The Spread of the Undead: Zombies in Fiction across 7 Genres

From its origins in Haitian folklore, the concept of reanimated corpses, or zombies, has become a widespread phenomenon in popular culture.

We’re all familiar with the image of a rotting hand bursting skywards from a grave, or the slow, shambling advance of a horde of the undead, all groaning for brains.

It is written in very short chapters that are often filled with a confusion of the senses and slightly odd and mismatched descriptions.

But zombies have begun to occupy literary spaces far beyond the typical horror and apocalypse genres.

From reanimated detectives and undead-rights groups, to “living impaired” high-schoolers, the proliferation of zombies in fiction has reached the levels of a full-on outbreak.

If you want to experience zombie fiction in new and unexpected ways, read on to discover seven different zombie novels in seven different genres.

Detective Fiction: Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson


The first novel in the Dan Shamble: Zombie PI series, Death Warmed Over follows the story of Dan Chambeaux, a detective who works in the Unnatural Quarter and isn’t going to let a little thing like death stop him from helping his clients.

Dan lives in a world where vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other supernatural creatures were unleashed by an event referred to as The Big Uneasy.

Along with his human partner and ghost girlfriend, Dan meets all sorts of paranormal characters in his cases, such as a mummy who is suing the museum that put him on display, and two angry witches who are going after a careless publisher who didn’t proofread their spellbook.

But though he may seem to have his hands full with his job, Dan is also trying to solve his own, personal mysteries: who shot him and who poisoned his girlfriend?

A supernatural detective story with a generous helping of laughs, Death Warmed Over is a great read if you’re looking for a lighter take on zombies.

Science Fiction: Coldbrook by Tim Lebbon

While a sci-fi zombie novel may not seem like anything new, Tim Lebbon takes this concept to the next level with the introduction of an interdimensional aspect.

Jonah Jones is the head scientist at the Coldbrook laboratory, which is hidden deep in the Appalachian Mountains. He is haunted by the presence of a being called the Inquisitor, who encourages him to take a new form and explore the multiverse.

The novel begins when Jonah and his team of scientists finally make their breakthrough: a portal into an alternate dimension.

To maintain safety protocols, they have put into place a system that will immediately kill anything that comes through this gateway.

But when a humanoid creature enters their dimension unharmed, they realize that they have unleashed something that cannot be killed because it is already dead. The creature carries with it an infection that spreads its zombie-like disease almost instantly.

The world’s only hope is to find a cure in the form of genetic resistance. Thus begins the scientists’ desperate search for just one human who remains uninfected among the masses of the undead.

For novel that explores new aspects of zombies in science-fiction and expertly combines pre-existing sci-fi tropes with surprising outcomes, try Coldbrook.

Paranormal Romance: Generation Dead by Daniel Waters


With the popularity of vampires, shapeshifters, demons, werewolves, and ghosts as love interests, it seemed inevitable that zombies would quickly join the ranks of supernatural sweethearts.

In his 2008 novel, Generation Dead, Waters brings zombies to high-school. After deceased teenagers suddenly begin coming back to life, Oakvale High School finds itself with a student population divided in two: those that breathe and those that don’t.

Phoebe Kendall is among the few living students who support the equal treatment of the living and the “living impaired.”

After joining the Undead Studies program, Phoebe meets Tommy, a living impaired student who is making great strides (well, slow steps) to promote undead rights.

Tommy and the Undead Studies program open Phoebe’s eyes to the full extent of the living impaired’s struggle: from their friends and families’ rejection, to the anti-zombie protests, to the violent ‘reterminations’ that are occurring all over the country.

A story of forbidden romance, high-school politics, and what it means to be human, Generation Dead is the perfect book for all the YA romance fanatics and zombie-lovers out there.

Humour: Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

From his Discworld series, Terry Pratchett brings us a story about Death being forced to take a break from his duties.

When Death is sent to live on a farm because he isn’t doing his job properly, the humans on Discworld struggle to come up with a replacement.

Because of their lack of Death, the life force of dead humans builds up until the recently deceased begin to rise again.

Windle Poons, a recently dead wizard, finds himself among the newly animated dead. But all he wants is to be reincarnated, and suddenly being undead has thrown a spanner in the works.

Eventually, Windle Poons joins an undead-rights group called the Fresh Start Club and is unwittingly launched into an adventure to save the biggest city in Discworld, Ankh-Morpork, from being attacked by parasites.

With Pratchett’s signature blend of humour and social commentary, Reaper Man is a fantastically original take on the rise of the undead, and a wonderful reflection on what would happen if Death got fired.

Steampunk: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest


The winner of the 2010 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, Boneshaker is set during an alternate, steampunk version of the American Civil War.

When rumours begin to spread of gold existing beneath the Pacific Northwest, the Russians commission inventor Leviticus Blue to create a machine to mine beneath the icy surface of Alaska.

But Dr Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine (or Boneshaker for short), discovers something other than gold during its test run in Seattle: a vein of “blight gas.”

The gas turns anyone who breathes it into rotters (undead humans), and soon a zombie epidemic is spreading across the city.

Meanwhile, Leviticus Blue disappears, leaving behind a ruined reputation and a wife and son to bear the disgrace of his failure.

Boneshaker is set sixteen years after the drill engine disaster and follows the story of Blue’s family. A wall has been erected to stop the spread of rotters and protect the unaffected parts of Seattle, but the city is now far from the bustling metropolis it once was.

Blue’s wife, Blair, and their son Ezekiel live a difficult life on the outskirts of the city. Tired of continuing to suffer from his father’s mistakes, Ezekiel sets out to prove that his father was innocent. He leaves the safety of the world outside and enters the toxic land beyond the wall.

For an adventure full of steampunk technology as well as zombies, try Boneshaker.

Literary Fiction: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

A blend of genre fiction and literary fiction, Zone One is, at its core, a post-apocalyptic novel. It follows the story of Mark Spitz, a regular civilian who has survived the zombie apocalypse and is now a part of the effort to return society to normal.

Mark is a part of a volunteer clean-up team that is removing the remaining, benign zombies from the island south of Canal Street, in Manhattan (also known as Zone One).

As he performs the shockingly mundane job of killing off the last and the least dangerous of the zombies, Mark reflects on his experiences during the height of the apocalypse: the violence, horror, and desperation to survive.

In contrast, his present life has once more fallen into the bureaucratic tediousness of the time before zombies.

Government issued prohibitions and restrictions surrounding his job and pamphlets about Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder fill his day-to-day life, as if the world has simply taken the apocalypse in their stride.

An interesting and unique take on post-apocalyptic society, Zone One is a book for those who want to explore a more serious and reflective side of zombie fiction.

Bizzaro Fiction: Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess


Set in a universe where the zombie virus is spread by language and sound rather than biological infection, Pontypool Changes Everything explores the horrifying idea of violence and blood-thirstiness spread by subliminal infection.

The novel follows a multitude of characters trying to navigate their way through the confusion and fear of the rapidly declining world around them.

They are in the midst of an epidemic where everyone is already infected, where the ‘virus’ is in everyone’s DNA and is simply waiting to be activated by the sound of someone whose virus has already been activated.

When the virus is awakened, the victim starts to lose meaning, to lose language, and to lose their humanity until all that is left is the urge to kill and to taste human flesh.

This idea of the virus affecting language and vice versa is reflected in the structure and language of the novel itself. It is written in very short chapters that are often filled with a confusion of the senses and slightly odd and mismatched descriptions.

For a beautifully poetic roller-coaster ride through the deconstruction of the zombie novel, Pontypool Changes Everything is the place to go.

We hope you enjoyed our list of 7 zombies in fiction. Maybe you found a few new ones to add to your list of summer or gothic reads.


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