teenybuffalo (teenybuffalo) wrote,

Still walking downward to the tomb, and yet prepared no more

Herewith, some of my favorite zombie protagonists.  "Zombie" here has the meaning of "person who has passed through death, who is up and walking around but who is nonetheless essentially an animated corpse.  And not a vampire, before you start hoping for something more glamorous."  I would love to read or watch more stuff like this.  If you have further recommendations, I beg that you will lay them on me.


Reaper Man: I fell hard for Terry Pratchett's writing when I was eighteen, and this was one of the first I ever read.  (Back in My Day we had to special-order secondhand copies of the really hard-to-find Pratchett novels from the used bookstore.  It was hell, I tell you.  And the Britishisms were all "corrected" to American idioms.)  It's really two books.  In one of them, Death doesn't so much take a holiday as get fired from his job.  In the other one, an ancient wizard named Windle Poons drops dead on the same day, but then finds there's no Death waiting and nowhere to go except back to his body.  Life then proves massively complicated for both our protagonists--not least for old Windle, who causes a mass panic ("Undead!  Undead!") and then has to deal with a Lovecraftian abomination.  With bonus werewolves and an undead support group.  I used to know a lot of this book so well I could recite it from memory.  ("I'm thinking of coming back as a woman."  "Er, isn't there a lot of, well, housework?  And washing the dishes and things?"  "Not in the sort of, mm, life I have in mind.")  Others of the Discworld series have zombie characters, notably Monstrous Regiment and The Truth, but this is the best for brooding on the undead condition.

Toothless: As noted earlier, this is a very engaging story about a former human hero turned undead minion to the Black Yew.  No matter how much your job may suck, at least you don't have to get up in the morning and take orders from a pissy skeleton and a tree on a cart.

Orbital Burn, by K.A. Bedford, an SF writer and a very nice man with whom I remember chatting at Worldcon 2004.  He said some kind things about my zombie makeup.  We were standing right in front of his publisher's table, and I bought one of his books, as you do, and was delighted by it.  The opening sentence: One morning, not long before the end of the world, a dead woman named Lou sat drinking espresso in Sheb’s Old Earth Diner, one of the few places still open in the cheap part of Stalktown.  This review sums up my own opinions on the book. 

Expiration Date, by Tim Powers.  In A World where ghosts can be caught and consumed in a ghastly parallel to drug abuse, one of the secondary characters is an embittered old zombie.  He trapped his own ghost in his body years ago when he realized he'd been poisoned.  The signs of undeath are subtle, but if you spend a while talking with him, you realize that he only breathes when it's necessary to speak.  Incidentally, he has a girlfriend.  I don't know, and I don't want to know.  There are also excellent zombies in On Stranger Tides, by the same author, but they're minor or appear very briefly. 

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.  I reread this recently and enjoyed Laura's undead angst.  Also I found her a much more sympathetically depicted character than I'd previously thought. 

Short Stories

"The Skull-Faced Boy", by David Barr Kirtley.  I first read this one seven or eight years ago, but it wears well.  Two college students die in a car wreck, and as it's the night of the living dead they don't stay out of the game for long.  Horrible backstabbing and world domination ensue.  I don't think this one's been made free online, but there's a link to a podcast version on the right-hand side.  I may have to give that a listen.

While looking for the above link: Oh god there's a sequel!  "The Skull-Faced City".  Free and on the internet.  Haven't read this one yet, but I will in about ten minutes I've read it.  Be warned!  It's (a) not going to make much sense if you haven't read the first one, and (b) gruesome in every. single. way.  I had a ballpark idea of what to expect from Kirtley and zombies, and I was still stomach-churned.  Not safe for sanity, but excellent storytelling and a good undead protagonist.  A worthy successor.


Corpse Bride.  When purplegryphon  and I first saw this one, it had been built up and built up for us to the point where nothing could live up to the hype.  I've been back to it a couple of times since, and always enjoyed it.  Best moment: "...Grandpa?"

[Films are my weak point.  I've avoided zombie films for the most part, since they're usually all about the gore and that's not my sort of thing.  I hear there's a low-budget film called I, Zombie, presented as a film student's self-documentary as he becomes undead.  Any other recs?]


Hanna Is Not A Boy's Name: I tried this one the other week at the recommendation of littlemetaldrop , got hooked and wound up reading the whole archive over the next few evenings.  Start here.  TV Tropes calls it "sugarcoated horror"--it has an unusually varied monster mash (not telling the really odd variations, try it for yourself) and it's surprisingly grisly as well as very funny and attractively drawn.  It's a paranormal detective story.  I thought I'd seen enough of those, but it turns out I was wrong.  The hero is Hanna, a goofy young necromancer, but the story's told by a zombie who appoints himself Hanna's assistant.  I liked the comic at once, because Zombie is a lot like my imaginary pet zombie from when I was a teenager.  The guy is mysterious and even gruesome-looking, but he's a benign presence, downright pleasant and soothing to have around.  In the context of HINABN (which I pronounce "hinnabin" in the privacy of my own head), Zombie is a puzzle even to himself.  He's been undead for about ten years, just wandering around contemplating the world, and he has no memory of his life beyond a few faint notions.  Eventually he decided to create some new memories instead of pursuing his former self, and took a job with Hanna, appointing himself Hanna's caretaker and sidekick.  And Together, They Fight Crime!

The Zombie Hunters: This one suffers by comparison to HINABN.  The premise is survival horror, with a ragtag band of misfits running missions into the ruins of cities for supplies, recon, and side looting.  All the misfits are young and hip and smart-mouthed, and I disliked them from the start.  It's not enough for characters to bicker and wise-crack as they fight evil.  You have to give me reasons why I want to see them live.  Mind you, it improves as it goes on.  The team member who interested me was Charlie, who was middle-aged and bald and seemed intelligent, and had something subtly off about his appearance (pallor, mismatched eyes).  I already liked him for not being a smartassed kid, but it eventually transpired that he was a half-life.  The science available can restore some degree of humanity to zombies, with a big investment of time and money.  Charlie was created to prove a point, and then assigned to a team when the adminstration had no more use for him.  Easily the best thing about the comic, Charlie gets to be the sole voice of reason and, occasionally, the team dad, with a beautiful charge-in-and-save-the-day moment early on.  And eventually you realize he's a tragic monster, though this is wisely kept to a few key moments.

Songs and Poems
Lots of these.  They deserve their own post.

Tags: books, film yak, movies, recs, stories, webcomics, zombies
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