The Season 3 finale of The Walking Dead aired yesterday, which means millions of fans are going through the torturous process of zombie withdrawal. To ease that pain a little, I’ve come up with three extraordinary zombie fiction series to fill your days and nights until the fourth season starts back up, presumably next fall.
Let me reiterate—these aren’t just very good series; they’re truly extraordinary, each one brilliantly written and historically significant in its own right. These are the crème de la crème of zombie fiction sagas. If you’re a hardcore fan of The Walking Dead, all three of these trilogies will absolutely blow you away.
Littlefield’s Aftertime trilogy may be one of the best post-apocalyptic sagas ever written; I’ve called it “Stephen King’s The Stand in a bra and panties.” Initially set in the Sierra Foothills of California, where a genetically modified plant inadvertently released into the world has turned much of humanity into flesh-eating Beaters, the Aftertime trilogy is simply a monumental work, a trio of novels that has gone a long way toward redefining the genre. Never before has such a powerfully moving post-apocalyptic series featured such a realistic, authentic—and downright unforgettable—female lead.
The majority of post-apocalyptic fiction over the decades has characterized women as helpless, hopeless liabilities—victims in high heels, or objects to be coveted because of their ability to further the species. But Littlefield’s iconic protagonist, Cass Dollar, is indeed a woman of the 21st century. She is a fighter, a survivor. She’s smart and courageous and determined. She is a mother, a lover, a hero at the end of the world.
But she isn’t some badass warrioress—she is a deeply flawed everywoman who managed a convenience store before the world ended. An alcoholic who had her daughter Ruthie taken away by social workers, Cass wants nothing more than to be a good mother to her daughter. All she has to do is survive long enough to find a place where they can live free of the threat of Beaters, or murderous bandits, or starvation, or hypothermia…
Beyond Cass Dollar, the entire trilogy is filled with tough and tenacious female characters like Sammi, a 14-year-old girl who has lost her father to divorce and has seen her mother killed in front of her.
The message here? Women are just as strong and smart and courageous as any man. Sexual gender has absolutely nothing to do with one’s ability—or will—to survive.
An utterly readable fusion of campy post-apocalyptic zombie horror (George Romero is referred to as “one of the accidental saviors of the human race”) and highly intelligent political thriller à la Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate. I’ve called this Hugo Award-nominated series “transcendent zombie fiction” for good reason. Set in a near future almost three decades after the mutating of two revolutionary cures created a virus that reanimated dead flesh, these novels are simultaneously suspenseful apocalyptic science fiction reminiscent of Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, cerebral political thrillers, and grand-scale zombie fiction epics.
Revolving around a team of three intrepid young bloggers who get the opportunity to follow a Presidential candidate and cover his bid to become the next leader of the United States, uncovering grand-scale conspiracies along the way, this trilogy is, as I’ve written before, “nothing short of an instant apocalyptic fiction classic.”
If you’re looking for an epic storyline with (undead and infected) brains, this trilogy is definitely for you!
I described the female duo in this outstanding trilogy as the “Thelma and Louise of the Apocalypse” and, out of the three trilogies mentioned, this one is probably the closest in tone to The Walking Dead.
The First Days begins with an unimaginably horrific sequence, arguably one of the most memorable—and disturbing—scenes I’ve ever experienced in a zombie novel (and that’s saying something!). Jenni, a disillusioned wife and mother trapped in a marriage with a physically abusive man, wakes up to find her zombified husband consuming their three-year old son (“…she found Lloyd, hunched over Benjamin, eating away her baby’s tender flesh.”). After rushing outside, Jenni watches as her now undead family wildly tries to escape the house to get at her:
“The fingers pressed under the front door of her home were so very small. She could not stop staring at those baby fingers straining frantically to reach her as she stood shivering on the porch…”
Jenni is rescued by a woman driving by—an attorney named Katie who minutes earlier witnessed her own beloved wife Lydia become one of the undead. Together, they witness unspeakable atrocities at the end of the world—and the very beginnings of a new one…
So don’t despair; the third season of The Walking Dead may be over, but there is still plenty of first-rate zombie apocalypse to go around!
(And for those of you who want more suggestions, I can give you a list of my favorite standalone zombie novels!)