On Friday I interviewed Carry Ryan, whose second novel, Dead Tossed Waves, takes place in a world overrun with zombies. Zombies, and the undead in general, have taken a strange hold on our imagination of late. Without dipping into the realm of the semiotician, there seems to me to be a clue early on in Ms. Ryan’s book about why this is so. In her series, a character bitten by a zombie very soon becomes a zombie themselves, something “not alive, but all hunger and need.” I will say this about zombies—they make great villains. There is no threat of your readers mourning the death of a zombie, primarily because it is already dead. But more than that, as Ms. Ryan pointed out, they are all hunger and need. We often find the idea of need devoid of soul frightening. That this need actually wants to eat us should not be surprising.
Speaking of semiotics, I had some close friends who went to Brown University in the 80s, where and when semiotics were all the rage. During one class, my friends studied Night of the Living Dead, and were told the zombies represented the capitalist establishment’s fear of the proletariat rising up. To which I thought, “Does that mean factory workers would cheer for the zombies?”
The answer, of course, is that like all villains—or like all fiction, for that matter—zombies cannot be one thing to all people. And just like in my dreams, I feel that all the characters in a story, both those that I read and those that I write, are me—the hero, the villain, the girl, the guy—everyone. Including zombies. After all, what is worse: to be chased by a thing with hunger but no soul, or to be a thing of hunger with no soul? I know my answer.