Zombies seem to be the genre d’jour…ironic since zombie stories have inspired hordes of reading fans who endlessly prowl the shelves in search of the next big horror novel to gnosh on. Zombies have also broken out of just being a horror-genre trope, and now can be found in comedies, romances, and even appearing in remakes of classics such as Pride and Prejudice. If a zombie-style outbreak ever did occur, it likely wouldn’t last long because everyone is so familiar with the ways to destroy them (shovels to the skull being a popular tactic). The undead would go extinct within a few days–barring our turning them into grunt labor, of course.
How about we take a bite out of a few…okay, I cannot complete that sentence without my hands trying to beat each other senseless, so let’s just dive right into this zombie novel fray and see which one survives.
THE RUNDOWN: In Sly Mongoose, we discover the planet Chilo, where floating cities survive on a slowly failing mining infrastructure. Timas is one of the few teenagers qualified to continue working on the little-understood tech, while Pepper is an elite soldier who gets caught up in a growing war between the colonists of Chilo and the Swarm, an alien race that is infecting humans to turn them into mindless slaves.
THE CONTRAST: This is the third installment in Buckell’s sci-fi series, but the books don’t comprise the familiar trilogy. Rather, they share the same universe and some guest appearances by or mentions of common characters throughout. Buckell’s science fiction has a unique infusion of Caribbean culture and technologies that, for some of the more backwater planets, come across as barely understood relics of a long-forgotten civilization. The zombies here aren’t supernatural, but are infected by an alien virus that transforms them into an ever-expanding horde that could destroy the last colonies on the planet.
THE RUNDOWN: One fateful day in October, people who answer their cellphones are turned into mindless, murderous lunatics, thanks to some mysterious signal broadcast across the world. Clay Riddell is one of the few to survive the ensuing apocalypse that claims most of the human race, and he joins a small band that, while fighting for their lives, uncovers disturbing developments about these new “zombies” that set the future of the human race on a whole new track.
THE CONTRAST: This is a definite homage by King to a range of classic zombie films, the book being dedicated in part to George A. Romero. This is one of King’s books where you don’t have to wade through pages of character backstory and dialogue to get to the good bits. It sticks closer to a fast-paced, horror/thriller format, and brings on plenty of gore for those who enjoy that sort of thing.
THE RUNDOWN: Amanda Feral is a type-A ad executive, ruthless in her business dealings–until she winds up dead, thanks to an unfortunate accident. However, death doesn’t have much hold on her, and she quickly finds herself sucked into an underworld society of zombies, vampires, shapeshifters, and pretty much every other nasty creature you could imagine, all of them just trying to have fun and make a living. But when supernaturals start disappearing, Amanda realizes her fabulous undead existence is threatened unless she uncovers the culprit.
THE CONTRAST: Don’t be tricked by the cover art. This isn’t a paranormal romance of any sort. This book has serious attitude. It’s rude, crude, and not afraid to get quite nasty–both in the barbs characters constantly sling at each other, and in the details of how Amanda and her zombie pals…er…dine. Amanda is nothing like your traditional urban fantasy heroine, preferring to sling back cocktails and exchange juicy gossip, and it’s only her coming directly into the line of fire that tends to inspire her to action. Oh, and the obsession with zombie fashion and makeup techniques is quite hilarious.
This is a tough match. King has quite the reputation to overcome in-and-of himself. With that reputation, though, comes the fact that many readers likely have already given Cell a go. If you haven’t, and were turned off by the thought of meandering character backstories and thick side plots, know that this is a departure from his usual style and certainly deserves a read. However, I’m going to assume many are familiar with it, so let’s give the other candidates a chance.
It’s tough to recommend either Happy Hour of the Damned or Sly Mongoose over the other because both are well worth reading in their own rights. They are written for quite different audiences though, and, in the end, I believe Sly Mongoose will appeal to a larger audience. Happy Hour of the Damned is a lot of fun and an excellent spin on your usual zombie/paranormal novel, with the sequels only getting better. That said, a number of readers might easily be turned off by its incredibly morbid humor and less-than-sympathetic narrator. With Sly Mongoose, yes, it is science fiction, but it’s presented in an accessible way and with such engaging characters that the story doesn’t suffer for the sake of the science. It’s imaginative and, thanks to the standalone plot, might inspire you to check out the rest of Buckell’s works.
Now, you tell me. Do you enjoy the zombie genre? Or would you rather most works–whether movies, books, comics, etc.–about zombies gain the trendy accessory of a shotgun blast to the forehead?