As a finale I am resorting to my favorite kind of posts, the interviews. Dear readers, you have the pleasure to be in the company of Thea James aka Zombie Thea from the bombastic duo "The Book Smugglers". She is a sucker for the undead, so I am going to exploit this passion of hers with some practical and cool questions. Here we go.
Harry Markov: How did the zombie became such a passion and surpass other dark and twisted creatures to reach the number 1 position on your creature lists of favorites?
Thea: There's something inherently terrifying about zombies because, to borrow a line from Barbara at the end of The Night of the Living Dead (remake) "We are them and they are us." Zombies, at least of the Romero persuasion, force us to confront our basest instincts and fears as humans - we are animals, we need food to survive, and even when we survive we will always die. Zombies transcend that finality of death and pervert our basic need to eat and to reproduce with their insatiable desire for flesh and their ability to reproduce almost instantly through infection. Now that is pretty cool. Throw in some sociopolitical commentary (i.e. the brainless, undead hoard attacking the stronghold, the bastion of capitalism - aka the shopping mall), and that's even cooler. See, the best zombie stories aren't about the zombies really - they're about humans; survivors forced to confront their own humanity in the face of unspeakable terror and chaos - more so than any other monster/creature feature genre. And that, my friend, is why they are numero uno for me.
HM: I know that you like the zombies, but do they manage to scare you?
Thea: Sure! But it’s the good scared. Like, when you’re about to go on a roller coaster, or a haunted house scare. Some of my best dreams are zombie attack dreams - not because I’m a violent person or anything! But because I get that thrill. Is that weird? Hmm.
HM: What are the zombies you prefer: slow zombies or fast zombies?
Thea: I like both, but I prefer the slow, shambling variety. One, it makes more sense. If you’re the dead reanimated, you’re probably not gonna be moving like a lightning ninja. Two, humanity needs SOME kind of chance to stand against the undead menace! Make them fast, and we’re pretty much screwed. I remember reading The Rising by Brian Keene (which was a terribly written book, by the way) and the zombies were not only fast and strong but also super!intelligent, could possess animals, etc. What kind of chance do we stand against that?! Come on now.
HM: What do you think of Jamaican voodoo zombies and the ones raised by a necromancer in video games?
Thea: I happen to love the voodoo zombie! I mean, it is where the word “zombie” originated after all, from the Haitian cultural belief in reanimating the dead (the term was coined after the west African diety “Nzambi”). One of the first real zombie films I saw was The Serpent and the Rainbow, which was based on a Harvard ethnobotanist’s doctoral dissertation about Haitian voodoo and zombies. There’s a really cool National Geographic special out there somewhere on Clairvius Narcisse too, about his time as a honest to goodness voodoo zombie. So...you could say, yes I am a fan.
HM: In case of a Zombie Apocalypse what would be the novel you bring on your survival trip?
Thea: For practical reasons, Max Brooks's Zombie Survival Guide. But that's not really a novel, right? So in that case, I'd also take...The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. It's a fantastic YA zombie novel that really haunts.
HM: In case of a Zombie Apocalypse how do you see yourself as a survivor? When do you estimate you will become zombie munchies?
Thea: For all that I have a zombie survival plan, and I think I’m pretty knowledgeable with the lore...I have a sinking feeling that I would be zombie chow pretty quickly. I’d like to think that I’d at least be able to survive the initial siege, but strictly speaking, I’m a short, small girl and I live in one of the largest cities in the world (Los Angeles). I have no farming skills and canned food can only last so long...so my outlook for survival is pretty slim, all things considered.
HM: In case of a Zombie Apocalypse what weapon do you see yourself killing zombies?
Thea: I’d like to go Casey Jones on the undead - baseball bat, hockey stick, cricket bat...and of course, a couple of machetes. Nice reach with all the weapons and I’m pretty athletic, so I’ll be infinitely better off with melee weapons than I would a gun.
HM: What’s your zombie contingency plan?
Thea: Hehe. I actually do have one from the blog:
Thea’s Zombie Escape Plan
(Assuming the Apocalypse occurs and I am in my apartment)
I’m lucky enough to live on the top floor of my apartment building, and my unit can only be accessed via a single flight of stairs ending at my doorstep. So, it’s Z-Day. First thing I do once I notice some shambling brain-munchers outside is immediately take my handy power drill (it’s always charged) and unscrew the iron siding of my staircase in an attempt to disconnect the stairs from my front door. Once that’s accomplished (or even if it is a fruitless task), I lock the front door (which, by the way is incredibly sturdy, I know from experience having been locked out recently) and barricade it and my front hallway with my dresser and other assorted furniture. Next, I fill both bathtubs and my sink with water (in case of a longer siege and considering how fragile our infrastructure is, I’ll need all the water I can get), also trying to bottle and save as much liquid as I can get. I get my handy baseball bat and any other melee weapons (table legs, lamp stands, golf clubs) and keep them handy…and I settle in for as long as I can–at least until the initial chaos ends. I keep the battery powered boombox handy, and I wait for further instructions. After the initial chaos runs its course, I evaluate my options (and how busy the street is with corpsicles). I am one block away from a local high school (you might recognize it from Buffy and other movies), and two blocks away from a national guard and army training facility. Using my handy ladder, my exit route is through the bedroom window, down three stories to the ground (in a pinch, I could probably chance a jump) then running, baseball bat in hand, for the car in the gated garage…or if worse comes to worst, running the streets to get to the army facility. If it’s abandoned, or a zombie haven, or if the facility is full of d-bags as in almost all zombie films and literature, I double back to the school (which is gated, mind you) and hole up or gather supplies depending on how dire the situation is….and then, it’s back to the waiting game. Eventually I might make a stab for the Getty (elevated position, great art, possibility of growing stuff off the land, etc) should things stay hairy.
HM: With the new Resident Evil on its way and the new breed of intelligent zombies with enough brains to operate machinery, do you think this zombie will shuffle its way into movies and literature?
Thea: Oh sure. It’s already there in many cases! For example, in the ‘80s comedy/horror film Return of the Living Dead (from George A. Romero’s co-creator of Night of the Living Dead) the zombies were fast, they could talk, they could plant traps (“Send...more...paramedics!”). There’s the aforementioned zombie series by Brian Keene (really, I’d stay away though) where zombies are from another dimension and are just as smart - if not smarter - than their human prey. Heck, even in Romero’s Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead, zombies start to remember things from their lives, like how to shave or shoot a gun or lead a zombie revolution.
It seems like a natural progression in the evolution of the zombie!
For a good example of zombies in books that are sentient, intelligent beings, I’d recommend Generation Dead and Kiss of Life by Daniel Waters - it’s a very original, smart take on the genre. There’s also Stephen King’s Cell which isn’t really “zombies” per se, but close enough.
HM: What kind of human fear does the zombie embody? Werewolves are like the fear of the wild side in humans and all.
Thea: Oh, I touched on this before! I think zombies symbolize our human fear of death, and pervert our imperatives to eat and reproduce by transcending death. It’s remarkable how long zombies have been prevalent in human culture for a very long time, from Gilgamesh to Zombieland. And the prevalence of the undead, across numerous cultures, speaks to this shared, human fear.
HM: Do you think zombies are going to become big in fantasy and urban fantasy to finally kick out vampires and shapeshifters from their throne?
Thea: Oh, I think they are definitely giving them a run for their money already! This year alone has been a big one for the zombie in speculative fiction - taking a look at trends in the young adult market, it seems that zombies are the new fairy (which were the new vampire). At least, that’s my take on it. And the cool thing is that zombies are so varied across the fantasy landscape! You’ve got the traditional slow-movers, the flesh-eaters, the non-eaters, the benevolent zombies and the cursed ones...it’s anyone’s game, really. The young adult market has done a great job with the transition, but it hasn’t really been seen in the adult urban fantasy market as much. But then again, with new titles like Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner or Black Blood by John Meaney coming out, the adult Urban Fantasy genre isn’t too far behind...