters as well:

Blackmore admitted that since he chose them for the fear factor, he really didn’t do a lot a research into his cannibals at all. “I’ve read some articles on Jeffery Dahmer and the guy who actually posted an ad online seeking out a person to kill and then eat, and there was a more recent Russian (Ukrainian?) who was executed for it. It’s the stuff of nightmares.”

The process was different for Mullin: “After I wrote the scene with Target, I read epidemiological research on the Donner party and the book Alive by Piers Paul Reid. But the book that was most influential to my portrayal of cannibalism in Ashen Winter was Collapse, by Jared Diamond. It examines what happens when whole societies break down, rather than localized, temporary disasters like the Donner party or the Andean plane crash. That case-ecological disasters that ended whole societies like the Mayans or Easter Islanders-is a better analogue to the aftermath of a supervolcano.”

Both Mullin and Blackmore agree that there is a tremendous difference between eating those who have died for survival purposes (such as the Donner Party and Andes plane crash scenarios) and overtly attacking people for the purpose of eating them.

According to Mullin, “Yes, there’s a huge ethical difference. If you eat my carcass after I’m dead and it helps you to survive, I’m totally fine with that. If I’m still kicking as you try to carve off a flank steak, then you and I are going to have a problem.”

However, he goes on to say, “I attempted in Ashfall and Ashen Winter to portray the full range of ethical behavior that would follow a collapse of our society-from groups who won’t even cannibalize the dead (a couple of the people in the Andean plane crash died for their ethics in exactly that way) to groups who are totally self-interested and will do absolutely anything to survive.”

While Blackmore agrees that there is “a huge difference” between the two extremes, he says that he really didn’t factor those ethical considerations into Hellifax. He does note, however, that “in those survival stories I imagine there was a huge amount of reflection upon a person’s spirituality, not to mention the reluctance of actually going through with the deed in order to survive, followed by the self-revulsion/loathing (or so I expect there would be some self-loathing) and having to live with that knowledge thereafter.”

In both authors’ books, certain people seem to turn almost gleefully to cannibalism as a source of food. So, I asked both authors how realistic they thought that scenario is, given our cultural taboos against it. Surprisingly, their answers were very different.

Blackmore replied, “To gleefully turn to cannibalism? Realistically, no, I don’t think such a scenario would happen. It’s a work of fiction, meant only to entertain, if not frighten (just a little). Real cases of gleeful cannibals freak me out like old Cronenberg movies.”

Mullin, on the other hand, had a less optimistic view. “People (a tiny minority) gleefully turn to cannibalism even now, despite our cultural taboos and laws. If you have a particularly strong stomach, check out this link or this one. The flensers in Ashen Winter are a minority-but a particularly vicious and (temporarily) successful minority.’

Not having a strong stomach, I will have to trust him on that one.

I was trying to decide if cannibals in fiction are an up-and-coming trend, like vampires and zombies in fiction, or if it is just a brief, temporary interest. Then, I found this story on CNN that tells of a police officer accused in a plot to abduct and cook women. I think I may need to think about this a little more seriously…. How about you?

Many thanks to Keith C. Blackmore and Mike Mullin for stopping by and chatting with me!

Keith C. Blackmore writes heroic fantasy and horror and is currently teasing his fans with the possibility of a Mountain Man 4. You can find out more about him at his website, KeithCBlackmore.com, and follow him on Twitter at @KeithCB1 and on GoodReads.

Mike Mullin is busy working on the third book in the Ashfall series, Sunrise. You can connect with him on the web at mikemullinauthor.com, on Twitter at @Mike_Mullin, and on Google+, FaceBook and GoodReads.

How To Zombie Proof Your Car….

Read any zombie book and it is quite obvious: Your car is one of the most vulnerable places you can be in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Sitting in your vehicle on a traffic-jammed highway in the midst of a zombie outbreak is almost as bad as being at the mall….

This video offers a very detailed look at the role of your car in a zombie apocalypse and includes important points like how to choose a vehicle, modifying it and then using it. When a zombie outbreak begins, the last thing you are going to have time to do is shop. So this video focuses on materials that are readily available. It also has tips on other things you will need during a zombie outbreak like weapons, food,water, first aid and entertainment.

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, Again….

Okay, let’s take a moment to review here.  We have looked at the zombie basics of understanding the typical scenario of a zombie outbreak and how it spreads.  We have examined the essential films to see what we can learn from them.  We have looked at the zombie book lists and should have a feeling for what life in the zombie apocalypse should be like.. By this point. you should have a pretty good idea of the skills needed to survive a zombie apocalypse and know what to expect.

But what if you still don’t “get it?” What if you just don’t think your zombie kill skills are quite up to snuff?  What if you are so unnerved by the sight of the living dead that you can’t think? What if, God forbid, you flunk one of The Oatmeal’s tests?

Then it is time for Dr. Dale to the rescue. 

Dr. Dale is a zombiologist who does training seminars on How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse.  That’s right personalized, small group training for those who require a little extra help in learning how to survive your very own zombie outbreak. 

These seminars were a huge hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year.  After successfully appearing in UK venues as well as on a very successful podcast series,  Dr. Dale and his team are back with series 2, The How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse Reloaded.

The How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse Reloaded seminars are currently being seen at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe through the 29th of August. Dr. Dale and his crack team of teachers have donated all of their share of the takings from the opening weekend (6th-8th Aug) to Zombie-Aid, a charity that holds zombie events to raise money for the Make-A-Wish foundation.

“Our seminar will save lives,” the self professed guru, Dr Dale Seslick, tells us, nodding sagely. “I look upon this show as a divine mission to ensure that the general public receive the information they need to be able to survive a zombie outbreak no matter what their level of intelligence. In order to do this we cover a wide range of topics, including such gems as:  how to build weapons and barricades from everyday items; the killing of and defence against the undead; where the safest places to hide are and how to choose which friend or family member to sacrifice when the need arises – it’s a fun and informative evening for all.”

If you are considering this type of interactive training, Dr. Dale recommends that you ask yourself some of these questions relating to how prepared you are for a zombie apocalypse:

Do you know what a zombie looks like? Do you know how you become infected? Would you be aware of the safest place to go when the undead rise? Could you effectively kill a zombie with just a Florida orange lip balm and roll of cellotape? The answer to these questions may be ‘yes’. The answer to these questions may be ‘no’ or the answer could just be ‘I don’t care’ – well, you should care! Because if you don’t care then you will die! And then you will rise from the dead. And then we’ll have to kill you. And then you’ll die again…. and that is just unacceptable.

 He has also written a new, soon-to-be-considered-a-seminal work called Dr Dale’s Zombie Dictionary: The A-Z Guide to Staying Alive. I am looking forward to reading it  – I think my copy accidentally got diverted to the Falklands, LOL!  Actually, I am still holding out hope for a Kindle version! The early reviews, like this one from The Rotting Zombie,  are great!

The dictionary is said to combine first rate zombie survival skills with a dry, British sense of humor. Where else are you going to find information on how to deal with a naked zombie? Considering how often that scenario happens in zombie books and films, I am surprised no one has addressed that issue before! This is certainly an area I need help in!

If you are interested in further information on the seminars and podcasts (as well as Dr. Dale’s dictionary), you can visit the website at www.howtosurviveazombieapocalypse.co.uk.

Or, you can contact Dr. Dale at 07910 301616, 01524 34316 or via email at show-time@hotmail.co.uk.

Next up: The Zombie Apocalypse Basic Skills Test (ZABST). Please have your digital number two pencils ready!

The Essential Zombie Book List

There is so much new, good zombie literature out there right now, keeping this a list to a managable length is tough. Because there are so many full length books available, I am concentrating on  them, which means no comics and no anthologies on the list. My sincere apologies to The Walking Dead fans!

I am also skipping books like Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your…Brains by Ryan Mecum.  While I agree that there is a certain symmetry to zombies and haiku (zombies are notoriously “in” the moment), I must reject for this list books that have no real survival skill teaching value. (This book not available for the Kindle)

I am also rejecting books that are too advanced for this introductory study guide series like Jonathan Mayberry’s Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead. Although, I have to say that that since I am a big forensics fan, zombie forensics really sound intriguing!  (Unfortunately, this book is not available for the Kindle,  either)

Since there are such a large number of these books that are so good, I can’t, in all fairness, give them a ranking.  Therefore, I am listing the authors in alphabetical order.

J.L. Bourne:

J. L. Bourne is actually a military officer and his books are extremely survival oriented.  The first book started out self published on the web and developed a following from there.  The books have their own unique take on the zombie phenomenon and really strongly focus on survival methods and weapons. That means you are more likely to read a detailed description of an MRE or field stripping a weapon than gory descriptions of pus-filled zombies. But Bourne’s books are compelling, delicious reads.

And honestly, don’t you want to know whether an M-4, an MP5 or an M-16 is more effective at killing zombies? I thought so….

Day by Day Armageddon

Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile

Available for the Kindle.

Max Brooks:

Max brooks has become quite the zombie expert. The Zombie Survival Guide has sold over a million copies. It is not unusual to see Max Brooks’ World War Z listed at the top of any top zombie books list. And, it is being made into a movie staring Brad Pitt. Funny? Yes. Poignant? Yes. A must read? Absolutely!

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War 

Both are available for the Kindle.

Bonus Tool: The Zombie Survival Guide Deck: Complete Protection from the Living Dead.  These are flashcards to use with the Zombie Survival Guide.

S.G. Brown:

Civil rights for zombies? Yep!

This is a very different kind of zombie story. Imagine your child died. Then, he reanimates as a zombie. And, to keep him in your home, you have to have a license. And, he has to go to therapy. And, if he’s out after curfew, he gets picked up by animal control. And, you have to pay a fine to get him back. And, did I mention that they have absolutely no rights? This is an extremely thought provoking look that makes you see things from an unusual point of view.

Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament 

Available for the Kindle.

David Dunwoody:

Empire is a different kind of zombie novel, with its own twists and turns. The book has been hailed as “A macabre masterpiece of post-apocalyptic zombie goodness.”  In an unusual move, the book is set 100 years after the zombie outbreak begins. The reasons for the outbreak have a different explanation.  There are several kinds of zombies and they range from slow to fast.  The appearance of the grim reaper add an interesting twist to the novels, as does an antagonist who wants to use an army of the undead to create an empire. According to the reviews, this book tends to polarizing; people wither love it or hate it..

Empire (Zombie Novels)

Available for the Kindle.

Rhiannon Frater:

This series started out self published. Just a few pages in, I was absolutely hooked. This book has really interesting  women characters and I would love to do a feminist critique on these books! It is another one of those books that takes you from laughing hysterically to helplessly sobbing and back to laughter again. Plus, I learned so many new ways to kill zombies! 

As The World Dies: The First Days: A Zombie Trilogy

As The World Dies: Fighting To Survive: A Zombie Trilogy (Volume 2)

As The World Dies: Siege: A Zombie Trilogy

Currently available for the Kindle. Note that these books will soon be published by Tor.

Additional Untold Tales are available on the forum at the author’s website.

Seth Grahame-Smith:

This was the first of the now many literary mashups. Grahame-Smith has admirably truly captured Jane Austen’s “voice.”  The zombies are actually a nice addition to the story. This book spawned a large number of mashup adding zombies to classic works of fiction.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

   There is also a prequel available by Steve Hockensmith: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, but I haven’t read it yet.

Available for the Kindle.

Brian Keene:

Another very different take on the zombie story, both for the nature of the zombies and the origins of the outbreak.   Zombie bunnies?  Zombie goldfish? And, fast moving, thinking zombies?  Definitely thought provoking.  This is a series that, like David Dunwoody’s Empire, people either love it or hate it. 

The Rising

City Of The Dead

Available for the Kindle.

David Moody:

These books were originally self published. In fact, the author gave the first one away for free on his website to build a following for the book.  While not your typical Romero-esque zombies, these books are interesting and I feel are an important addition to the zombie canon. The series will be reissued by St. Martin’s Griffin starting in October, 2010

Autumn

Autumn: The City

Autumn: Purification

Autumn: The Human Condition

At least the first in the series is planned in a Kindle edition.

And of course, I have a  To be read zombie list that includes the following:

Monster Island: A Zombie Novel (Available for the Kindle.)

Plague of the Dead: The Morningstar Saga (Available for the Kindle.)

I, Zombie: Tomes of te Dead Series (Available for the Kindle.)

Brains: A Zombie Memoir Available for the Kindle.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Available for the Kindle.)

The Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Dead  (Available for the Kindle.)

Patient Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel  (Available for the Kindle.)

36 Hours by Anthony Barnhart (This does not seem to be available on the Kindle and I am not sure if it is still in print.)

So, did I miss anyone’s favorites?

Next up: A new seminal zombie dictionary and personal training seminars for the Zombie Apocalypse!

The Essential Zombie Films – A Study Guide

Much of the information we need to survive a zombie attack is clearly laid out in the films of the genre. The list below are just the bare minimum of what I consider to be some of the “classics.”

The First Zombie Film

The first zombie film was 1932’s  White Zombie with Bela Lugosi. The film featured voodoo and hordes of zombies, not trying to eat the living,  but laboring for thier voodoo master. Known more for Lugosi’s performance and the great atmosphere conveyed in the film, it is now considered a classic. And, since the it is in the public domain, you can watch the entire film on YouTube. You can also download it (along with other goodies)  at the Internet Archive.

The Romero Films:

It is 1968. George a Romero makes history with his film, Night of the Living Dead. This is the movie that started it all. Because of an error, this film was in the public domain immediately after its release. You can also view this at YouTube and download at the Internet Archive.

You cannot underestimate the effect that this film had on the industry and popular culture.  The debt the horror and slasher films genre owes George A. Romero is astounding, as even a brief Google search shows. Romero paved the way for a new generation of horror movies around the world. Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci’s 1979 work, Zombie 2, was actually  billed as a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.  Slasher flicks like the Friday the 13th and the Nightmare on Elm Street series probably would not even exist. 

Take a look at the trailer:

So. The essential Romero films are:

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Dawn of the Dead (1979)

Day of the Dead (1985)

I would also include Land of the Dead (2005) because from a social commentary level, it really moves the series along.

For true Romero purists (and completists), Diary of the Dead (2008) & Survival of the Dead (2009) complete the series

There is a great blog series that covers the classic Romero films and can be used as a study guide: http://www.thedorkreport.com/2009/02/16/the-george-a-romero-zombie-cycle-part-1-night-of-the-living-dead/

The Romero Remakes:

As far as the remakes go, people either love them or hate them. I am personally quite fond of Night of the Living Dead 1990. I love the portrayal of Barbara in the film and applaud her actions at the end. As far as the rest of them, I couldn’t stand them. Although the original Dawn of the Dead is hands-down my favorite Romero flick, I could barely sit through the remake.

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Day of the Dead (2008)

Important note:  

A few caveats: Just because a movie had living dead or of the dead in the title did not mean that it had anything to do with any of the series.  Movies such as  Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane fall into this category. These films are not part of the canon! Understanding which movies belong in the established body of work keep you from being duped by fakes like this one:

The 28 Days Later Series:

The 28 Days series updates the zombie film genre. Outbreaks are spread by virus and it is murderous rage that consumes our zombies. They also move amazingly fast. It is fairly common anymore to see comparisons between slow, Romero-style zombies and those that move fast as in 28 Days Later.

28 Days Later (2003)

28 Weeks Later (2007)

The next film in the series, 28 Months Later will be out in 2011.

The Resident Evil Series:

Okay, I know that you have to take a movie franchise that is based on a video game with a grain of salt, but when I started watching Resident Evil series, I was surprised at how good the first movie was. They really are must see movies for the zombie purist.

Resident Evil (Deluxe Edition)

Resident Evil – Apocalypse (AKA Nemesis) (2004)

Resident Evil – Extinction (2007)

Return of the Living Dead

A comedy zombie series makes the cut? Yes, indeed. And the reason? One word: Braaaaiiins! Chances are, if you are a zombie aficionado, you will find at least the first two of these movies delightful.  (Three starts to get a little darker, and rumor has it that 4 and 5 are just bad!)

A note for horror buffs: 1985’s Return of the Living Dead feature actress Linnea Quigley, known as the Queen of the Screams. Her performance  is a classic.

The Return of the Living Dead (1985) (1985)

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)

Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis (2005) and Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave (2005)

Another movie that is considered to be a comedy zombie classic is Shaun of the Dead (2004) I have to confess, I didn’t get this flick. Not until I saw the end. And not until seeing it a few times.  But I do find the end of the film  hysterically funny. I so totally recognize my son and his best friend since kindergarten in the ending sequence.

Some of you may notice that I left Zombielandoff the list.  While many are considering this to be a modern classic, especially with sequels in the works, I was disappointed in the film.  You can read my review here.

This list is just a beginning list of what I consider some of the classics. Different people have different fims that make their “Top” lists. On the web, you can find lists of  top 20 zombie films and even a Wiki list of over 300 zombie films.  And there are films like The Evil dead that have reanimated dead that some people think should belong on the lists  of zombie films (I personally don’t).

Next up, we are going to be looking at zombies in books. By the way… Did you know that Brad Pitt will play the journalist in a film based on Max Brooks World War Z? 

Study Hints for the test:

There are some classic lines from some of these films that are so well-known, that they will be on the test! Lines like:

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”

“When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

And of course, the classic, “Braaaaiiins!”

Can you think of any others? Or do you have a favorite line or scene from one of these films?

A Zombie Primer

Tomorrow on this blog we are going to look in earnest at teaching aids for combating a zombie apocalypse.  But in the meantime, I thought that some might benefit from additional information that gives perspective and background for what you will need to learn to survive.

If you are unfamiliar with zombies, you might think that the idea of a zombie outbreak is pretty far-fetched. Au contraire, mon ami, the basic course of an outbreak has actually been clearly laid out.  To understand the generally expected scenario, read How Everything Goes to Hell in a Zombie Apocalypse.  This graphic depiction  shows the usual course of events in a zombie infestation. Remember, this is a typical outbreak; your area’s specific outbreak may vary considerably.

However, there is one important fact that holds true in all zombie infestations: If you are bitten, you will die and reanimate as a zombie! Your primary concern in a zombie apocalypse is to avoid being bitten!

Those unfamiliar with the magnitude of zombie lore that exists are usually surprised to see just how exactly how far science has come in studying this phenomenon. Advanced statistical studies have been done on survival rates, and scientists can even accurately calculate the length of time someone will survive after being bitten.

And a final warning:  There is no such thing as a safe zombie, as the following video shows:

Up tomorrow, Zombies in film….

Zombie Awareness Week

No, it is not marked on the calendar or anything (although there is a zombie awareness week in Australia). It is just that it has come to my attention that some of my readers are not as well versed as they should be concerning zombies. 

Since this is a matter of public safety that concerns all of us, I have taken it upon myself to do a bit of educational zombie posting this week to try to get those at the bottom of the class up to speed.  We are going to be looking at books, film, video, news and more to help round out your knowledge of the undead.    Those of you who are familiar with zombies, their spread and the various methods of eradication may consider this a review.

Please pay attention and take notes: There WILL be a quiz at the end of the week!

I thought it best to begin with the bare minimum of information that each of us should be aware of.  Of course, we need look no further than our own government for this basic information, offered in the form of a PSA (Public Service Announcement):

Any questions?

UndeadintheHead.com interviews zombie author David Moody

Okay zombie lovers, there is a great interview with David  Moody, author of the Autumn series of zombie books on UndeadintheHead.com.    The interview is full of interesting stuff, including tasty tidbits on the re-release of the Autumn series (unfortunately, it is currently out of print), The Autumnmovie as well as info on his book Hater, its sequel Dog Blood and more!

I have always thought that David Moody has never received enough credit for his contribution to the zombie genre.  Although I had been a fan of zombie movies since Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead, Autumn was one of the first zombie books that I read.  The book was instrumental in convincing me that zombies weren’t just a subject for film.  

Interviewer Lyle Perez does a great job with the article.  And while you’re reading the Moody piece, check out the book reviews and other interviews on UndeadintheHead.  It’s good stuff!

Day by Day Armageddon: A Review

31I6DaHu2aL__SL160_J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon is a interesting book that tells the story of the zombie apocalypse from the point of view of a military officer who is struggling to survive it. The novel originally began as a series of blog entries by the author that gained quite an audience on the web.  The book was then self published and eventually picked up by Pocket Books.

The reactions to the book are certainly polarized; people either love it or hate it.   There are certain criticisms that seem to come up repeatedly regarding this book.  Among them are:

People compare it to World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks: I can’t tell you how many times I have read, “I read World War Z and liked it, so I thought I’d read this one….”  In this case, this is a recipe for disappointment.  I think that Max Brooks’ book is absolutely brilliant, and it is certainly at the top of my zombie reading list, but the book is really atypical for the genre.  Just because a person likes one doesn’t mean that they will necessarily like the other. DBDA should not be criticized for NOT being like World War Z.

People say it lacks character development: The criticism that there is no character development is also somewhat unwarranted. Because the main character’s nature is not really effusive (he’s a military man, remember?), much of what is written in the book is about events, rather than feelings. Often, the feelings about the events are not stated directly and generally do need to be  inferred.  Other times, the feelings are very direct and evocative, such as when the main character wonders if his parents have survived or if he could manage to get to their home to check on them.  Throughout the book, the characters do act in ways that are consistent with their nature.

I think that part of the difficulty in perceiving the development stems from both the lack of a baseline and the limitations of the journal format.  In the book, the narrator starts keeping the journal right as the zombie outbreak begins.  We have very little material written before the outbreak which means we have little information with which to judge any level of character growth. 

People say it has an extremely boring plot: I personally find criticism that the plot of this book is boring to be somewhat amusing.  Rather than having a frantic paced activity level, the author (very effectively, in my opinion) uses inactivity to good effect to create tension. By using prolonged waiting to get the reader to almost a fever pitch, it heightens the suspense. Because of that, there are parts in this book that are so suspenseful, they are scary.

The journal format itself is, as others have noted, both problematic and limited and may help foster the idea of a slow moving plot.  Most zombie movies and books are usually told in the present tense.  A journal would of necessity be written after the events in question have already happened. A certain immediacy is lost because of this. And since DBDA is predominantly a survival story,  the author is more concerned with telling a story about survival than he is with telling a story about zombies.  Typically in a zombie book, there are lots of scenes of people getting eaten by zombies, and like the films, much of the emphasis is on blood and gore.  In this book, the author seems to pay more attention to describing the MREs, guns and ammo than he does the zombies.

People say it is too full of typos and grammar errors:  There are definitely two schools of thought on this one.  Some people think that the grammar errors are deliberate; others think that they are examples of extremely poor writing/proofing/editing.  I myself am torn on this one.  The author’s website and Twitter entries are generally grammatically correct.  However, the book contains numerous instances of poor punctuation and spelling (such as “putting on the breaks” instead of “putting on the brakes”).  I have never in my life been so tempted to take a red pen to a book and would have loved to introduce the author to the proper use of the comma and the semicolon. And I read the book on a Kindle!

If these errors are deliberate, it would be extremely helpful for the author to note that in a forward to a future edition.

People say the ending is horrible: I have to agree that I do not like the ending to the book at all. Without spoiling the ending, all I can say is that it ends too abruptly and that it could have been handled in a much better way.

Despite the some of the issues with the book, this is an interesting and compelling read that is enjoyable.  If you are a true fan of the zombie genre,  this book is too important to miss. A sequel, Day By Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile,  is currently in the works and is due to be released in July of 2010.

You can learn more about the series at the author’s website,  http://jlbourne.com/.  You can also follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jlbourne.