Staggering Reads: Don’t-Miss Fiction from the Zombie Apocalypse

By Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY

Our culture is filled with tales of the walking dead. They’re in our mythology. They’re in our religions. They’re in our comic books. We fear them, we love them, we’re just plain obsessed with them. But we know the zombie apocalypse is just a fairy tale. We know it couldn’t really happen. Could it?

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an online Zombie Apocalypse Emergency Preparedness Guide, and we gobbled it up. It got so many hits, the web site crashed‚ a testament to our own fear of the living dead. But the true casualty of an apocalypse, always, is civilization. What is civilization, after all, but a luxury designed for those who don’t have to worry about survival? It’s just a matter of time until the zombie apocalypse. Here’s an octet of staggering reads to help you prepare for it.

Frater, Rhiannon. Seige. Tor. (As the World Dies, Bk. 3). Apr. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781429988216. pap. $14.99. HORROR
Life during the zombie apocalypse is challenging, but the inhabitants of the fort have managed to survive and even flourish despite the lurking dead, a murderous vigilante, and the baleful remnants of the U.S. government. The zombie-slaying, butt-kicking heroines of The First Days and Waiting To Survive are at the brink of a new world, but whether the living or dead will rule remains to be seen. VERDICT Frater’s prose needs a rigorous edit; her villains are wicked to a melodramatic, mustache-twirling degree; and, as in her previous novels, the sappy love scenes don’t always jibe with the end-of-the-world motif. And yet this is an addictive read, full of bloody good zombie action, well-crafted characters, and some truly heart-stopping imagery (e.g., a zombie fetus struggling to emerge from the torn abdomen of his living dead mother). Keep the tissues handy‚ Frater knows how to pluck the heartstrings.

Handeland, Lori. Zombie Island: A Shakespeare Undead Novel. Griffin: St. Martin’s. May 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780312623067. pap. $14.99. HORROR
Fresh from his victory over the zombie horde that invaded London, bard, playwright, and necrovampire William Shakespeare schemes to rid his beloved Katherine of her villainous husband. But the fates intervene, and the two are shipwrecked on an island along with a power-mad sorcerer, an enslaved fairy, and Kate’s evil husband, who has been changed into the wolflike Caliban. Oh, and the island is infested with zombies. Fortunately, Kate is the most fearsome zombie killer since Lizzie in Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Together with his Dark Lady, Will works at chopping down the undead while dreaming up literary notions that come to him at the most inopportune times. VERDICT In this follow-up to Shakespeare Undead, RITA Award‚ winning author Handeland has fashioned a sprightly, scary, and sexy retelling of The Tempest that will please Shakespeare enthusiasts as well as horror fans. Lose all literary pretensions, strengthen your stomach, and embrace this bloody frolic full of vampires, zombies, and a love story that is the stuff that sonnets are made on. [Library marketing.]

starred review starLamberson, Gregory. Carnage Road. Print Is Dead: Creeping Hemlock Pr. Apr. 2012. c.112p. ISBN 9780984739431. pap. $6.95. HORROR
Boone and Walker, the last survivors of the Floating Dragons motorcycle gang, set out on a cross-country odyssey through the zombie apocalypse. Their trek begins in Buffalo, NY, and heads west through Indiana, where they catch a movie in an abandoned movie theater crawling with zombies that are also watching Death Machine starring Bruce Willis; Kansas, site of their imprisonment by racist right-wing extremists; Hollywood, home of undead celebrities haunting their stars on the Walk of Fame; and concluding in Texas for a last stand at the Alamo. Along the way, they drive fast, take out ghouls, and encounter both the best and the worst remainders of the human race. VERDICT Lamberson’s (Personal Demons) latest is both bleak and beautiful, a brain-splattering zombie thriller that is at its core a paean to the power of friendship, even in a dead world. This novella may be brief, but it has real bite, along with taut zombie action, scathing social commentary, and a suitably nihilistic ending. Zombie fans are in for one easy ride through the apocalypse. [Print Is Dead is Creeping Hemlock’s zombie-themed imprint.‚ Ed.]

Marshall, James. Ninja Versus Pirates Featuring Zombies. ChiZine. May 2012. c.240p. ISBN 9781926851587. pap. $15.95. HORROR
In a world controlled by zombies, one fantastically rich 16-year-old kid sets out to end human suffering. Guy Boy Man, the (Internet) pirate of the title and self-appointed savior of the world, is determined to eliminate evil forces, among them violent vegetarians, wealthy communist librarians, fields ripe with writhing babies, and, of course, zombies. In his quest, Guy teams up with handsome Ninja Sweetie Honey. Enter BabyDoll15, a cute, pink-haired girl with a unicorn, and the competition is on. Can Guy Boy Man find love in a world where everyone is doomed to become either zombies or zombie food, depending on their score on the ZAT (Zombie Aptitude Test)? Sounds confusing, and it is‚ right from the first sentence which, incidentally, is three pages long. Are these events really happening, or are they just in the head of Guy Boy Man, possibly the least reliable narrator since Humbert Humbert? VERDICT Chaotic, crazy, and undeniably captivating, NVPRZ is the quirkiest take yet on the zombie genre. First in a series that is sure to be a smash with the gaming generation.

Moody, David. Autumn: Aftermath. Griffin: St. Martin’s. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780312570026. pap. $16.99. HORROR
It’s been 26 days since an infection wiped out most of the human race, then reanimated the dead. Pockets of survivors remain, banding together for strength and safety. A group has taken shelter in a medieval castle and only emerges when it’s absolutely necessary. As autumn fades to winter, the balance of power changes, and the survivors begin to turn on one another. In the aftermath of the disease, will the last people destroy each other, or will the dead destroy them all? VERDICT This fifth and final chapter is a fine and fitting conclusion to horror maestro Moody’s “Autumn” series. While packed with enough undead action to please even the most ravenous zombiephile, the novel truly succeeds when Moody slows down the pace and focuses on his characters’ humanity. The true horror isn’t the living dead, it’s the darkness inside the living. The questions Moody poses will resonate long after the book is finished. Highly recommended.

Nassise, Joseph. By the Blood of Heroes. Harper Voyager. (The Great Undead War, Bk. 1). May 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780062048776. pap. $14.99. HORROR
World War I is in its seventh year, and the Kaiser’s army has introduced a new weapon into the fray: T-leiche, also known as corpse gas. When fallen soldiers are exposed, they rise from the dead as shamblers, mindless, flesh-eating machines (also known as zombies). The shambler brigades are used as shock troops to weaken the Allied lines and pave the way for the more traditional German divisions. But corpse gas can have an even more evil effect, as in the case of the infamous Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen, who was exposed during a plane crash and resurrected as a better, stronger, and more intelligent version of himself. It’s up to legendary Ace pilot Jack Freeman and Capt. Michael Madman Burke to foil the Germans in this genre-jumping tour de force. VERDICT Urban fantasy and sf author Nassise (Eyes To See) raises the alternate history genre to brilliant new heights. This is a treat for zombie and horror fans, military fiction aficionados, history buffs, and steampunk lovers alike, all of whom will be clamoring for the next installment.

Wellington, David. 32 Fangs: A Final Vampire Tale. Broadway. Apr. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780307886187. pap. $14. HORROR
Laura Caxton has sacrificed everything to her hunt for the world’s longest-living vampire: the lives of her friends and family, her job, her freedom, even her humanity. Caxton, now a fugitive from justice, has escaped from prison to pursue her nemesis, the malevolent Justinia Malvern. When the two finally confront each other in a bloody showdown, Caxton finds that the cunning Malvern has outsmarted her again with a scheme that involves Laura’s few remaining friends, a battalion of cops, and an army of half-dead slaves. These zombies, also known as the faceless, are Malvern’s victims, whom she calls back from the dead to do her bidding. Malvern’s strength may be failing, but she can still impose her will on zombie minds too weak to defend themselves. VERDICT Best-selling author Wellington (Monster Island; Frostbite) will not disappoint his myriad fans with this explosive conclusion to the vampire series that began with 13 Bullets. Part horror historical, part police procedural with entirely splattery fangs-and-brains action, this will draw in undead aficionados of all kinds.

starred review starZito, V.M. The Return Man. Orbit: Hachette. Apr. 2012. c.400p. ISBN 9780316218283. pap. $9.99. HORROR
It has been four years since the Resurrection split the United States into two nations: the eastern Safe States, overcrowded by 50 million refugees with not enough food, supplies, or jobs to go around, and the western Evacuated States, the silent wastelands of the living dead. It is here that Henry Marco, former neurologist and bounty hunter for hire, makes his living. Engaged by grief-stricken survivors, he hunts down living dead loved ones and puts them to rest‚ that is, he kills them. Marco is highly skilled at his job, so much that Homeland Security wants him for a secret mission vital to the future of America. When he teams up with Kheng Wu, a Chinese secret agent disguising as an American soldier sent to back him up, he’s in for the ride of his life through a world dominated by death. VERDICT Zito’s debut is stunning, a harrowing, haunting, and beautifully written novel that belongs on the very top shelf of the zombie canon alongside Max Brooks’s World War Z, Mira Grant’s “Feed” series (Feed; Deadline), and the groundbreaking Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. [In June, Orbit will publish Blackout, Grant’s concluding volume to her zombie trilogy.‚ Ed.]


Zombie fiction keeps shuffling along. Also coming this summer but arriving too late to be considered for this roundup: John Russo’s Undead (Cemetary Dance, June), which brings back into print two classic zombie novels by the screenwriter of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology (Griffin: St. Martin’s, June) compiled by Christopher Golden, the editor of The New Dead‚ Ed.

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Wilda Williams About Wilda Williams

Wilda "Willy" Williams ( is LJ's Fiction Editor. She specializes in popular fiction and edits the Mystery, Science Fiction, Christian Fiction, and Word on Street Lit columns.