Monday, February 20, 2012

Un-dead Fiction

I like quirky things.  I like satire.  I like humour.  Lucky for me then that a new genre of fiction is picking up steam and appearing in books stores more often.  I’m talking about books that mix age-old stories that everyone knows with the un-dead (i.e. zombies, vampires, werewolves, etc.).  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you must have been living under a rock for the better part of the last 5 years.

This movement started for me with Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  With an opening line of “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains,” is it any wonder that I was hooked right away?  For those that know me, the answer is no.  Grahame-Smith’s work spawned both a pre- and sequel, both of which I snapped up and loved to read.  Within the trilogy, the reader comes to know how the Bennett girls became expert zombie killers, and how Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s early marriage progressed.

Grahame-Smith made quite a name for himself with the PPZ books, and recently followed them up with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  Narrated in the Presidential-History style, AL:VH is, for lack of a better description, a tongue-in-cheek history of the civil war, if zombie-nomics were the mitigating factors.  Quite frankly, I learnt more about that period in history from Grahame-Smith than the semester of American History I took in my first year.  But don’t tell my prof that.

Vampire hunting is quite a hot topic in this genre.  So, of course, when I saw Jane Slayer on the shelf at Chapters, I had to snap it up.  This book combines one of my favorite genres with one of my all-time favorite books, Jane Eyre.  How could I not love and enjoy the combination.  And in this version, John Reed gets a far more satisfying comeuppance that in Brontё’s version.  As with the Grahame-Smith PPZ series and Jane Austin, Jane Slayer’s author, Sherri Browning Erwin, give Charlotte Brontё co-author credits, as is only right.

Another of my all time favorite books is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, so I was tickled pink to see Alice in Zombieland sitting on a shelf in my local book store.  Needless to say, I purchased and read in within hours.  Nickolas Cook’s spin on the classic, with Brent Cardillo’s minor changes to Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations make this a book that I will probably read as often as its inspiration.

But this quirky, un-dead sub-genre of fiction is not limited to a re-scripting of literary classics.  It’s also been used in the explanation and re-scripting of history.  And, I mean, come on.  This is me – these types of books are now merging my favorite things: the odd-ball, History, and humour.  Of course I’m down for it.

I’ve recently finished Shakespeare Undead, by Lori Handeland, which tells the true story of Will Shakespeare’s lengthy and legendary career.  But the first exposure I had to this twist on History was A. E. Moorat’s Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter.  With the tag line “She loved her country.  She hated zombies.” the book is exactly what you think it will be – a rollicking tromp through Victorian London with a young queen with a penchant for beheading the undead.  It’s a sublime read.  I even recommended my thesis supervisor get his undergrads to read it rather that anything by the unbearably pompous British historian David Cannadine.  The history is solid, and far more enjoyable than anything I’ve ever read by Cannadine.  

Shortly after finishing QV:DH, I found another of Moorat’s works – Henry VIII: Wolfman, which explained so much about Bluff King Hal.  Those mood swings he was so famous for in later life?  Not syphilis; he was bit by a werewolf – he couldn’t help himself.  Moorate took a lot of liberty with history in this work, but even I forgave him for it.  I mean, come on.  Werewolves.  I wasn’t looking for accuracy in this one, folks.

I highly recommend each and everyone one of these books.  And I’m always looking for more.  (I’ve got Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters sitting on a bookshelf right now, but I want to finish the Austen version first, and I want to reread the actual Tolstoy before jumping into Android Karenina, also sitting on a self in my place.)  This is a genre that I don’t recommend for everyone – you have to be able to laugh at yourself as much as you’ll laugh at the characters to truly get an appreciation for these works.  My hat’s off to the authors who work with these tales, and my thanks to them for bringing it to the world.  

1 comment:

  1. I'm wary of all of the undead mash-ups coming out. I LOVED Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and I sort of love it more than the original. I mean it is mostly the original but anytime there are one too many carriage rides or balls, BAM zombies invade and liven things up. And I want to check out Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter because it's another SGS book, but I worry that the others won't be able to do what he does. It's a fine line you need to be able to walk to make that mash-up work.

    Also I'm surprised this is such a big thing. Who knew there were so many classic lit AND zombie/vampire/werewolves?