Monday, September 30, 2013

The Last Zombie

The first time I ever saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD I was bitten as surely by Romero's vision as the characters had been by the zombies stalking them. The concept of the recently dead rising from oblivion to a kind of un-life with an unquenchable desire to kill and eat the was brilliant. Yes, there had been movie and fiction zombies before Romero's seminal film, but never like those! Romero's zombies were a stroke of horror genius. There is a great reason they have had this long life in popular film and fiction.

I had wanted to write zombie novels for years. I had plotted them out in my mind and never proceeded beyond jotting some notes because I figured...who the hell was going to buy a zombie novel? It just wasn't done!

Yes, there had been some zombie novels when I was thinking of the idea, but they were adaptations of the Romero films, or sequels to those films (such as John Russo's excellent RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD which preceded the film of the same name but which was a direct sequel to the events in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD). Finally, a few zombie novels popped up, but they were rare and the only one that did exceptionally well was Phil Nutman's WET WORK.

But I kept fiddling with the concept and eventually decided to write a short story dealing with zombies--"The New Ecology of Death", which I then adapted to comic script format and sold to Stephen R. Bissette's TABOO.

Then, with the appearance of print-on-demand and self-publishing, there was an explosion of zombie novels. Thousands of them. I am not exaggerating--THOUSANDS! So I decided to give it a shot, intentionally avoiding the pitfalls that I had noticed in longer zombie fiction: thinly veiled racism.

To me, zombie fiction was effective because it was classic paranoid fantasy. Along the lines of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or THE PUPPET MASTERS or I AM LEGEND (from which the idea for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD bled out). But I'd never looked upon it as a cover for racist ideas and dogma. So, naively, I followed the zombie phenomena and pursued my own zombie novel (THE LIVING END), while trying to make contact with zombie writers and fans while I worked on that book.

And it was with some great shock that I realized that a huge number of zombie fans are right wing gun nuts and racists. And a large portion of the folk writing zombie fiction were right wing gun nuts and racists. It should have occurred to me before reading the comments on zombie fiction chat boards and following links from people posting--so many of which led back to gun-crazies and white supremacist websites. Then, out of curiosity, I decided to look up THE TURNER DIARIES an overtly racist novel. And it was obvious to me that there's not the thickness of a lizard's whisker's difference in that hate speech and most zombie novels.

Reading that racist piece of shit I recognized in it the plots of most of the zombie novels I'd ever seen or read. Instead of killing zombies, the "heroes" of that ignorant, hateful poison kill Jews and black folk and race-traitors. So it was easy to suddenly see why so many right wing extremists were attracted to zombie fiction.

Gun-crazed racists.
I did my best to create zombie stories that--while deeply rooted in the tradition of paranoid fantasy--were not infected with the kind of racism that makes so many zombie novels uncomfortably popular.

The zombie fad seems, at last, to be fading. I hope it has run its course like the zombie disease that features so prominently in most of the books about that particular monster. But I worry about the real monsters who wander among us...the gun-crazed racists who so adore the thousands of poorly-conceived, poorly written, poorly camouflaged racist books.



Mark Gelbart said...

I haven't noticed the zombie fad fading.

The Walking Dead season 4 starts next week, and the ratings for that series are sky high.

By the way, how did you like the series finale for Breaking Bad? I thought it was pretty good, though far fetched.

James Robert Smith said...

THE WALKING DEAD is unique. There are no other zombie TV series. I rather doubt the market could support more than one. (There was a rumor floating a couple of years ago that a major network was going to do a zombie tv series...but it never happened.)

I was speaking specifically of the zombie novel market. Still tons of them, of course, but most self-published and almost all of them shitty.

I rather liked the finale of BREAKING BAD. Walter White did somewhat redeem himself, which I was very much hoping he would do. Whenever you kill up a whole bunch of white supremacists, that's major league points in my book.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

A friend of mine who's both a singer and an actress recently appeared in a stage play about zombies. Can you believe it? She's out in California these days, working to get her acting guild card (or whatever it is they have).

James Robert Smith said...

I believe it. What's the play?