“In 2011, women authors – and their determined heroines – ruled zombie fiction.”
– Paul Goat Allen
Zombie fiction had a simply extraordinary year in 2010 – so much so that I called it the Year of the Zombie. The undead were everywhere: in movies, on television shows (The Walking Dead, Dead Set, et. al.), in commercials (like Starburst), and all over the bookshelves. Zombies, temporarily, ruled the supernatural roost and became (flesh-eating) pop culture darlings. But the thing that made 2010 such a phenomenal year for zombie fiction had nothing to do with the zombie-powered movies and television series and video games – it had everything to do with a group of highly imaginative authors who took a cliché-ridden subgenre of horror and completely reinvented it.
2011, however, turned out to be a bizarre year for zombie fiction. The first six months produced a few remarkable releases but sadly, the majority of zombie-powered fiction was substandard, formulaic schlock. I had all but written off 2011 as a good year for zombie fiction when I began receiving some jaw-droppingly innovative – and addictively readable – novels and anthologies. The last few months of 2011, in particular, produced some of the best zombie releases of the year.
Two things strike me as I look back on zombie fiction in 2011: the continued rise of female writers (and female protagonists) in a category that has been traditionally male – writers like Sophie Littlefield, Rhiannon Frater, Mira Grant, Joan Frances Turner, etc. – and the infusion of more than a few stellar debut novelists. Unlike paranormal fantasy, which had very few noteworthy debuts this year, zombie fiction had, well, a horde of stand-up-and-applaud debuts, including Rhiannon Frater’s The First Days, The Becoming by Jessica Meigs, Thomas S. Roche’s The Panama Laugh, and Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel.
The bottom line is that In 2011, women authors – and their determined heroines – ruled zombie fiction.
Zombies may not be as sexy – or as sparkly – as vampires or as existentially conflicted as lycanthropes but in many ways they are the perfect supernatural canvas on which to tell a story. They’re just ripe for allegory – the undead can be representative of humankind’s sheep-like tendencies or political and religious prejudice or just about any human defect… greed, rampant consumerism, apathy, etc. (Did you see the zombie walk on Wall Street in October when protesters dressed as corporate zombies?)
My predictions for 2012? I think it will be similar to this year: we’ll see a lot of uninspired, derivative stuff and – hopefully – more innovative and thought-provoking releases that will continue to push the boundaries of zombie fiction.
So, without further ado, here are the best zombie fiction releases of 2011...
I described this novel's two protagonists, Jenni and Katie, as the “Thelma and Louise of the Apocalypse."
9. Dead of Night by Jonathan Maberry
11. Enter the Zombie by David Lubar
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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