When There Is No More Room In Hell…

by J.D. Rhoades

Spring again. The time when the warm southern wind blows away the chill of winter (and blows in enough pollen to turn a newly washed car yellow in two minutes). A time when I shake off the gloom of the winter months. A time when I decide to put aside the serious post I meant to do about the Amazonfail flap, try to forget about tax day,  and talk about something fun.

Like zombies.

Are zombies the new vampires?

We do seem to be experiencing a sort of Zombie Renaissance these days. First, there was the sudden smash success of Max Brooks’ World War Z.



Subtitled “An Oral History of the Zombie War”, WWZ is smartly written, slyly satirical, and scary as hell all at the same time. I’d love to see it as a miniseries.


More recently, there’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a “re-imagining” of the Jane Austen classic that opens with the deathless (heh) line:”It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” As my friend Tasha says, that is just so wrong.

While I’m at it, I have to mention my current fave: Jonathan Maberry’s excellent Patient Zero, which puts a whole new spin on the zombie legend by casting them as a terrorist bioweapon. Facing the legions of the undead (and they are many)  is Maberry’s kick-ass action hero, Joe Ledger, a guy who could give Jack Reacher a run for his money.  I’ll nominate PZ’s opening lines (“When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”) as one of the best openings of 2009. 

As you can see, I love a good zombie story as much as the next guy. I’ve probably seen Night of the Living Dead a couple of dozen times, and I can quote you whole scenes of Shaun of the Dead verbatim. But even I have trouble explaining this.

I mean, I can almost see the the vampire thing. There’s a certain sexiness about vampires, or so they tell me. They’re beautiful, their hunger equates with great passion, they bite your neck…hey, it’s not my kink, but whatever floats your boat.

But it’s hard to envision a bestselling YA series about a forbidden romance between a beautiful but awkward teenage girl and a mindless, shambling flesh-eating ghoul. And, even as I bow down to the sheer audacious awesomeness of Marvel Zombies

I have trouble explaining exactly why I love it so. 

So what’s the deal, ‘Rati? Do you love zombies like I love zombies, and if so, why? What’s the attraction? And what’s your favorite tale of the walking dead?  And what book do you think could only be made better if you just threw in some zombies?


32 thoughts on “When There Is No More Room In Hell…

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I am tired of them. Tired of vampires, too. Wish they would all go away.

    But Sarah Langan wrote a great, smart take on it with THE MISSING. You won’t find better female characters in a horror novel.

    Favorite zombie story by far is Stephen King’s PET SEMATERY – it’s one of my favorite books, period. But that’s true horror, nothing fun about it.

  2. Bill Cameron

    I was tired of zombies by the second Anne Rice vampire novel, whatever that one was called. To me, all the vampire stuff is just masturbatory fanfic run amok and legitimized.

    But Zombies have a kind of absurdist charm on the one hand, and a more visceral horror on the other. In real life, I don’t believe in the undead, but zombies don’t have to be supernatural. There’s a horrific plausibility to the idea of some kind of plague which robs you of your mind and leaves with a blind hunger before a painful death. Disturbing.

    And yet, zombies also lend themselves to a kind of comic zaniness vampires (and their unintentionally ridiculous cousin, the glampire) can only aspire to. Shawn of the Dead, and so forth.

    So for my money, about fucking time we kissed off this emo plague of vampires and brought on a zeriously creepy, zeriously hilarious monster. Bring it, Zombies!

  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    No to vampires, no to werewolves, no to zombies. Not my thing but if others enjoy …. let them but leave me alone.

  4. R.J. Mangahas

    I think one thing all these fans of TWILIGHT and TRUE BLOOD and whatever, forget (and probably don’t even know) were that Vampires WERE NOT originally all dark and sexy. They were pretty scary looking. (Does anyone remember Nasferatu?) Somehow, I don’t think teenage girls would have found him sexy. Well, maybe if he wore all black, and cut those talons and……

  5. Dana King

    The Bible could be a good candidate for some judiciously placed zombies. For example:

    There coiuld a plague of zombies.

    The inclusion of zombies would add a new dimension to the Lazerus story.

    The Egyptians could have an all-Zombie workforce, uniquely equipped to communicate with aliens. This could account for the pyramids.

    Of course, this assumes it’s all done tastefully.

  6. Rob Gregory Browne

    I like zombies slightly less than I like vampires, which ain’t much. Although I have to say there have been some great books about both. My friend Stephen Blackmoore has written a great zombie book that will hopefully see publication soon. And who can forget King’s ‘Salem’s Lot? Best vampire book ever.

    I used to like vampires until every other book I picked up was about ’em. I’ve never been a big fan of jumping on the band wagon fiction. Like all those Star Wars clones that came out in the mid-seventies.

    There’s nothing wrong with going with a trend, but please dear God try to make it your own. I actually like the idea of a vampire hunter/slayer, but how many of them are there out there? I’m pretty sure the world has been cleansed of vampires by now.

    Or how about the mortal woman who falls for the tortured, sexy vampire guy? Are zombies next?

    He was dead and he smelled like shit, but there was one part of him that was still working just fine…

  7. Stephen Blackmoore

    Oh, man. Vampire and zombie popularity. Okay then.

    There’s an indie horror bookstore in Burbank called Dark Delicacies. Awesome place. Go buy books.

    Anyway, they have a section devoted to vampires. I find it notable not for being there in the first place, which tells you a lot about how big vampires are, but for the fact that there are so goddamn many romances in it.

    Vampires long ago took their place in the romance pantheon next to cowboys, Green Berets and, inexplicably, Scotsmen. I know a few gentlemen who are very happy with that last.

    It’s always amazed me how a symbol of terror, a horrifying legend born of plague, tuberculosis, and whatever Bad Thing could happen to you in a medieval village could get usurped into a sexual icon. Before Dracula came along the vampire was a thing you cut off the heads of dead bodies in graves to avoid. Hundred years later we’ve gone from a three week old corpse in wet, musty ground to a sparkly lesson in Mormon sexuality.

    Thank you Mr. Stoker and your repressed Victorian readers.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand the fantasy. There are so many sexual layers to the concept of vampirism, from surrender on one side to taking one’s power on the other. Throw in some rope and a safe word and you’re looking at a Friday night. Vampires poke around in our Id like a kid with a stick at the monkey cage.

    So, though I think zombies will continue to get more popular I don’t think they’re going to overtake vampires. They speak to entirely different parts of our psyches. Zombies are defined by their mindlessness and dropping off of body parts. They’re slow, sure, but they’re inexorable. They WILL get you. Night of The Living Dead summed it all up in one line.

    "They’re coming to get you, Barbara."

    Zombies aren’t terror, they’re dread. They’re the physical embodiment of anxiety. In movies you take them out with chainsaws and shotguns. In real life you use Ativan and Lexapro.

    Anxiety has a limited shelf life. Sex is a universal that we gravitate toward. Anxiety not so much. Though, I suppose you could make an argument that many zombie stories are about defeating that anxiety.

    I think we’ll see them for a long time to come. But I don’t think they’ll get as big. If they do it will only be after they’ve changed from mindless horde to tragic character who doesn’t actually eat the flesh of the living. At least not on screen. All the really gross bits will be pulled out. And that would be a shame.

    I’m already hearing a lot about a "zombie backlash" in publishing at the moment. Boy do I have bad timing.

    Oh, and as a side note, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is sold out on the Dark Delicacies website, take that to mean whatever you will.

  8. Louise Ure

    I don’t know. There’s something about zombies that speaks to my childhood. The same childhood that had those gruesome stories about the ax murderer hanging right over your car as you were making out at the riverbed.

    And those covers are fabulous, J.D.

  9. Bill Cameron

    Dana, one of my warmest memories is when my then 7-year-old daughter sat listening intently to the Easter story in Sunday School. After hearing that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, she asked quite earnestly, "Does that mean Jesus is a zombie?"

  10. Christa Faust

    I’ll admit it, I love zombies. The grim, brilliant and blackly hilarious British miniseries DEAD SET, the original NIGHT/DAWN/DAY or my personal fave SHOCKWAVES. I love the final scene in DEAD SET (which is about people trapped on a reality TV set when the zombie plague breaks out) of zombies watching zombies on television. Brilliant! Bookwise it’s hard to beat the classic antho BOOK OF THE DEAD, but I dug WWZ too.

    Of course, there’s tons of lame and cliched crap out there, but done well, I think zombie movies/books really speak to our cultural fear of mindless but hostile conformity (like my personal boogiemen; rabid right-wing fundies.) I even had a go at the archetype in a short story of my own and had a blast with it.

    I would say that the sexy vampire trend is about something totally different, because for the most part they aren’t really scary, but I think the things that scare us can say a lot about us as a society. Zombies are to our generation what atomic big bugs were to the previous. A sort of metaphorical pop-culture zeitgeist that acts as a stand-in for the real horrors of our time.

    My 2 cents.

  11. J.D. Rhoades

    Alex, I will always treasure the line you used at an event we did together: "Will these vampires ever die?"

    Sarah: try it, you’ll like it!

    Bill and Rob are sick, sick men.

    Dana, I agree. Flesh eating undead characters who have bits falling off should always be done tastefully.

    Stephen did a zombie book? Must. Read. Now.

    "Zombies aren’t terror, they’re dread"…that is a great line.

    RJ, you’re right. When did vampires start becoming sex objects rather than horrible monsters? Was it all Vampirella’s fault?

    Louise: they are pretty cool, aren’t they? Thanks (again) to JT for tech advice on how to get them onto the new site.

  12. J.D. Rhoades

    "I think zombie movies/books really speak to our cultural fear of mindless but hostile conformity…"
    There’s a reason one of the best of the Romero movies, DAWN OF THE DEAD, was set in a shopping mall.

  13. JT Ellison

    I’ve never been a big zombie fan, so I picked up Maberry’s book with a bit of trepidation. Boy was I surprised. It’s a brilliant book that examines a possibility so real that I was chilled to the bone, and I happily endorsed it. I could imagine the scenario, which has always been my zombie issue – I could never wrap my head around the whole concept until now.

    I do like the Twilight books, and I liked the early Anne Rice (her witch series is better than the vampires, in my opinion.) I loved the early Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake books until they became a never-ending saga of erotic sex, and Charlaine’s Sookie Stackhouse books are great fun. But I tried a couple of other vampire YA books and they just didn’t resonate. I think it’s all in the approach and the author’s ability to let the reader identify.

  14. Chris F. Holm

    Man, that is a fantastic opening line — I’ll have to check out PATIENT ZERO. Not to mention cross zombies-as-biological-warfare from my list of ideas for stories.

    And yeah, I love zombies, though like you, I can’t explain why. Of course, we’re not alone; my lovely little burg has its own zombie kickball day. Now THAT’S a sight to see.

  15. Stacey Cochran

    I liked Woody Harrelson’s explanation for why he got in a fight with the paparazzi last week at JFK. He says he thought the guy was a zombie.

    I’ve actually been reading Pet Semetary the past few nights. It’s so fascinating to see King "go off the deep end" in the novel. The first 70 pages, the fucking thing reads like a John Cheever novella. Then (and I can almost pinpoint the page) King apparently snorted a few grams of coke, threw back a couple bottles of Nyquil, and starts telling a horror story.

    It may be his best novel. There is so much to be said for creating a family with compassion and love for the characters in order to hook the reader. King, like so many of our very best writers, is a very tender guy and totally is capable of creating universal characters with a boatload of compassion.

    Then again, I really liked Lansdale’s DEAD IN THE WEST


    And that’s pure schlock. The best.

  16. Patti Abbott

    Shaun of the Dead was brilliant and I can stomach them if they are used sparingly-background noise or a metaphor but if they are the main attraction, I’ll eat elsewhere.

  17. Allison Brennan

    Great blog, and I agree, Mayberry’s is one of the best opening I’ve every read.

    Zombies are fine. Vampires are fine, as long as they’re portrayed as the evil bloodsuckers they are. Werewolves I have a harder time with. I have a problem with supernatural beings that I inherently, deep down in my core, believe are evil being turned into heroes. As my daughter who loved the Twilight series said, "But Edmund only drinks animal blood." Like that makes it okay . . . where are the animal rights activists when you need them? I had a line in my August book where my villainess made a comment that she was offended by popular books making it acceptable to slaughter animals for their blood, where she would be much happier if the vampires took care of the real problem, people. But I took it out because I thought all the Meyer’s fans would get mad at me. 😉

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dusty
    Love the blog – and the opening line to PZ. And Shaun of the Dead is just such a great film, even for a total wuss like me. I just can’t watch scary films without leaving fingernail marks in the arm of my beloved, and refusing to go out after dark. I even chickened out about halfway through I Am Legend, although I think that was a very intelligent tackling of the whole zombie thing.

    If you want cross-genre that includes vampires, trolls, dwarfs, werewolves, zombies, etc, look no further than Terry Pratchett’s City Watch series. A very funny take on the police procedural … sort of ;-]

  19. J.D. Rhoades

    Pari, thanks for that link. Neil Gaiman and Gahan Wilson…how can you go wrong?

    And I’ll second Zoe’s rec for the City Watch books by Pratchett. That’s my favorite sequence in the Discworld universe. Vimes is a great character.

  20. toni mcgee causey

    Man, that first sentence really has me wanting to buy a zombie book. I have never, ever wanted to buy a zombie movie / book. Ever. I am now going to have to actually go read the first couple of pages in the bookstore.

  21. Becky LeJeune

    I love zombies! I can’t get enough of them. I especially love them in a post-apocalyptic story setting. One of my recent faves (aside from Patient Zero) is actually a recent teen book, Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I thought it was brilliant and not at all an obvious teen read.

    I’d like to see a zombie mash-up of Jane Eyre maybe. I think there’s something in the works (I think I read that). PPZ is out of stock everywhere here.


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