Top Eleven Zombie Books for Summer 2013 Reading

Walking Dead fans – what are your summer plans? How are you going to fill your previously-filled-by-glorious-zombie-action time? While zombie movie marathons are always an option, you, the die-hard zombie fan, probably have seen most of the zombie flicks out there, if not all of them. So maybe it’s time to move on to zombie books. If you aren’t much of a reader, you soon will be – and it’ll definitely hold you over until the next season of The Walking Dead.

key_art_the_walking_dead

There are plenty of well-known and thoroughly-read zombie books in circulation. I’ve listed my top eleven picks for your summer reading session below, as well as summation quotes from Goodreads! In addition to these top picks I’ve chosen and listed below, you can always get your zombie fix via Kindle, on the cheap.

Top Eleven Zombie Books for Summer Reading

1. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
“The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.”

2. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks
“The Zombie Survival Guide is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now. Fully illustrated and exhaustively comprehensive, this book covers everything you need to know, including how to understand zombie physiology and behavior, the most effective defense tactics and weaponry, ways to outfit your home for a long siege, and how to survive and adapt in any territory or terrain.”

3. The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore (illustrator)
“An epidemic of apocalyptic proportions has swept the globe, causing the dead to rise and feed on the living. In a matter of months, society has crumbled: There is no government, no grocery stores, no mail delivery, no cable TV. Rick Grimes finds himself one of the few survivors in this terrifying future. A couple months ago he was a small town cop who had never fired a shot and only ever saw one dead body. Separated from his family, he must now sort through all the death and confusion to try and find his wife and son. In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally begin living.”

4. Feed (Newsflesh Trilogy #1) by Mira Grant
“The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives – the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will get out, even if it kills them.”

5. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies #1) by Seth Grahme-Smith
“‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.’
So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—-and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers-—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read.”

6. The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth #1) by Carrie Ryan
“In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?”

7. I am Legend and Other Stories by Richard Matheson
“Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth…but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville’s blood.
By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn.
How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?”

8. Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) by Isaac Marion
“‘R’ is a zombie. He has no name, no memories and no pulse, but he has dreams. He is a little different from his fellow Dead.
Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows – warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can’t understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her, and a tense yet strangely tender relationship begins.
This has never happened before. It breaks the rules and defies logic, but R is no longer content with life in the grave. He wants to breathe again, he wants to live, and Julie wants to help him. But their grim, rotting world won’t be changed without a fight…”

9. The First Days (As the World Dies #1) by Rhiannon Frater
“Katie is driving to work one beautiful day when a dead man jumps into her car and tries to eat her. That same morning, Jenni opens a bedroom door to find her husband devouring their toddler son.
Fate puts Jenni and Katie—total strangers—together in a pickup, fleeing the suddenly zombie-filled streets of the Texas city in which they live. Before the sun has set, they have become more than just friends and allies—they are bonded as tightly as any two people who have been to war together.
During their cross-Texas odyssey to find and rescue Jenni’s oldest son, Jenni discovers the joy of watching a zombie’s head explode when she shoots its brains out. Katie learns that she’s a terrific tactician—and a pretty good shot.
A chance encounter puts them on the road to an isolated, fortified town, besieged by zombies, where fewer than one hundred people cling to the shreds of civilization.
It looks like the end of the world. But Katie and Jenni and many others will do whatever they have to to stay alive. Run, fight, pick each other up when they stumble, fall in love…anything is possible at the end of the world.”

10. The Reapers Are the Angels (Reapers #1) by Alden Bell
“Zombies have infested a fallen America. A young girl named Temple is on the run. Haunted by her past and pursued by a killer, Temple is surrounded by death and danger, hoping to be set free.
For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can’t remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks.”

11. Probability Angels by Joseph Devon (This is a great Kindle pick for under a dollar!)
“Matthew knows that he died twenty years ago. He has, after all, been bouncing around New York City ever since, causing mischief and having fun as a supernatural being. But recently some problems have been cropping up: not only is he hallucinating things in garbage cans, but his mentor doesn’t think he’s working up to his full potential, his best friend can’t offer any solace but drunken confusion, and his wife is dying in Central Park.
See, the past twenty years haven’t meant a thing because now it’s time for Matthew to make his second choice and become a tester of humanity.
And that’s all before the zombies show up.”

Now get cracking on your reading list! Summertime is ticking away, and next season of The Walking Dead is coming up fast!

It May Be Time to Push

Under Duck by Geoffery Kehrig from FlickrWriting a book is a strange affair. It is partly an attempt to psychically jam your thoughts into the skulls of other human beings using a system of lines and loops. It is partly a roller-coaster ride through your own subconscious with fears and loves and jokes purging out of you with no warning whatsoever. And it is partly typing and typing, always knowing that what you’re writing sucks.

I’ve mentioned a few times this year how I’m making an effort to avoid that last bit. Not the typing and typing, but the part where I roll my eyes while I’m typing because I feel like I’m writing crap. I’m making a concerted effort to not to pit myself against myself anymore.

The thing is, I’m also pretty sure that this aspect is kind of needed.

It’s just impossible to maintain the level of freshness and excitement that you get at the beginning of a book all the way through to the end. You go over and over and over scenes so many freaking times in your head that you trample all fertile, lush, imagery into the ground with your endless stomping.

It’s like a magician who no longer sees a woman being sawn in half or a penguin disappearing, but only sees trapdoors and wires and trick boxes with hidden compartments because they’ve been working with the equipment for so long.

Even the most exciting scenes seem like routine nothingness by the time I get around to typing them, and it all seems so dull. Imagine taking a bite of the most delicious food, only instead of registering it as food, you are so familiar with everything involved that you only register individual molecules interacting with your tongue, you only think about it as nerves being triggered and sending impulses to your brain. You don’t taste a perfectly ripe mango and feel its flesh and lick the juice off your lips, you just register “molecular compound #287” or something. Were you to produce molecular compound #287 for someone else they’d enjoy a delicious mango, but for you its just not going to happen with that vividness anymore.

That’s what large chunks of my books are like for me. I know, if I have all of my details arranged and my story flowing properly, that a scene should generate something in my readers, and maybe once and a while when things are much further developed I’m capable of taking a somewhat fresh-eyed look, but for the most part I just know that I’m shoving molecular compound #287 in your face and therefore you will taste a mango.

Which is why I think that mind-numbing typing, forced and painful and always feeling like sub-par work, is an integral part of crafting a book. It is bound to seem like crap at some point because at some point you aren’t going to feel the magic anymore, and therefore what you feel you are creating seems lesser than the grand idea you once had in your head.

I’m pretty sure at that point that it is time to stop worrying about how “good” your work seems to you and, instead, to start typing out a whole hell of a lot of words.

I feel like I may have arrived at that point.

Actually, considering the stuff that’s happening in my story right now that I consider to be “boring,” it’s almost a definite that I have arrived there.

Time to type.

Writing in the Past Sucks

Full Moon by @Doug88888 from FlickrOne of the interesting things about writing an Urban Fantasy novel is the number of doors that are open to you as an author. Of course, this is also one of the more annoying aspects of the genre as well.

For example, some part of my brain decided that it would be fun to set large chunks of Book Three at various points in the past.

Now, when writing a book where your characters’ pasts are examined, it makes a big difference if those characters are human or if those characters are nearly immortal beings of somewhat indeterminate age, such as you might find in Urban Fantasy. If I’m flashing back for a character, and they’re human, then maybe I have to go back a few decades. I’d have to remove cell phones and make TVs bulky again and change who is president and so on and so forth. Which is challenging, but not very daunting…to me…at the moment…considering.

Because currently what I’m doing is flashing back to completely and utterly different historic periods and geographic areas. And I know nothing about history. I’ve done research, a lot of research, but research can’t really get you the “man on the street” sort of perspective. I mean I’m panicking because I’m pretty sure that I’m calling the local political big-wig the wrong word. But, there’s no real way to know if I’m being accurate because details are sketchy for the area and time I’m writing about. Plus a lot of history books will throw out a title that sounds foreign and exotic, but really it’s just the word “lord” in the region’s language. Which means that the average peasant would just use the word “lord.” Right? Or they would use their word for “lord,” except I’m writing their dialogue in English so do I use their word for “lord” or just write “lord?”

Sometimes my head hurts.

Also, you know what? There’s a lot of history. And you can always dig deeper. It’s like a fractal picture or something where if you zoom in enough you just get the same picture. Your brain just rests at whatever scope it is comfortable at. So I have, sort of, an idea of what European history was all about, and I kind of have it in my head that England was a big deal? But England, in its prime, was actually a bunch of different parties and leaders vying for control and input. And those parties were a bunch of individuals vying for input. And those individuals were a constant churning of emotion and reaction vying for input…so at what level to I paint my history?

And then you start telescoping into the past. If you keep going back England fades and the Netherlands rises, and then Spain, and then France, and then the Hapsburg dynasty, and does any of this matter in Romania? Of course it does because policies effect neighboring states which then effect neighboring states which then effect neighboring states…and Europe was just one giant intersecting mish-mash with like a billion different eras. But does any of that matter to my story? Sort of. I need some of  in there but, again, what level of history do I want to include?

Then on the opposite end of things, it’s possible to write something that is historically accurate and have it come across as fake. People back then chilled out and ate lunch and built buildings and made fun of friends just like people always have. But if you slip in too much of that stuff, readers will actually reject it because it’s not all historical sounding.

In Probability Angels I had Isaac Newton living in an apartment at Trinity college. This is because all of the books I read about Newton, when discussing his Trinity years, referred to his living space as an apartment.

And yet I’ve had readers complain that that word, “apartment,” seems far too modern and that coming across it jarred them out of the story.

But it’s the freaking word they used!

I don’t know.

I guess you just use that “art of storytelling” thing and find your fine line to walk.

But damn does it suck sometimes.

Charles Manson is Ruining My Life

Adrift by Jens Auer from FlickrAs I mentioned last week, I am currently reading Helter Skelter, the definitive work on the Manson Family Murders co-authored by the DA who prosecuted the case.

It is a wealth of detail and insight concerning the crimes, the motive, the trial, and the people involved.

And, as I mentioned last week, it is absolutely fucking with my head.

The horror of the crimes committed by these people…I don’t necessarily want to go into too many details, but a pregnant woman was among the victims. Another victim was stabbed fifty-one times. These murders are just…again I find myself wanting to use the word “grisly” to describe them, but I also in no way want to use a term so associated with fictional writing when speaking of an event which very much happened in reality.

The violence, though, is only part of the general mind-fuck that comes along with these murders. The victims, and the location, also add to the horror. While the DA was able to find evidence that Charles Manson and one other family member had, long before the night of the murders, been on the grounds of the house where the Tate murders were committed, and next door to where the LaBianca murders were committed, they found no other link connecting the choice of victims and Charles Manson.

Plus, the people who Charles Manson knew that had brought him to either location originally, hadn’t lived in those locations for some time.

Which is all to say that the victims were pretty much chosen at random. Someone had a party next door to one of the houses, and so those people were chosen to die.

It’s unsettling to say the least.

And, of course, the victims were killed in their own homes and the sole purpose of the visits by The Family was to commit murder. There was no robbery taking place, there was no revenge being enacted, the victims’ houses were broken into with the sole object of murdering everyone inside.

This crosses so many difficult-to-digest lines that I get sick at times thinking about it. If you’re in a store that gets robbed and happen to catch a bullet, or you’re driving on a highway and happen to get hit by a drunk driver…these things are random, yes, but there’s a, I don’t know, at least some sense of propriety. There are other actions, illegal and despicable actions, but other actions nonetheless that led up to your death.

In these cases there was nothing. These people were killed, violently, in their homes, for no reason. One of the victims had actually stopped by to see if someone he had met earlier that week was interested in buying a clock radio he wanted to sell. As he was driving away from the house he was stopped in the driveway and shot four times.

Random and chaotic acts striking in the home, striking everyone in a home…it doesn’t sit right. I find myself, while reading, thinking quite often that what I’m reading isn’t fair. That someone has to get this guy, dammit.

Which they do.

But still.

I guess in my head there’s the notion that some semblance of forethought will keep one safe in life: wear a seat belt; if approached by a robber just hand over what they want; don’t play with matches.

And if the worst does happen, I guess I believe that there will be some string of events that I can grasp onto for explanation. It might not be much, but it will be explainable in a way which will fit the world I believe I am living in.

These murders do not. They just do not. And this has disturbed me.

And not just me, my writing as well.

I’m currently working in a vaguely horror-ish genre. I wouldn’t say that horror is my main point, but I try and let my bad guys hit hard, and have viable motives that are very separate from how the “good guys” generally think. I feel like this is the best approach to creating a bad guy that has an impact on the reader.

Only…why the fuck do I want to have that sort of impact on my reader?

What is served by me playing make-believe and attempting to rattle or scare you? What is gained if I manage to create a character that you find evil?

If you want evil, go read about Charles Manson. There are literally pages and pages of confessions and then corroboration of those confessions to be had.

There. That’s it. There’s your monster. Ta-da.

Is there something to be said for me creating a fake villain and containing him within a book? What is the point of this? Why do I put my main characters in harm’s way?

Do we as humans need to frame chaos in some way, confine it to a story, in order to live in this world without being consumed by fear?

Scares and thrills used to seem interesting. They used to seem like something that was worth bringing out in my readers. But currently?

I don’t want to make people feel bad any more. Not in the way this book is making me feel bad.

And if I’m holding back and not writing what I know to be really bad guys…then what the hell am I doing?

Writing a Book as Circumstantial Evidence

Helter Skelter by Bill Hartman from FlickrI am currently reading Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. The book is about the Manson Family murders, which is a moniker that sounds gaily sing-songy compared to just how nightmarish those events were. Charles Manson and the group of people he had brainwashed slaughtered around eleven people over the course of a few months in the summer of 1969.

The book is considered the definitive work on the Manson murders. This is not surprising as the co-author, Bugliosi, was also the DA in charge of prosecuting the crimes.

The book is also completely fucking with my head, as true-crime always does. It’s easy to read monsters in fiction and treat them as part of a story set down on paper. It is something else entirely when you read about monsters in non-fiction and have to admit that people like these actually exist.

The murders were…I want to use the word grisly, but that sounds like a word one would use in fiction, whereas the people in this book were real humans who were stabbed and shot, including a pregnant woman, and I just have a hard time using any adjective that feels “slick.”

And that is, frankly, where the book shines. Much like In Cold Blood, the writing doesn’t stretch too far to make its point or force horror upon you. Instead, Helter Skelter is a calm collection of facts, notes, interviews, and other documents woven together and told as a story. At one point you read an interview with one of the suspects and “listen” as she describes stabbing a pregnant woman and then tasting her victim’s blood: “Wow, what a trip…to taste death, and yet to give life.”

I didn’t really sleep the night I read that. I just stared up at the ceiling and felt bad. Eventually I watched some TV. Then I went back to staring at the ceiling.

But, annoyingly, I also find myself looking at this piece of novel-journalism and saying to myself: “Can I learn from this as a writer of fiction?”

And, sure enough, there have been numerous instances where I’ve found an odd parallel between Bugliosi calmly building his court case and my attempts to build a story.

At one point the Bugliosi is visiting an area where the Manson family stayed for awhile out in the desert of California. He is told that they should walk the five miles to the campsite as it is up a wash which consists of pretty bad terrain, too bad for a jeep. The Bugliosi asks, “How bad could it be?” and gets his host to attempt the drive. It takes them five hours to go that five miles as the wash is a jumbled mess and they constantly have to get out to maneuver and guide the jeep over a set of boulders or move some large rocks out of the path.

At one point the author orders photos to be taken of this wash. When asked why, he explains that the simple fact that these people were living at the end of such a road indicates their unwillingness to be found.

It isn’t a case-breaker of a detail by any means. But, as Bugliosi explains,  it is, “circumstantial evidence, a tiny speck, but of such specks, one after another, are strong cases made.”

Details matter.

How many of you have thought to line the roads leading to your villains with metaphorical boulders? How many of you have put uneven terrain leading up to characters who don’t want to be found?

Does such a detail make or break a book? No.

But one after another a string of such details will.

(I sort of hate myself for typing “metaphorical boulders” up there)