In the last decade, the shambling hordes of the undead have graduated from schlock pulp material to the new wunderkind of horror and speculative writers around the world. Be they Haitin voodoo slaves; Romero shamblers; biological virii; otherworldly invaders or mystical monsters, the dead have risen and you don’t want to get in their way!
13. Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter by Laurell K. Hamilton
The Anita Blake books cross the whole gamut of supernatural — werewolves, vampires and zombies included. The titular character has the ability to talk to the dead — a skill usually called upon during litigation. A vampire hunter by trade (hence the name), Anita Blake raises the dead during the day, and slays the bloodsuckers at night. The series are incredibly popular, and a staple of the urban fantasy genre. Plus, we have to give Hamilton major credit for essentially turning her series into porn. The later novels are filled with BDSM, multiple partners, and all the other wonderful perversions we love vampire romances for. Anita wears pants less often than Lady Gaga, and will shag anything on two legs. See Stephenie Meyer — vampires are about sex!
12. Necroscope by Brian Lumley
Necroscope is like the hyper-masculine version of the Anita Blake novels. Starring a vampire hunter with the ability to talk to the dead, who helps out a government agency, and grows gradually more and more crazy powerful with each novel. Where the Blake stories soon become saturated in sex, Necroscope is instead intensely violent and horrific — centered around the threat of the Wamphyri. Of course, the main character’s greatest gift is his ability to talk to the dead, absorb their skills, and animate them to help him in times of need. I’ve got to say, when fighting against a mammoth tide of evil, I could think of worse allies than zombies.
11. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
How do you take a classic Regency romance, and make it interesting for those who don’t care about the romantic tribulations of wealthy brits? Throw in a few zombies, of course! This mash-up takes Jane Austen’s most famous novel and gives it a major geek upgrade. England has been troubled by the undead for some time in the novel, a dangerous annoyance, but not one sufficient enough to disrupt high society. The Bennet sisters have been trained from their youth as deadly martial artists, and the story covers their war against the undead, their attempts at love, and of course Elizabeth Bennet’s rocky romance with monster hunter Fitzwilliam Darcy.
10. Blood Crazy by Simon Clark
Blood Crazy is a pseudo-zombie story, much the way 28 Days Later is. The ravenous horde aren’t actually the undead, but their actions are close enough for them to make the genre jump. In this incredibly violent and dark story, on Saturday night every adult in the world starts trying to kill anyone under the age of 19. Parents turn on their children, ruthlessly slaughtering them, and the young have to try and band together against their loving elders. Critically panned but popular regardless, Blood Crazy in an intense, blood-pounding page turner, that will have you up all night reading.
9. I, Zombie by Al Ewing
I, Zombie — as you probably guessed from the title — sticks you in the head of one of the undead. As much a noir detective story as a zombie thriller, I, Zombie is about a ten years dead private dick, solving mysteries and busting heads for a price. The real question on his mind, and on the readers, is the one he can never solve: who killed him in the first place. Ewing is a relatively new author, who has cut his teeth writing for 2000 A.D., the weekly comic magazine that spawned Judge Dredd. For some reason, Brits seem to have a special affinity for zombies, and they make up a significant portion of this list.
8. Dead in the West by Joe Lansdale
The very definition of pulp — less than two hundred pages long, on shoddy stock, weird cover art, and stereotypical characters, Dead in the West shouldn’t be as good as it is. Yet somehow, taking the essence of two genres — in this case western and zombies — makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Two great tastes, etc., etc. Peanut butter, chocolate, you know how it goes. There are all the stock characters of the western: the disillusioned preacher, town doctor and his beautiful daughter, and angry town, and an Indian who cursed the whole place. Now besieged by the walking dead, the wandering preacher must use his mad gun skills to take on zombies, demons, and whatever else comes his way. Sometimes brevity is a good thing.
7. Empire: A Zombie Novel by David Dunwoody
After 100 years of zombies, Earth’s governments are in tatters. Only a few heavily defended cities remain, and the rest are badlands, where all must fend for themselves. With all these dead stumbling about, who do you think would be the least happy at the situation? It turns out Death himself, the Grim Reaper. Furious at these souls who have avoided his grasp by becoming shambling corpses, he descends onto Earth to discover their origin, and take as many of them to the afterlife as possible. Allying himself with survivors, the incarnation of Death must face off those who should be under his rightful domain.
6. Cell by Stephen King
Another almost-but-not-quote zombie story, that’s close enough for our definitions. This novel by Stephen King was excellently written, even if the basis for the plot is ludicrous in the extreme. A computer virus infects cellphone wielders the world over, turning them into a murderous hive mind, intent on destroying society. You have to give King points for making such a preposterous and technophobic plot into something worth reading. Then again, this is the same guy who wrote a story about a possessed car. While the phoners in this story are not technically undead, there’s not much difference between people infected with the Rage virus from 28 Days Later, and those hit by a cellphone virus — except the latter is far less plausible.
5. Day by Day Armageddon by JL Bourne
Bare-bones in the extreme, Day by Day Armageddon is a journal of the apocalypse. Just about zero characterization or growth, instead it’s just the day-to-day writings of the mundanity and terror of a zombie world. Sparse, violent, and logical, Day by Day Armageddon was a major hit with readers. The novel is written with a military bent, stuffed with with acronyms and army talk. It’s also a handy guide for how to protect yourself, and what you might need when Z day comes. The novel also has its fair share of critics: spelling and grammar are a major issue, and the novel is very right wing. As in “the Liberals are trying to take all of our guns, and we just managed to get them in time for the Apocalypse” style right wing. Ignore the politics, enjoy the headshots.
4. Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
I went back and forth about including a comic on this list, but in the end, Walking Dead is far, far too good to be left by the wayside. An ongoing black-and-white comic published by Image, the Walking Dead centers on a small town cop in a world of traditional Romero zombies. Slow, relentless and hungry for you. In an interesting twist, the zombie infection isn’t transmitted via biting. All humans have it, and if they die with their brain intact, they’ll rise as the undead. Getting a bite just means infection and death, unless treated promptly. Walking Dead excels in every facet of the zombie story. It’s tightly plotted, with intense action and every rising pressure. It also excels in one field other zombie stories often fail — Kirkman actually knows how to write characterization! Shocking, I know!
3. The Rising by Brian Keene
Rather than the mindless zombies of most of these entries, the creatures in The Rising are thinking, reasoning, and pure evil. They set traps, use weapons, taunt the living and drive cars. The zombie plague was unleashed on the earth when scientists at a particle accelerator accidentally let a demonic alien force into our world. These demons took over the dead, using their memories and skills to try and kill all those remaining. A man West Virginia is taunted by the corpse of his second wife and their unborn child, as he attempts to make his way to New Jersey to rescue his surviving son. While it’s a questionable addition to the zombie genre to blame everything on dimension hopping demons, it’s not really any weirder than the mysticism steeped origins of the field. The strength of the story comes at least partly from having an enemy that is so malevolently intelligent, but also able to be slaughtered in such joyful numbers.
2. Autumn by David Moody
Originally released free online, Autumn (and now its sequels) proved to be mammothly successful, and soon spun into book and movie deals. Now spanning five books, the first of which can still be downloaded for free, Autumn humanizes the zombie apocalypse in a manner few other books do. Instead of gore and violence, Moody tells the story of the people who survived. It’s a deep, intriguing look at the psychological terror of the worst situation imaginable — almost everyone on the planet dying, and then coming back again. There are no flying guts and decapitations, hell the Z word isn’t even used, instead it’s claustrophobia, terror, and the dawning realization that humanity is completely and utterly boned. It’s a much slower, more deliberate story than the often breakneck pace of many other entrants on the list, taking more time to focus on the horror of the situation rather than gung-ho action and splatterfests.
1.World War Z by Max Brooks
Are you really surprised? WWZ is possibly the greatest zombie novel ever created, accurately portraying the immense damage a tide of the living dead would cause. Set after the end of a zombie war, it’s a collection of tales from survivors, under the guise of a report to the UN. It deals with people attempting to understand the causes of the attacks, struggling to leave their homes, the military attempting to deal with an enemy unlike anything ever seen before. Half the book is a broad historical discussion of the events, but scattered throughout are interviews and stories from individuals that bring home just how terrifying a zombie war would be. The eventual choices that had to be made are harrowing, but at the same time logical. It’s a terrifying, touching, and balanced look at a world at war with the undead. Remember Yonkers.
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