Tag Archives: What to Read If

What to Read If You Liked The Walking Dead

Since the first post in this series was about a book published almost forty years ago, I thought the second post should feature something more contemporary from the speculative fiction genre.

I try not to make assumptions about what my followers already know about any book or graphic novel I blog about, so I’ll summarize The Walking Dead in one spoiler-free sentence for anyone who isn’t familiar with it:

After waking up from a coma, a police officer must find his missing family and adjust to a world that has somehow become overrun with zombies while he was unconscious. 

Obviously, there’s a lot more going on this world, but that sentence will give you the gist of it.

As a fair warning, the graphic novels as well as the TV show based on them are both incredibly violent. I actually had to stop reading and watching both of them a while ago due to this, although I’m still intrigued by the characters Robert Kirkman first created in 2003 and the assumptions he made about what life would be like in this sort of world.

If zombies and post-apocalyptic worlds are things you enjoy reading about, here are some other books that might be equally appealing.

Some of these titles have popped up in many similar lists online, but I’ve come up with a few classic novels I thought would work as well because of how many themes they share with this series.

Humans have dealt with plagues for millennia. For most of that time, we didn’t know why someone would seem to be perfectly healthy one day only to become dangerously ill the next.  You might be surprised to see how many similarities there are between an outbreak of cholera or rabies and a zombie infestation.

What happens when a society breaks down is another string connecting all of these recommendations. While I tend to have a much more optimistic view of how the average person would behave in that situation, not every writer agrees with that. It’s always interesting to see more pessimistic takes on the topic.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Imagine trying to stay alive in a world where nothing grew anymore. Now picture doing it while raising a child by yourself.

The relationship between the main character and his son reminded me a lot of how Rick Grimes interacted with his son in The Walking Dead. Both of these parents had been pushed to their limits by worlds they couldn’t possibly have predicted or prevented. Their love for their children was what kept them going in impossible situations.

Fair warning: this is a pretty violent story. Be sure to read some full reviews of it before checking it out if you’re sensitive to or triggered by acts of violence.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

In this tale, a group of schoolboys were stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. They needed to figure out how to survive there without any adult supervision for a long period of time.

This was one of the first classics I thought about after I discovered the zombie genre. True, there weren’t any monsters on the island, but the unstable, dangerous community these kids developed reminded me a lot of how many living characters behave in typical zombie movies.

If only William Golding were still alive. I’d sure like to see what he thought of the similarities between this book and today’s horror movies.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Zombies attacked. Humans fought back. Eventually, society stabilized enough for researchers to begin collecting stories from the survivors of this apocalypse.

I liked this more hopeful approach to how people might respond to a zombie invasion. People banded together in many of the anecdotes the narrator collected, and not all of them were the folks you might necessarily expect to make alliances with one another. Some characters also survived circumstances that seemed like they should never have worked out okay in the end. It wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Oh, and do not watch the film based on this book. The only things it shared in common with the original version were the title and the fact that zombies exist in both universes.

Yes, I might still be a little vexed about that.

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy

If you think about it, rabies shares many similarities with whatever virus, bacteria, plot hole, or magical disease that creates zombies depending on which universe we’re talking about.

This disease is spread through bites and scratches.

Once symptoms appear, death is certain.

People and animals unlucky enough to be infected with it become agitated and unpredictable.

Sometimes I wonder if rabies was one of those real-life diseases that encourages creative minds to come up with fictional versions of it. They certainly have enough in common for me to think this is a likely explanation for at least some of the zombie folklore out there.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaugh

This is one of those graphic novels that I keep waiting for Hollywood to discover and turn into a TV series. It was a post-apocalyptic story what happened to the world after a virus killed off all but one man on Earth while leaving everyone who had two X chromosomes unaffected.

It was much less violent than The Walking Dead has been so far, but humanity still had to figure out how it was going to survive in the longterm. Since even frozen sperm and male embryos died out in this plague, humanity would only continue to exist for at most another century if the characters couldn’t figure out a way to create the next generation without the help of the Y chromosome.

Most of the storyline dealt with the main character’s quest to travel to the other side of the globe and find his estranged girlfriend. That journey was far from an easy one, but it did introduce the audience to all sorts of interesting characters along the way.

The Plague by Albert Camus

This tale was written at a time when epidemics happened more often than they do in most countries today. I’ve read that Camus was influenced by the Cholera outbreaks that happened both in the setting of this novella as well as closer to home. While the storyline doesn’t mention this disease by name, it does give clues that this might be what was killing off the characters so quickly.

If you’re not familiar with Cholera, know that it’s a bacteria that causes such severe, persistent diarrhea that people die of dehydration. In short, it is an awful way to die, and the plot did go into detail about what happens to the human body after being exposed to this illness. (So maybe don’t read this while eating lunch….)

Like fictional zombie diseases, Cholera didn’t have a cure and was poorly understood. I’m not surprised Camus was inspired to write about it. It struck communities without warning and spread like wildfire through fecally contaminated water and food. Seeing how the main character reacted to an illness that no one could stop reminded me so much of Rick Grimes’ reaction to the many deaths he saw while trying to survive in a zombiepocalypse.

What other books should be added to this list? Have you read any of these titles?

Previous posts in this series:

What to Read If You Liked Clan of the Cave Bear

What to Read If You Liked The Clan of the Cave Bear

I’ve decided to start another series on this blog. Just like with the interviews with people who love speculative fiction that I’ll begin publishing here next week, Hopeful Science Fictionfilm reviews, Questions from the Search Engines, and Blogging Advice, this series won’t be updated on a specific schedule. Once I’ve come up with several similar titles to recommend to people who enjoyed a certain book, that post will be added to the queue.

The Clan of the Cave Bear is a prehistoric novel written by Jean M. Auel in 1980 about an orphaned human girl named Ayla who was raised by Neanderthals. It has four sequels about Ayla’s life as an adult.

Part of the reason why I picked this specific tale to start this series off with is because I’ve been getting a spike of visitors coming to this site looking for information about Auel, her characters, and whether there is going to be a TV show or movie made about  the Earth’s Children books.

No, it doesn’t look like there’s anything in the works. I’ll be the first to shout it from the rooftops if that ever changes! In the meantime, why not talk about something I enjoyed quite a bit?

The Clan of the Cave Bear is one of those stories that I’ve returned to over and over again. The plot is an intriguing blend of adventure, romance, mystery, and even a touch bit of the paranormal genre at times.

Life wasn’t exactly easy for hunter-gatherers 30,000 years ago, so there were also plenty of subplots about gathering food, making weapons, preserving medicinal herbs, and doing everything else necessary to survive the cold, long winters of an ice age.

I’ve spent years on the lookout for books that are comparable to this one and its sequels. The following list is the cream of the crop of everything I’ve read so far about Neanderthals and how they might have interacted with Homo sapiens tens of thousands of years ago or in modern times.

The Inheritors by William Golding

This was the first well-written book I discovered when I went to the library as a young teen in hopes of finding more storytellers like Jean M. Auel who had clearly done their research about life in the prehistoric era.

It was fascinating to see how Mr. Golding imagined Neanderthals might have behaved as their culture began to bump up against a stronger one. The Neanderthals in this world were caring, but they had trouble competing in a world where a more intelligent and dangerous type of human was beginning to move into their territory.  I’d argue that this twist says just as much about him and the era he lived in as it does about one of the possible reasons why this species might have gone extinct.

Ember from the Sun by Mark Canter 

I read this title soon after finding The Inheritors, and it’s something I’ve been recommending to likeminded readers for many years now. It’s by far the most science-fiction oriented part of this list because of how much time the narrator spent setting up the storyline and explaining why the things he imagined could possibly happen with the use of science instead of magic to explain them.

In short, the main character was a scientist who found the body of a frozen Neanderthal woman that was so well-preserved he actually found a viable embryo in her womb. (Yes, there was a somewhat-scientific reason why this was possible in this universe, but I can’t tell you specifics about that scene without revealing an important part of the plot).

He implanted that embryo into a human volunteer, named the resulting baby Ember, and raised her as his own. As she grew up, she began to explore her unusual past. She had many of the same questions that people who are transracially adopted have about their identity, and those questions lead to some very interesting developments in the plot that I still mull over to this day.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The title of this one gives away its subject matter. We know that eventually all of the Neanderthals died out (or interbred with a much larger group of humans until their genes almost completely disappeared). There are so many things that bones can’t tell us about an individual or their culture, however!

What was the life of the last obvious Neanderthal like? How were they different from us? I can tell you almost nothing about this protagonist other than the fact that I found her delightful. Everything else I want to say would wander too close to spoiler territory because of how long it took the author to explain some of her character’s most enduring traits.

There is a film by the same name that is currently in the works. I can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be based on this book. Either way, I’m tentatively hoping to review it when it comes out!

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

One of the things I wish had been different about the Earth’s Children books was how far they eventually strayed away from describing all of the hard work that people needed to do in order to survive in such harsh climates. This novel always stayed true to its setting in that way. Life as a hunter-gatherer is never something that should be romanticized even if there are certain parts of it I wish I could incorporate into my own urban lifestyle!

I also loved the friendships the characters in this tale developed with Neanderthals. They worked together to survive in an unforgiving climate. As much as I respected Mr. Golding’s take on this topic, I’d like to think that the past was a cooperative place.

The Neanderthal Parallex trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer

In Hominids, the first book of this series, humans from our Earth meet a modern-day Neanderthal from a parallel universe where their species survived and humans died out tens of thousands of years ago.

The cultural differences between Neanderthals and humans were vast. To give one of the least surprising examples, all of the Neanderthals in this universe are bisexual and have two spouses, one man and one woman. It was fascinating to see how these two worlds collided once the characters realized just how many assumptions they made about life didn’t fit the other society in any way.

I can’t believe no one has turned this into a TV series yet. Robert J. Sawyer has written dozens of worthwhile books, but this world in particular really needs to be shared with a wider audience. It was so thought provoking.

Respond

If any of you have recommendations for other prehistoric tales or a request for a book I should feature next in this series, do speak up. I’m always open to suggestions.