Sunday, October 25, 2009

They’re Here! Zombies in Popular Fiction

If you’ve been to a book store lately (and shame on you if you haven’t) you have probably noticed that vampires are all the rage in popular fiction, including romance novels and books targeted at teens. Second to vampires are werewolves. A number of authors have featured creatures of the night as their protagonists (and antagonists) such as Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series to name a few.

These are not the only night stalkers that are featured heavily in current fiction. If you look carefully you will notice a growing variety of books featuring zombies. “Zombies?” you say? Yes, Zombies! The dead that cannot die, but rather roam the earth as decaying, shambling ghouls propelled by a relentless hunger for living human flesh!

Admittedly, the sensual, romantic vampires and the tortured souls that bay at the moon are the girls’ favorites. The zombies are for the boys, as evidenced by the popularity of Max Brook’s books, The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. There has also been Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, in an attempt to get guys to read Jane Austen.

I can understand the popularity of vampires and werewolves. Vampires are cool and stylish; werewolves are wild, party animals. Zombies? What is so interesting about them? They’re crude, uncouth, messy, smelly, no sense of style. They roam around with their mouths open and their eyes rolled back in their heads, leaving a trail of fetid viscera wherever they go. Where’s the mystique? What’s the point of eating the flesh of the living? They can’t digest anything; their innards are putrefying by the hour.

In an attempt to learn more, I picked up a handy guide called The Zombie Handbook by Rob Sacchetto. This book will tell you all you need to know, along with illustrations so gruesome that it’s like homage to the EC Comics’ Vault of Horror.

As I perused this ghastly, nauseating tome, I came upon a section devoted to a special variety of zombie; namely, the ‘alien-possessed’. Now we’re talking! A human as host to an alien parasite, an alien-produced human replica, or even an artificial human. Certainly, a marauding, flesh-eating zombie is no trip to Disneyland (or maybe it is), but even more frightening is to be face to face with someone, something that you completely accept as a human being (and why would you think anything else?), but is really not human, or is no longer human. You would never know, or perhaps you have a sense or feeling that something is not quite right about the person in front of you, but you can’t quite put your finger on what is wrong with him or her. A rotting corpse meandering around is fairly easy to spot, but what if the ‘zombie’ appears to be just like everyone else?

Maybe you have just met someone, a new business acquaintance perhaps, and they seem normal enough, but suppose, just suppose that what they really are is a poor hapless drone that has been hijacked by a slug-like alien intelligence as in The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein, or The Host by Stephanie Meyer? You and your new ‘friend’ sit down to enjoy a latte and some scones, and you begin to become aware that there is something odd about this person, perhaps this person is not really a person, but rather a facsimile produced by an extraterrestrial seed pod like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, or an alien that has the ability to completely absorb another life form and produce an exact duplicate like in Who Goes There by John W. Campbell Jr.?

What if this person smiling pleasantly at you is just a synthetic construct made to duplicate human expression, like the characters in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, or as in Solaris by Stanislaw Lem?

Of course this is all in fun, just fodder for popular pulp fiction. And yet, if we were being infiltrated by an alien life form such as suggested in these various works of fiction, how would we ever know, until it’s too late? Eventually we would be them. Look around you; perhaps you are the only one in the room that is still human. Maybe you should read the books that I mentioned. While you still have time.
Posted by Mark Paprocki

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