No, not in the streets (at least not yet), but in popular culture.
There have been a slew of zombie movies in the past few years: remakes of horror classics like The Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead (in 3D no less); a trilogy of Resident Evil films based on the deeply disturbing video game of the same name; new takes on the walking dead like the gritty 28 Days Later and its equally grisly sequel 28 Weeks Later; and even a hilariously witty and gory zombie comedy, Shaun of the Dead (which is one of my favorite films).
As long-time readers of WoolGatherer are aware, my taste in monsters is usually confined to more highbrow fare, specifically vampires. Ravening, mindless monsters like werewolves and zombies never quite capture my imagination the way elegantly clad undead Eastern European nobility can.
Sure, I might watch a movie like 28 Days Later and find its horror gripping, and I enjoyed the Resident Evil films because of their kick-ass female protagonist, Alice and sexy supporting actors like Oded Fehr, but once the movies ended, I didn't spend much time thinking about them. (Well, maybe I had thoughts about Oded, but they weren't zombie-related.)
To the best of my knowledge, I had never read a book about zombies until my friend Greg loaned me his copy of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. The title alone was intriguing, and Greg's assurance that it was skillfully written and genuinely terrifying sealed the deal--I needed to read it.
Five pages in, the story had me hooked. It's tremendously absorbing, and I enjoyed the book so much that I rationed how many pages I could read each day, just as I had done when reading The Historian.
World War Z is a written as collection of interviews with survivors of a world-wide zombie plague caused by a virulent virus that turned most of humanity into flesh devouring ghouls. Brooks sets the book several years after the war's end (humans prevailed, but only barely), and he offers tantalizingly fragmented horrific snapshots of the infestation as it moved across the globe. Social norms collapse and chaos spreads as the sea of the moaning flesh-eating undead grows ever larger.
Because the book is written from a journalistic perspective, as though its readers are fellow survivors of the Zombie War and "The Great Panic" that gripped the world as the nature of the plague revealed itself, many details are never fully spelled out. Only as one reads the first-person accounts from survivors all over the globe does the larger picture begin to coalesce.
Even after I finished the book, puzzling gaps remain in the narrative, and I found myself pondering the the clues that might reveal more than is directly stated. (For example, though he is never mentioned by name, it seems clear that Colin Powell is the US President during the Zombie War.)
Often as I read, I was reminded of the many interviews I've read with Holocaust survivors: each voice is unique, each account of suffering unbearably personal, and yet the horror relayed is common to all, though the specific details differ. (Late in the book, Brooks explicitly links his tale to the Holocaust by having his narrator interview an old man who had survived the Nazi death camps in Poland and the zombie plague.)
For my part, I'm off to buy Brooks' earlier work, The Zombie Survival Guide.
You know, just in case.