Fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead have about a month to wait before the series returns for the latter half of the fourth season. If you’re in the mood for some zombie fiction and just can’t wait until mid-February, then I’ve got some book suggestions for you. Please note that both of these book series have slightly different takes on the zombie genre — one is zombies versus superheroes and the other is… wait for it…
Zombies versus robots. Oh yeah.
Ex-Purgatory by Peter Clines (out January 14, 2014)
The fourth book in Peter Clines’ Ex-series is going to really make fans smile. For those not familiar with it, the Ex-series follows a group of survivors who have holed up in The Mount in Hollywood, California (aka Paramount Studios) after an outbreak of They-Won’t-Stay-Dead. Mixed in with the survivors are a number of survivors with slightly-above-average superpowers who help to balance the overwhelming numbers of the undead that are called Ex-humans… or simply Exes.
The first book, Ex-Heroes, takes place a 18 months after the outbreak has devastated the world and introduces readers to the the very limited number of superheroes remaining. In Clines’ world, superheroes may have powers, but they’re not all immune to a bite from an Ex. Consider that a minor spoiler.
Books two and three, Ex-Patriots and Ex-Communication, continue the story by bringing in a mix of new and old characters who have managed to find their way to The Mount. It’s an interesting mix of normal and super-powered characters that Cline brings together, and it’s equally interesting to see how, even at the end of the world, humans will still behave like humans, good and bad alike.
As with the previous books, readers need to be aware that Clines has no problem killing off characters. He also has a nasty habit of bringing characters back in unpredictable ways… EXTREMELY unpredictable ways. I’ll leave it at that.
You may have noticed that I haven’t really given you much detail about Ex-Purgatory. There’s a good reason for that. This book is a real mind-messer-upper. When the story opens, George Bailey (aka superhero St. George) is busy working at his handyman job at the local college. Day to day, it’s a bit of a droll life, but at night he dreams about superheroes and nightmarish creatures. And then the nightmares start to turn into waking-dreams where what he sees cannot be believed. And then a young girl finds him and tells him that everything he knows is wrong.
I will admit to being a bit annoyed at first because I just couldn’t figure out what was going on… I mean, I knew from the book’s description that things weren’t what they seemed to the main superheroes, but I couldn’t figure out the How or Why of it. Just trust me… get about 1/4 in and it all starts falling into place as the heroes begin to come together… again. Consider that another minor spoiler for Ex-Purgatory.
This has been one enjoyable series. I really had no idea what to expect from the first book, but now I find myself constantly checking to see the date of the next release. Clines hints at a fifth book, but it’s not showing up yet in any search… so fingers crossed. Trust me that Clines has got at least two or three major plot points that could easily keep this series going for some time… and I have no idea which one he might tackle next. Or he may head down a completely different path. Who really knows? I’ve given up trying to predict what will happen next in this world, but I do know that happy endings seem to always require major sacrifices. (Yeah, that’s another spoiler.)
Zombies Vs. Robots (out now)
ZVR as it’s called, started out as a limited series comic book. I missed out on it. Thankfully, that original set of stories was republished in a soft cover anthology titled Complete Zombies Vs Robots. This is a very unique world — it’s not zombies versus humans, obviously, because humans have been eradicated (with the exception of a few groups that will be mentioned shortly). Instead, a strange chicken-or-the-egg paradox has occurred… some scientists have spent some serious money to create a portal that allows one of them to time travel forward where he encounters zombies and becomes infected. Meanwhile, another scientist (back in our time) awakens a robot army he created (“to wage war in man’s stead”) in the hopes this will keep him out of trouble once the amount of money spent on the portal research is realized. With me so far?
Next, the time traveler returns to his time to spread the infection that he apparently encountered during his trip. This infection wipes out humanity, but it also creates the new enemy that the robot army can now wage war upon. Time travel is a fun plot device, isn’t it?
Okay, now it’s getting weird. The robots wage war on the zombies, all the while protecting the last known surviving human… a baby girl. The robots plan on cloning the baby girl and repopulating the planet, but before they can do so… okay, no more spoilers.
Well, maybe a few. The collection only gets a bit weirder. How weird? How about Amazons fighting zombies. Yes, Amazons on their secret island. Oh, and there’s a minotaur. But it all comes together… seriously!
The artwork is unique and fun to examine. This is definitely an adult-only title, however, so just be warned. Language, sexual situations, violence. Just like Downton Abbey (should have).
What’s really cool about this series, however, is that it doesn’t stop with the comics. The storyline and setting have generated a number of short story collections that include ZVR: This Means War and ZVR: Women on War (an all female writing crew on this one!), both full of zombie craziness crossed with the occasional robot or two (or hundred). These are short stories that take place IN the ZVR world, so they’re not always about robots… and not always about zombies… and sometimes they’re not about either. Still, it’s a fun little universe that the ZVR creators hath made, and it’s always enjoyable to see what short story writers can come up with to twist and tweak it. (Note: There are additional comic book/anthologies that I’ve yet to read, so just be aware if you like these stories, there are plenty more out there such as ZVR: Diplomacy, short stories that take place in Russia or the UK.)
Here’s my final thoughts on ZVR — just completely out-there, strange, and twisted stuff. Not all of it appealed to me, but that’s typical of short story collections. I’m a bit burned out on the traditional zombie versus human storyline… and I’m a big fan of robots. So this one was just a no-brainer for me. (Heh… get it?)
So, there you have it — two zombie book series that are sure to keep you entertained for the next four weeks and beyond. So grab some water bottles and beef jerky, a lamp with new batteries, and go hunker down in your bunker and wait it out.
The wait for The Walking Dead, I mean… not the end of the world. (Although to some fans, the end of Season 4 might feel like it.)