The apocalypse is really starting to bore me.
In fact, I hit zombie overload about four years back. Around that time, I’d read a number of zombie novels, short stories, and novellas, and they all became a mushy blur of Romero-rehash and biohazard blah. (And most weren’t written very well). Of course, there were some standouts – World War Z by Max Brooks, The Rising by Brian Keene, Dead City by Joe McKinney – but most just felt dull. In truth, I prefer my zombies on screen. They shuffle around, chomp, get their heads splashed like old melons, and after 90 minutes, I’m pleased and ready to move on to something else. Night of the Living Dead is one of my all-time favorite films and still has the power to creep me out something fierce. Dawn of the Dead is a flat-out classic. I am devoted to Darabont’s The Walking Dead (based on the graphic novels by Robert Kirkman). I dig zombies in motion, but I am less-than-a-fan of them on the page. These days, that makes me an outcast in the writing world, where it seems every other book is Dead-this or Dead-that. Since popularity isn’t all that inspiring for me, I’m okay with that, but I can’t help but wonder why zombies have become such a cultural phenomenon.
Curious as I am, I have asked John Skipp to drop some knowledge on me. His groundbreaking anthology Book of the Dead, co-edited with Craig Spector, appeared on the publishing scene in 1989 when there were very few zombies shuffling around in print (In fact, Skipp tells me the only Romero-esque zombies in print were the novelizations of Romero’s groundbreaking films).
Lee Thomas So tell me, Skipp, why now? What’s going on culturally that makes zombies so compelling and so relevant?
John Skipp Well, I could rattle off the Top 20 Guesses that people like to throw around. You’ve undoubtedly heard them all ad nauseum, just like the basic zombie stories you’re already tired of.
I guess I see it like this: it’s been a long war of attrition. Modern flesh-eating zombies-next-door have been fucking cool since George Romero first thought ‘em up and shot ‘em, back in 1968. He sparked a meme that has never stopped spreading. An outsider meme, relentlessly growing ever since.
At its heart is a critique of modern civilization, in which “Mankind” is reduced to shambling drones, brainlessly consuming and destroying all they touch. It’s a powerful critique that can be played at least two ways: 1) “The monster is us”, or 2) “Everyone on Earth is an asshole but me.”