It's really bizarre. At least with vampires you can point and say: thats a metaphor for something. But more often than not zombies are rooted deeply in science fiction than entities of fantasy; they were once human, then by disease or scientific hubris, (occasionally by miracle and magic) they died, and then tried to eat someone. It's impossible. It can't happen. But we can't stop asking: What if? What if the dead rose up to wage war against the living?
In Max Brooks's World War Z, he examines the zombie apocalypse from a pessimistic but eerily realistic viewpoint. You see the confusion in the initial stages of the outbreak, the fear of citizens and the people who will try to profit from that fear. You see government reactions across the globe, as they struggle to contain the outbreak and later, their people.
The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant, introduces zombies as an obstacle course for political bloggers who are about to discover the conspiracy that destroyed life as everyone knew it, the conspiracy that will continue to destroy unless they can survive long enough to blow it wide open. There's something endearing about these characters; they speak to modern day phenomenon of tech-addiction and vaccine fear, while embracing a future where the dead are never far away.
Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is one of the rare instances where no explanation for the zombie uprising is given. Its not about the dead, or even the Undead, it's about the living. It examines the moral implications and the emotional obligations of what it would really mean if your loved ones returned from the grave. How far will the living go to protect the deceased?
If you're looking for metaphor and meaning in zombiehood perhaps the lesson taught is this: No matter how bad the dead behave, the living can always behave worse. And isn't that a frightening thought.
Got a favorite Zombie novel?
Why do you think we love zombies?