Over the years, the whole concept of what a zombie is and what genre they ‘belong’ to, has changed. When the general public first became aware of the walking dead, it was in a black and white quasi-classic film, White Zombie. These reanimated corpses were controlled by some Voodoo priest or priestess to do the bidding of their new master. Over the years we’ve seen an evolution of sorts. In the film, The Serpent and the Rainbow, loosely based on actual events, zombies were people who were exposed to some kind of natural drug, created and cursed/blessed/anointed by, again, a practitioner of the black side of Voodoo.
Between White Zombie and The Serpent and the Rainbow, numerous films were made about zombies wreaking havoc on unsuspecting citizens. Science fiction movies usually found a way to insert zombies or some form of reanimation. In most cases, it was aliens bent on controlling the world who were responsible for Uncle Zed to be up and walking again. Plan 9 From Outer Space comes to mind when I mention aliens bent on controlling the world. The focal point to zombies had to be George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in the 1960’s. He used a returning space probe as a possible means to explain the reanimation of the dead.
Moving forward, we have the 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later films. Arguably, these films are not zombie films as the infected don’t fall into the established criteria of what we’ve all come to know as zombies, i.e., reanimated dead. The infected in these films are just that, infected. They are not reanimated corpses. They have not been exposed to a Voodoo ceremony or a space probe or aliens. They have been infected with a virus that makes them full of rage.
Sadly, there are a lot of films in the zombie genre where they are nothing more but a really bad plot, script and directing designed around a budget that consists of extreme gore splatter in a weak attempt to gross out the viewing audience.
Now we come to the film, not the book, version of World War Z. Max Brooks has already stated that the film and book share very little in common beside the same title. In the book, the zombies were relatively slow moving but had numerical superiority over the uninfected. In the film, from what I’ve seen in the trailers, the infected appear to be fast moving, almost super strength and speed endowed whatevers that for all intent and purposes are more like John O’ Brien’s Night Runners from his New World book series which are admittedly, not zombies.
Looking back, we can see a somewhat clear evolution. The first zombies were under someone else’s control. That stayed pretty much constant and could even be said to exist in Romero’s films. The zombies in his films were not actively being controlled by a presence but were controlled by whatever infected them. More of a subliminal control. The Serpent and the Rainbow was another film where someone was controlling the zombies after making their own. That puts us up to about 1978 where Romero unleashed his Dawn of the Dead. In DotD, the zombies were still slow moving and stiff in their movements. In the 2004 remake of the same film, the zombies have now developed into fast moving, even running at times, engines of destruction.
Now we have to ask the question: What are zombies?
Are they the standard, rotting flesh, slow moving, unspeaking, moaning, decaying corpses that we already know or are they the fast moving, screaming at times, non-shamblers able to run you down like a cheetah does a zebra?
Of course, people in general, and fans of the genre will point out that the whole concept of zombies needs to be re-examined and possibly re-imagined. In some genres, that has worked. We can look at some of the books coming out about vampires and see that in several cases, nano-technology thereby science fiction has moved into what used to be a strictly horror genre. What I mean is in one series of vampire novels the premise behind vampirism is that it was a longevity experiment undertaken by ancient scientists that although it worked for the most part, the major side effects were not being able to go outside in the sun and if you did, you would need to ingest blood to feed the nanobots in your system so they had fuel to repair the damage to your body.
That is only one form of re-imagining one genre and overlapping it from it’s primary home, horror, into at least two others, science fiction and romance. Not to mention some books and films that overlap into young adult.
The same could be said for other authors in the zombie genre. There are books out there where the zombies were created by accident as a result of some shadow government operation to create super soldiers. That moves what used to be relegated to the horror genre and puts it into the techno-thriller/mystery genre. Of course, most of these also fall into action/adventure as well.
Zombies have moved out of horror and have taken up residence within several other genres that they wouldn’t normally be in or even overlap like drama and romance. That brings us up to the zombies in my work.
I’ve been asked what caused the zombies in my books to become zombies. The short answer is to read the books. (I know, shameless self plug). The long answer, the more involved answer is… read the books.
Seriously and all kidding aside, I took a slightly different tact and made it a man-made reason. It wasn’t space aliens, it wasn’t a returning space probe carrying some interstellar disease or microbe, it wasn’t the thawing out of a several thousand year old alien corpse (yeah, that was one reason that was used by another author), and it wasn’t a test program to create super soldiers. For more details on what was the root cause that created zombies in my work, well, you’re going to have to read the book(s) when it (they) becomes available.
Now we’re faced with a minor dilemma, what genre do zombies really fall into and how do we classify what a zombie is?