• Tag Archives undead
  • Reinventing the Horde: Problems in Zombie Fiction

    zombiefightnightdrivethruAuthor’s note: This essay originally aired on this blog prior to the file purge of 2014. It is now being rerun for your reading pleasure. Please note Zomtropolis is no longer available as a free on-line serial and will be released in paperback and eBook in the near future.

    Zombies are monsters. At least, that’s the standard definition. Someone dies, rises, has a taste of human flesh and so hunts down the living and, once the prey is caught, chows down and eats their guts. Oh, and they’re ugly, too, slowly rotting away with each passing day.

    That’s the standard version of the zombie and the one most are familiar with.

    It’s the one I knew of when I first discovered them, but as for their main backstory, I didn’t know what that wasy.

    See, I grew up in a household where horror and monsters where off limits. This was a good thing, in that I didn’t have to view creepy faces, see blood and guts, watch people get killed, or be subject to dark forests like other kids I knew. I was probably saved hundreds of hours of nightmares as a result. This absence of horror made for a happier childhood, in that regard. My dad always said, “If you want to watch horror, watch the news.” And he was right, and still is. We live in a sad world with villains in it that outmatch most of what we create in books or on screen.

    At the same time, being so sheltered was a detriment to a well-rounded upbringing because later on, I was naïve about a lot of things, including the darker side of life, both in terms of what humans were capable of and scary images.

    My first exposure to monsters was seeing a ripped-from-a-magazine picture of Freddy Krueger lying in the playground in elementary. The image of a disfigured man with bubbles on his skin was so foreign to me that I had occasional nightmares from that single image for years. I never saw an actual Freddy movie until I was eighteen and living on my own, but I got to tell you: going to the video store to rent one sent up all sorts of red flags and I was scared to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time.

    But zombies, werewolves or vampires growing up?

    At most I saw the Halloween episode of Highway to Heaven where Michael Landon was a werewolf for part of it. Scared me to death. Same with that other episode with the devil.

    Highway to Heaven. Good show, from what I remember, and it was allowed in the Christian household I grew up in for its message. It was also this growing up in a Christian household and the zero tolerance policy for horror and monsters that shaped my life, not only in terms of what I couldn’t see, but how I reacted when faced with the horrors that pop up in life now and then.

    In fact, I only got into horror because of something painful that happened to me. It was in this place of darkness that I found comfort in other dark things for a long time.

    Later, when I incorporated writing about zombies into my writing career, my view of the undead and fandom of them wasn’t your typical horror fan’s. It wasn’t the blood and guts that excited me or their spooky nature, the whole things-that-go-bump-in-the-night thing.

    Instead, it was rooted in my first love: superheroes.

    And they still are.

    I’ve never viewed zombies as “horror monsters” in terms of how I create and write them. To me, they’ve always been supervillains, and I think it’s this definition of them that is more accurate: they are “super” because they can’t die via conventional means—only by the removal of the head—and are certainly not part of our everyday lives, and they are “villains” because of the evil act of eating others they commit.

    When I set out to write my first zombie book, Blood of the Dead (book one of the Undead World Trilogy,) I didn’t want to write a standard zombie novel about a virus, people dying, people coming back, people surviving. I’ve never been one for formulas in my fiction and have always tried to do something new with each tale. Once the story was done, it immediately birthed unusual plans for the sequel, Possession of the Dead: angels, demons, giant zombies some fifteen stories high, shamblers and sprinters, shape shifting zombies and the consequences of the time travel ending of the first book. The third, Redemption of the Dead, incorporated all these unusual elements, while neatly dealing with the time travel issue and ensuring it was paradox-free, which, as a major time travel fan, was something important to me. But all along, as these books were written, the zombies were supervillains to me, with my main cast—Joe, Billy, August, Des, Tracy—being superheroes in their own right, especially Joe and Tracy. While Joe was an excellent shot with the gun, tough as nails and grim, Tracy was a highly-skilled marksmen and fighter. Likewise, they had the tendency to rescue people versus just letting people die.

    The story certainly would not have been what it was without my love of the superhero genre and my sheltered upbringing. Doing zombie stories this way also enabled me to tackle Zombie Fight Night: Battles of the Dead, with a kind of comic book sensibility, that is, classic characters—ninjas, samurai, robots, Vikings, and more—and pit them up against the undead in Bloodsport-like battles, each fight with a purpose that served the overall story being told between each bout.

    The supervillain angle—I like it. I grew up with it, being a huge fan of Super Friends, the Christopher Reeve Superman flicks, the Tim Burton Batman movies, even the Spider-Man TV show. To be honest, I can’t imagine writing monsters any other way other than as supervillains because that’s what they are to me.

    Any monster is, actually, and I explored this idea in the series of anthologies I edit called Metahumans vs. The first two are Metahumans vs the Undead and Metahumans vs Werewolves. For the uninitiated, metahumans are superheroes are the same thing. The idea with this series was not only to showcase independent superheroes, but also put them up against a new kind of supervillain that isn’t used that often in comics or cartoons: monsters.

    Before you accuse me of this article being a giant commercial for my undead work—for free serial zombie fiction, see my on-line novel, Zomtropolis at www.canisterx.com, wink wink, nudge nudge—there’s a point to all these examples, and that is this: not to let stereotypes and archetypes be a guide for your fiction, in this, we’re talking about undead fiction.

    Why do zombies have to monsters via the standard definition? Why can’t there be something more to them?

    I fully realize we live in a very commercialistic society, where most of what’s produced is made because it’ll make the most money. For me, this is a shallow way of approaching storytelling. It’s selfish, it’s limiting, it’s, frankly, wrong. Art—which includes writing—should be about honest expression, about pushing boundaries and trying something new. Will this new thing always be popular? No, but the fact that it is new is important and shows the artist behind it has put thought into it and expressed something from within versus simply a formula of what would sell.

    Let’s look at the typical zombie formula.

    1) a virus sweeps the world, killing people

    2) these people rise from the dead as flesh-eating machines

    3) a group of people were somehow not infected—which may or may not be explained

    4) this group must survive in a half-destroyed world with limited resources—are our armies really that incompetent that the surviving military couldn’t defeat creatures who are stupid and slow?—and battle amongst themselves and against shambling zombies

    Did I miss anything?

    While this is fine for the skeleton of a story, it doesn’t make much for the meat of it. There needs to be more. Reasons for things need to be given. A new spin on these four main ideas needs to be taken otherwise it’s just the same story being told over and over again, the only difference being the people’s names and locales.

    “Well, that’s what the audience expects?” you say. They expect that because that’s what we’ve been giving them.

    Ever read a book or see a movie and go, “Now that’s a new way to do it?” I have. It’s an amazing realization and elevates the work in question to a whole new level upon seeing it.

    Some possible fixes to the aforementioned zombie formula, off the top of my head:

    1) Why is it always a virus? Why not something supernatural? Or something from space? Something from Earth? Something mechanical that gives the illusion of people back from the dead? I edited an anthology called Dead Science, which challenged the authors to create unique science-gone-wrong-based origins for the undead. The stories they came up with were fun and original.

    2) Shamblers and sprinters seem to be the order of the day. Some have ventured into smart zombie territory. What if they had super strength? What if to kill them it wasn’t cutting off their heads but it was their guts—source of hunger—that needed to be removed? What if they were giants? What if part of the cause of them dying also shrank them and you had zombies so small they were like bugs and could get all over you so quickly like ants that you had no hope of survival?

    3) Seldom is it explained why the group of survivors were immune to the zombie virus. An explanation for their survival needs to be included? Was a vicinity thing? Did the cause of the undead only affect people indoors? Outdoors? Is the whole world taken out or just a part of it?

    4) How come the world is always destroyed within a few weeks of the outbreak? Have you noticed this or is it just me? While I realize people act like animals under panic—we’ve all seen riots on the news—all these cities with broken everything, over-turned cars, bodies everywhere, graffiti, everyone suddenly in torn clothes, etc.—I just don’t get it. What about our military? Wouldn’t the countries’ forces combine to eradicate a common threat like a zombie outbreak? How could even a horde of zombies take out a guy with a machine gun unless they’re oh-so-slow moving bodies somehow got in a sneak attack? What about planes and bombs?

    I won’t admit to having read every zombie book or seen every zombie movie, but it seems to me the element of realism has been taken out. It’s always been my view that a book or comic or movie—whatever—needs to be grounded in reality somehow, the whole “what if this happened tomorrow for real” thing. To add such an element to a book—regardless of how out-of-this-world the circumstance is—suddenly brings that fantastic circumstance into our world and puts the reader right in the middle of the tale because he/she can completely understand why things happen a certain way. Life isn’t full of conveniences, tidy plotlines and clichéd ideas. It’s a mess with tons of twists and turns.

    Shouldn’t our stories reflect life?

    The argument is people want to escape. For me, that’s just an excuse to get out of a life that isn’t the one you wanted. How about turning that on its head and reading stories about lives like yours, that aren’t the way the characters wanted, and you draw strength and encouragement from that? There’s lots to be said about relatability and seeing people in the same boat as you, whether they’re real or not, whether the world they inhabit is yours or not.

    But I realize that trying new things and going against the grain is countercultural, especially in the West. I realize that to propose writing zombie fiction as something other than zombie fiction flies in the face of decades of tradition.

    It just seems, though, that these standard ideas have become so ingrained in us that we’re afraid to move or operate outside them. Afraid to grow. Afraid to step off the beaten path and blaze a new trail.

    Seems we all just go with the flow.

    Just like a pack of zombies.


  • Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes: Zany Zombie Poetry for the Undead Head

    The dead rise. The world dies. Mankind falls and enters Death’s halls.

    Over 90 poems of carnage, hopelessness and despair mixed with oodles of the living dead await you. Featuring poems by W. Bill Czolgosz, Paul A. Freeman, Keith Gouveia, J.H. Hobson, Rich Ristow, Lester Smith, Steve Vernon, Zed Zefram, Zombie Zak and many others, Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes will not only melt your brain . . . it’ll tear out your jugular!

    Available as a paperback at:

    Amazon.com
    Amazon.ca
    Amazon.co.uk
    Barnes and Noble

    Available as an eBook at:

    Amazon Kindle
    Drivethru Fiction
    Smashwords


  • Dead Science: A Zombie Anthology

    Science.
    Research.
    Knowledge.

    The human intellect knows no bounds because of them.

    We’ve built cities and nations upon them.

    We’ve stopped the spread of terrible diseases because of what we’ve learned from them.

    Lives have been saved . . . but lives also have been lost.

    Now those lives have returned from the grave, seeking revenge.

    Sometimes . . . science goes wrong.

    Death.
    Destruction.
    Zombies.

    Featuring the terrifying tales of 13 authors, Dead Science brings you stories of the undead unlike any you’ve ever read before. Prepare to go behind-the-scenes and learn about the causes of various zombie uprisings and the havoc these creatures wreak upon the living.

    Stories by:

    Gustavo Bondoni, Eric S. Brown, Michael Cieslak, Lorne Dixon, Anthony Giangregorio, Glen Held, Becca Morgan, Mark Onspaugh, Gina Ranalli, Vincent L. Scarsella, Jason V. Shayer, Ryan C. Thomas and Adam J. Whitlatch.

    Available as a paperback at:

    Amazon.com
    Amazon.ca
    Amazon.co.uk
    Barnes and Noble

    Available as an eBook at:

    Amazon Kindle
    Drivethru Fiction
    Smashwords


  • Life of Death (Blood of my World Trilogy, Book 3)

    “A refreshing teen fantasy full of bite, blood and romance.” — K. H. Koehler, author of Raiju

    Now disconnected from their families, Zach and Rose try and make it on their own away from the war between vampire and slayer. But word has been spread to the undead that Zach needs to return to his family otherwise his mother will only make matters worse for him.

    Trying to survive together isn’t all it is hoped to be and Zach and Rose must decide if a vampire and human truly can remain together, or if it’s a lost cause and they should accept their fate.

    Is love enough?

    Before the two can find out, the vampire’s family comes for Zach and Rose, and the two are swept into a nightmare where there will be only one survivor.

    Available as a paperback at:

    Amazon.com
    Amazon.ca
    Amazon.co.uk
    Barnes and Noble

    Available as an eBook at:

    Amazon Kindle
    Smashwords


  • Memories of Death (Blood of my World Trilogy, Book 2)

    “A refreshing teen fantasy full of bite, blood and romance.” — K. H. Koehler, author of Raiju

    Now submerged in the world of vampire slaying, Rose must come to terms with what that means for her relationship with Zach and if it’s even possible for the two of them to be together.

    Meanwhile, every moment spent with Rose helps bridge the gaps in Zach’s memory, reminding him how much they meant to each other in their former life.

    Rose’s father, Marcus, is now even more dedicated to purging the Earth of the undead, so much so he’s willing to kill the only boy Rose had ever loved to help make the world a safer place for her.

    Likewise, a plot is in play to infiltrate the Slayer Order, even at the expense of a loved one.

    The countdown begins and Zach and Rose must come to a decision as to where their loyalties lie, or if they’re going to put each other above all else and face the consequences together.

    Available as a paperback at:

    Amazon.com
    Amazon.ca
    Amazon.co.uk
    Barnes and Noble

    Available as an eBook at:

    Amazon Kindle
    Smashwords


  • Discovery of Death (Blood of my World Trilogy, Book 1)

    “A refreshing teen fantasy full of bite, blood and romance.” — K. H. Koehler, author of Raiju

    Zach and Rose had fallen in love during their sophomore year, their worlds completely changed and utterly belonging to each other’s. It was the first time either had fallen in love, deeply, purely. Aiming for a future together, plans were interrupted when Zach went missing for three long months, leaving Rose distraught, heartbroken and depressed.

    Zach awakens in the dark of a coffin, his memory erased, his life and feelings for Rose forgotten. A strange group of people who identify themselves as his family reveal he has become a vampire, one of the undead, and is now a being with incredible power and a thirst for blood.

    However, during Zach’s absence, Rose learns of her own secret heritage: she comes from a long line of vampire slayers, hellbent on eradicating the unholy threat of the undead from the face of the Earth. Now, not only does she need to try and get over the young man she loves, she must also come to terms with her new life and what that means for her future.

    It is only when her path accidentally crosses with Zach’s does lost love begin to surface again.

    Available as a paperback at:

    Amazon.com
    Amazon.ca
    Amazon.co.uk
    Barnes and Noble

    Available as an eBook at:

    Amazon Kindle
    Smashwords


  • Canister X Book Review #12: The Undead: Zombie Anthology Edited by D. L. Snell and Elijah Hall

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    The Undead: Zombie Anthology
    edited by D. L. Snell and Elijah Hall
    4 out of 5

    Undead. The very word makes you shudder. Cold, lifeless bodies somehow still moving, running solely on instinct with an all-consuming hunger for human flesh. A horde of walking dead that don’t stop clawing at you, don’t stop chasing you, don’t give up . . . until they have you.

    The Undead‘s collection of zombie stories is just like that: unrelenting, non-stop, the-dead-keep-on-coming action, nearly each story gripping you hard and sucking you into a world of never-ending night.

    Some of the stories in this book are simply exciting tales of flesh-hungry gut-munchers, where others are more atmospheric, and yet others more character-driven than zombie-driven. For me personally, it’s the latter that I enjoy most (though I’m never opposed to a good old-fashioned zombie romp either).

    My favorite character-driven stories for this anthology were, “Home” by David Moody and “Ann at Twilight” by Brent Zirnheld.

    “Chuy and the Fish” by David Wellington is also a huge favorite. So very original, in this reviewer’s opinion.

    Other cool and well-written tales I thoroughly enjoyed were: “Hotline” by Russell Calhoun, “Graveyard Slot” by Cavan Scott, “13 Ways of Looking at the Living Dead” by Eric Pape, “Undead Prometheus” by Rob Morganbesser and “Pale Moonlight” by D.L. Snell.

    There were a few stories that fell short and one in particular that I remember reading and going, “Okay, not really sure what that was supposed to be.”

    There are three more books in Permuted Press’s Undead Anthology series.

    They’re on my list.

    This first volume got me hooked.


  • Canister X Movie Review #127: Flight of the Living Dead (2007)

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    Flight of the Living Dead (2007)
    Written by Sidney Iwanter, Mark Onspaugh and Scott Thomas
    Directed by Scott Thomas
    Runtime 94 min.
    4 out of 5

    A team of scientists creates a virus that kills the victim then regenerates the body. The idea: sell it as a biological weapon. The plan: one of the scientists is infected so is transported via plane in a special container under armed guard. Not that they think the scientist within is a threat, just that they don’t want anyone stealing the container.

    The plane encounters a severe thunderstorm and is rocked all over the place. Sure enough, the container is no longer secure and the person within is brought back to life. First goes the guard . . . then goes everyone else.

    Also on board—in coach—is a cop named Truman Burrows (David Chisum) and a criminal, Frank (Kevin J. O’Connor), being transported for trial. Soon these two must set aside their differences if they are to survive this doomed flight.

    Outbreak on a plane? You bet.

    Big trouble? You better believe it.

    The premise for this movie is just plain cool: zombies on a plane (sounds familiar, don’t it?). Good stuff. My question going into this was: okay, you got a plane full of zombies, but only so much room. How can you fill a whole movie without people getting slaughtered inside of fifteen minutes? Sure enough, the writers thought of that and managed to at first slowly let the zombies rise then, due to the large plane and various compartments therein, give our main band of heroes some room to run around and not get eaten.

    The zombies were scary, especially their eyes. Really good makeup. There was plenty of action and enough blood and guts to make any horror fan happy.

    The only thing I thought was kind of weak was the pilot’s insistence on not setting the plane down once the undead outbreak occurred. Can’t you land on more than just a long stretch of road? How about a field? Even a water landing? Better to take a chance with those than watch your passengers get eaten.

    This is one of those B-movies that make you happy you love B-movies, you know? There’s a sense of B-horror pride with this one. Hard to place it, but it’s there. More than once I was going, “Oh man, this is so good!” Maybe it’s the acting. Maybe it’s the grade of the film. Maybe the effects. I don’t know . . . but it’s good.

    Fun flick. Check it out.

    I’m glad I added Flight of the Living Dead to my collection.

    And on a personal note, I had the privilege of publishing one of the co-writers of this movie, Mark Onspaugh, in my science-gone-wrong zombie anthology, Dead Science. His story is called “The Decay of Unknown Particles.” Cool.


  • Canister X Movie Review #124: Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)

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    Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)
    Written by Robert Valding
    Directed by Jeff Broadstreet
    Runtime 80 min.
    3 out of 5

    I found out about this flick via the movie-on-demand feature from my cable provider. I watched the trailer, loved the zombies, then vowed that one night soon after my wife and kids went to bed, I’d indulge in a world of darkness and gore while hiding out in an old farmhouse.

    The problem was: I got busy, so when I finally got around to my late-night television watching, I was too tired to watch a full movie and since the on-demand rental would only be for 24 hours, there wouldn’t be any other time to watch this flick other than, well, right when I rented it.

    So the suspense built. One day turned to two. Two to four. Four to eight, ’til eventually a few weeks passed, me all the while unable to stop thinking about this film. Then . . . finally—finally—I was able to watch this thing. The only problem was it was an over-the-cables rental so no 3D for me. Oh well.

    I loved how it started out like the original Night of the Living Dead (that was 1968, for those who don’t know). The opening scene in the cemetery immediately brought back memories of the original and the same kind of eeriness. Then the zombies showed up; I was all giggles and my inner undead fanboy was a happy camper.

    Right then I knew I was in for a good time. And I had a good time. The zombie scenes were great. The dead were just plain gross, each in various states of decay. The blood was plentiful and Sid Haig as Gerald Tovar Jr. did a great job of being that creepy, hick kind of guy that would bother anyone. And I gotta tell you, I didn’t see the twist in the storyline coming. I won’t spoil it, but those who’ve seen this movie know what I’m talking about.

    This movie is one of those great-yet-not flicks. You love it because it’s all blood and guts, zombies and definitely a B-movie. You have a problem with it because the story is kind of “meh” and the acting is all right. At the same time you can’t stop thinking about it afterward because—since it’s a remake—it brings back gushy memories of the original (and in this case the original and the 1990 remake), but at the same time you wonder how it got off the rails so badly.

    That said, I’m giving it a split rating, the idea here being you can go either way on this, but at the very least be in for a good time, especially if you dig B-horror.


  • Canister X Movie Review #123: Land of the Dead (2005)

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    Land of the Dead (2005)
    Written by George A. Romero
    Directed by George A. Romero
    Runtime 93 min.
    3 out of 5

    One day, they rose.
    The next, the world fell.
    Now, humanity barely survives.
    And the undead have gotten smarter.

    Zombies abound in this recent blockbuster by George A. Romero and, as always, the man who invented the zombie genre shows us he still has what it takes to turn out a good flick.

    Simon Baker does a great job playing the hard-edged-yet-soft-hearted hero, while John Leguizamo steals the show as a kind of crooked hero-turned-bad guy.

    What I enjoyed about this flick was the idea of a walled-in society, a city-turned-world of its own, with its own hierarchy, running down from rich to poor. I suppose that even if the dead walked the earth, we’d still have the same problems we have today with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.

    Blood and guts fill the screen of this feature: graphic, wet and sloppy. There’s no shortage of stomach-turning moments here.

    I liked the idea of some of the zombies getting smarter instead of just roaming around looking for folks to eat, and the idea of them trying to regain their former humanity was well done. However, the “human-hearted” zombies also made the creatures feel a bit too human, for my taste, and the undead lost their edge as a result.

    The story was simple, but fun.

    Not a bad effort, this one.