August 13, 2013

Zombie Iterations

The Great Zombie Divide

By now, almost everyone knows about the Romero/Boyle divide. That's not a chasm that's recently appeared in the deserts of Nevada. It's a distinction between two types of zombies.

Romero zombies (i.e. Night of the Living Dead zombies) are slow, mindless, and dulled. Boyle zombies (28 Days Later zombies) move quickly, can solve problems, and have heightened senses or skills. Over the years, zombies added speed.

But those are movies. What about books? Zombie fiction generally falls into one or the other of these categories. Lately, though, there has been an evolutionary leap.

Zombie Iterations: Roll the Dice

Zombie authors are constantly developing new iterations and variations on these themes. Zombie readers aren't limited to slow vs. fast or smart vs. dumb. We can have our zombies almost any way we want 'em.

Zombie Fiction offers

  • Disease-based zombies
  • Alien-intervention zombies
  • Chemically-induced zombies
  • Voodoo zombies

We can have our zombies

  • Stupid or Scary Smart
  • Distracted or Determined
  • Slow or Swift
  • Clumsy or Adept
  • Easy to Stop or Inexorable 

Our zombies can have any combination of qualities

  • Mindless hunger
  • Violence
  • Mob mentality
  • Ability to swarm
  • Animal instinct
  • Capacity to love
  • Pathos
  • Philosophy
  • Ironic humor
  • False humanity

It's like the old "choose your own casserole" recipes. Choose a starch, choose a protein, add a topping, apply heat, serve.

It's like a Chinese restaurant. Choose one from Column A and two from Column B, add an appetizer, and remember to tip your server.

Really, it's a kind of perfect formula.

Role-playing games have used this kind of system for decades.

Choose an inception, choose a motivation, add abilities, place in circumstances, add conflict, bash some brains.

Side Note: While we're chatting about brains, there's something that's been bothering me. Why do some people say that zombies want to EAT  our brains? Zombies want to eat our FLESH, don't they? I think we kill them by attacking their brains, not the other way around. Romero agrees.  That's another division, for another time. 

Make Mine Slow and Mindless, Please

I want room for all varieties of zombie fiction. Still, I do have preferences. Who doesn't?

I have a penchant for the ordinary zombie.

As the old Julie Brown song goes: "I like 'em big and stupid." I want my zombies to be slow, imbecilic, decaying entities with mindless hunger and terrifying inertia. I want them to mass accidentally, not swarm with purpose or communication. I want to kill them with a headshot to the brain. Preferably at close range.

In short, I want my zombies predictable. I want my zombie authors to create a story of survival. Sure I'll take a few minor variations here and there. Let it be a fungus instead of a virus, that's okay. Let the mass of rotting shamblers push over a wall or two; I'll take it. Let there be a flicker or two of brain activity, the dimmest glimpse of possibility.

But please stop there.

I want violence without consequence. I mean, they are already dead, AND they are attacking me... it's legitimate violence with minimal compassion required.

What I really want is to find out how ordinary people like me might manage. I want to imagine that I just might make it through.

Oh, and I want to be the most bad-ass female ever. I want to be Georgia Mason.

I want to keep on reading till I find a dozen other characters I want to be.

All Zombie Iterations Welcome Here

The point is that zombie authors can start with two basic categories, but there are infinite variations. I don't know exactly how to make sense of it, but I am going to try. Maybe I'll develop a rating system. You know, like the zombies get four stars for intelligence, two stars for mobility, and one star for determination.

For example, zombies with five stars for determination would be those that keep on going even without the bottom half of their bodies. You know that one, right? Even she has a backstory. One star for mobility, zero stars for intelligence, five stars for determination.

Extra credit for inspiring compassion? Yeah. I guess so. Even though I hate it.

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