When AMC’s The Walking Dead first premiered in October 2010, it became an instant hit. Critics were in a frenzy: it was unique, unexplored, and a delicious throwback to the George Romero films of old. Based on the comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, the series has since spawned dozens of large-scale themed events, charity runs, tee shirts and board games.
As with every popular television series, The Walking Dead takes a hiatus every summer and we’re left wondering how to fill that flesh-eating, virus-ridden void. No Daryl for six months? Ugh.
But there’s hope. For the sake of your sanity, here are nine book titles that will help satisfy your dystopian cravings until the next season of The Walking Dead premieres in October:
AFTER: A collection of short-stories by various authors and compiled by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, After is full of terrifying tales and absorbing philosophical dilemmas. Contemporary folklore and original nightmares run rampant in stories like “After the Cure”, a dark tale about a vampiric virus by Carrie Ryan, and “Reality Girl”, a post-apocalyptic struggle between social strata, comparable to The Hunger Games. If you really enjoy reading about people hiding in abandoned houses from rabid packs of monsters, sociopathic dictators, or obnoxious alien lifeforms, After is your book.
FRAGILE THINGS: With contributions to an array of best-loved collections, multiple successful novels and even script-writing opportunities, Neil Gaiman’s fantastical mystery worlds and intricately simple style lend themselves well to the sort of story that fans of dystopian literature crave. Fragile Things is no exception. An outstanding compilation of thrilling short stories, poetry, and mysteries, the Hugo and Locus Award winning Fragile Things doesn’t disappoint. "October in the Chair", "Closing Time" and "Other People" will make you sob like a fool and send chills down your spine.
THE STAND: A Stephen King classic that has passed the test of time, The Stand is a surprisingly addictive romp through a horrific future-world where the inhabitants are all infected by a flu-like virus, save for a few seemingly immune. Red-eyed monsters lurk alongside highways and a recurring shared-dream of a woman on a porch somewhere in the middle of Nebraska connects those unaffected by the disease. Militaristic and political dissent plagues the survivors from the start. The latest, uncut edition clocks in at over a thousand pages and sometimes meanders off topic, so unless you’re a masochist... tread carefully.
WORLD WAR Z: The ultimate zombie novel, World War Z sets the standard for the modern post-apocalyptic fable in one grand sweep. Author Max Brooks (The Zombie Survival Guide), lauded as the “Studs Terkel of zombie journalism”, functions as a dispatcher from the front lines of a horrible war and mainly writes from a journalistic perspective. “I was a good soldier, well trained, experienced,” admits one of the main character’s “interviewees”. “… I thought I was ready for anything [he looks out at the valley, his eyes unfocused]... Who in his right mind could have been ready for this?” Fresh and gritty, World War Z is perfect for Walking Dead fans and anyone who enjoys a good Cronkite-esque historical drama.
V WARS: THIS BOOK IS A MUST. Did you get that? Because I certainly will yell it again if necessary. Grimy and tangible, V Wars, edited by Jonathan Maberry, bridges the gap between post-apocalyptic fiction and FX style horror. A round-up of some of the most enthralling authors today, each story is written with one common backstory: melting arctic ice has exposed the population to a deadly virus that begins to spread viciously, infecting earth’s inhabitants with a vampiric disease which triggers an unstoppable bloodlust. Each unique angle is well-rounded and developed with a range of characters that you learn to love and hate concurrently.
PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES: If you like Jane Austen but wish her stories were morbid and corpsified, this nonpareil jaunt is for you. Written and adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith (author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and How to Survive a Horror Movie), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies stays surprisingly true to Austen’s roots, managing to reign in the most dedicated Austenite. Humorously action-tinged and satisfyingly gross, this hilarious New York Times Best Seller has become ridiculously popular with the readers everywhere and has prompted deep philosophical queries from critics over the years. “If Mr. Darcy became infected,” asked Salon’s Laura Miller, “would Elizabeth have the fortitude to behead him in time?”
FEED: Mira Grant is a genius. Zombies? Check. Post-apocalyptic police-state? Check. Rebellious journalists, reporters and bloggers working together to break news to the public behind closed doors? You guessed it. What Feed gets right is its tireless commitment to making the unusual seem ordinary. “Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot -- in this case, my brother, Shaun -- deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens,” writes Grant’s protagonist, Georgia Mason. Truly scary with hints of bad jokes peppered in, Feed keeps you on your toes and invested in Georgia’s journey-- no easy feat in a world where about 10 billion new zombie novels are being shelved every week.
THE STRAIN: “Now even more gore in stunning HD,” feels like an appropriate way to introduce this crime drama/horror novel…. Because it is, indeed, hair-raising in the most grotesque way. Authors Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan start things off with a bang, plopping a huge jetliner full of tons of dead bodies in the middle of the JFK tarmac. It all goes to crap from there. With little control over what follows, the lead characters must take advice from-- as one reviewer put it-- “Van Helsing wannabe” Professor Setrakian, a grandfather figure who repeatedly tries to warn everyone not to touch anything. Obviously, no one listens. If nothing else, this book is a fantastic display of how effective the CDC is in real life (sarcasm intended).
THE HUNGER GAMES: I know most people will harpoon me for including Suzanne Collins’ hit trilogy on this list. I don’t care. These books were fantastic. The rise of the YA novel over the last five years has hit a high point, with series like The Mortal Instruments and Divergent all receiving the green light from numerous film studios. What has made The Hunger Games such a success is its ability to convince the reader of the protagonist’s own imperfections and to defy stereotypes in a subtly terrific way. Katniss Everdeen isn’t the plucky, perfectly coiffed heroine of most YA literature, but new breed of leading lady: suffering from near starvation in a slave-labor society where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, Katniss’ reactions are realistic--even grating sometimes--but always true to her personality, without apology. Adults who bypass this series simply because of the “YA” classification are sorely missing out.
Though I can’t honestly promise you that these books will completely resolve any angst you may be suffering from Walking Dead withdrawals, hopefully they’ll act as a bandaid for a short time, entertaining you until Rick, Beth, Darryl, Glenn, and Maggie return in the fall.