It's no surprise that The Walking Dead remains one of the most popular series on TV.
After all, it combines the best qualities of zombie fiction into a single package: an unsettling and plausible post-apocalyptic setting; badass survivors to love and root for; intimidating villains; and some of the goriest action, scariest moments, and most disgusting monsters ever seen on cable.
When you only get an episode a week, however, and have to suffer through weeks/months of hiatuses in between seasons, there's plenty of time to crave more zompocalypse goodness.
Make sure to check back each Monday for CrimeHQ's unique coverage of Season 7 of The Walking Dead!
To that end, here's an Angie Approved (TM) List of Must Read Novels that will help scratch that undead, End of Times itch…
01. The Day by Day Armageddon Series by J. L. Bourne
Written by an active combat soldier, the Day by Day Armageddon series begins just before the fall of society and carries through the first few years of the zombie apocalypse. The narrator, Kilroy, was a military officer before the dead rose who has since turned his training to navigating a landscape populated with radioactive undead, dangerous survivors, and a military organization that might destroy humanity's last chances for salvation.
Like TWD, the Day by Day Armageddon series emphasizes that the true threat lies not with the mindless zombies, but with other survivors. Bourne highlights realities of a post-apocalyptic world that most writers neglect and has crafted a compelling hero in Kilroy.
02. The Stand by Stephen King
A government-engineered disease ravages an unsuspecting nation. Within three weeks, 99% of the population has been slaughtered by the so-called Captain Trips, and the survivors—both good and evil—are drawn, via dreams, to polar opposite leaders: the merciless Randall Flagg and the devout Mother Abagail.
While not actually a zombie novel, The Stand is a high-water mark in apocalyptic fiction and should be considered required reading for fans of the genre. King crafts an absolutely haunting vision of blighted America in the first third of the novel; his myriad heroes face all manner of threats and obstacles during their cross-country journey in the second third; and the final portion of the novel is devoted to a cataclysmic clash between good and evil.
The Stand's compelling cast of characters and absolutely chilling villains would be right at home in Kirkman's zompocalypse, and the cross-country journey is reminiscent of Grimes and Co.'s quest for a new, stable home.
03. The Newsflesh Series by Mira Gany
In the years following the return of the living dead, bloggers (or Newsies) have become the primary source of information for society. Newsie Georgia and her brother Shaun are covering the next Presidential election, when the pair uncover evidence of a massive conspiracy and find themselves attacked by both the living and the dead.
The Newsflesh series is jam-packed with allusions to past zombie fiction—in a nice change of pace from most zombie series, these characters are actually genre-savvy. Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead is even credited with helping the living survive the initial outbreak.
Mira Grant (a penname used by the incredible Seanan McGuire) crafts a convincing world and a plausible conspiracy. As is usually the case, the heroes have more to fear from their fellow living than they do from the dead. For those who want more political and societal commentary mixed in with their undead horror, this trilogy is a must.
04. Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux
A bookseller finds herself trapped in her store with several coworkers when zombies attack. She manages to connect to a faint Internet signal and blogs her experiences to the outside world. As the prologue sets up, it's been years since “The Outbreak,” and a professor is petitioning for her testimony to be preserved in a collection of biographical essays.
Roux is perhaps best known for her popular Asylum YA series, but before she turned her sights on sanitarium ghosts, she wrote this zombie thriller and a follow up (Sadie Walker is Stranded). Allison Hewitt hits most of the expected genre beats and plays out like a modern day Romero film, but the framework—the story unfolding through Allison's blog posts and the comments by readers that reveal the full scope of the nationwide madness—makes this an interesting and fresh read.
05. Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
A Baltimore detective and former Army Ranger, Joe Ledger, is recruited by a covert branch of the government to stop a terrorist threatening to release a bio-weapon that turns its victims into vicious zombies.
This one is a bit different than the others on the list in that hero Ledger's world is still clearly ours—a functioning society rather than a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The plot also skews more towards action than horror, with Ledger and his team on par with the trained heroes of Mission: Impossible rather than the traumatized civilians of TWD.
However, it's still on the list because:
- Maberry knows how to write some thrilling fights and undead frights.
- Ledger is a grand protagonist, a mixture of Jason Bourne and Daryl Dixon.
- You can never have enough zombie-flavored mayhem.
06. World War Z by Max “Son of Mel” Brooks
By now, if you're a fan of zombies and TWD, you've probably already picked up a copy of Brooks's masterpiece. On the off chance that you haven't, consider this your call to arms. This “oral history of the zombie war” is a collection of interviews, featuring perspectives from several countries, races, and backgrounds, covering the span of WWZ from its initial outbreaks to Z-Day, or the defeat of the undead hordes.
It's rare to find a zombie story that fully addresses a global pandemic and how different nations would respond to such a crisis; usually, we only get an American scope for the zompocalypse. Brooks's inclusion of heroic, self-serving, and even villainous narrators gives the book a wonderful complexity.
Some of the actions undertaken by the survivors are brutal, even immoral from our viewpoint, but it makes you think: what if we actually found ourselves in this situation? Would we act as decisively for the greater good? Or would we only look out for #1, as some of Brooks's characters do?
(If you've only seen the Brad Pitt film, please read the book, too. The movie has almost nothing in common with the source material, which is vastly more layered, philosophic, and moving.)
07. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Consider this a recommendation for those who wish the walkers of TWD were a bit more complex, and for those who have enjoyed the progressively-more-heroic zombies of George Romero's films. Warm Bodies is the story of R: a zombie striving to regain his humanity. Unlike most of his hungry brethren, R has begun to remember, dream, and even hope for more out of existence than mere brutality and bloodshed. When he rescues the human Julie, the pair begin a quest for redemption.
Many have laughed when I've praised Warm Bodies, but I'm sincere when I call it one of the most poetic and poignant novels I've ever read. Marion tackles huge concepts like redemption, humanity, and love in a way that feels visceral and substantial. This isn't a “zombie romance” as much as it's a cautionary tale against becoming too inured by the world's cruelties. It's a desperate plea to hold onto hope even when you feel dead inside and the news is full of hatred and barbarism.
It also features some of the most vivid imagery I've ever found in zombie fiction. It's a world where even the undead have a class structure and the humans may survive behind protective walls but can't truly call their existence “living.”
The Walking Dead returns to TV on Sunday, but with only an hour a week of zombie action, why not start a book or two for those days between episodes. After all: you can never be too prepared when the undead finally rise.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.