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Thread: Zombie stories without zombies

  1. #1
    Vickichuuuuuuuuu Ehlionney's Avatar
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    Zombie stories without zombies

    I'm having an argument with friends over whether a zombie story requires zombies.

    Their point of view is that if there are no zombies then it's not a zombie story, period.
    My point of view is, a zombie story is about the characters, not the zombies. It's about a setting where:

    - there's no time or resources to do anything but simply struggle to survive.

    - You're outnumbered and outgunned and can't even sleep unless you've barricaded yourself in six ways from Sunday and set reliable guards.

    - The fallen return as your enemies, no matter how close you were before.

    - You live in constant fear that, should you fall as well, you'll become part of the enemy completely against your will, the ultimate indignity. "You" might not even exist anymore, just your soulless body operating against your will.

    - You know that if you slip up, you face the likelihood of watching yourself "turn" and helpless to do anything about it. Honestly, I think this fear is probably the strongest theme in the "zombie" story that sets it apart from other horror... getting mobbed by zombies, meh, that's just a brutal death like any slasher/gore piece. The part that really gets the viewer/reader is watching the character allllllmost get away, then a simple bite... but not so simple.

    - Catastrophic collapse of social order is often a key element; you can't trust the people around you not to trip you as a distraction so they can get away, steal your supplies, etc... fragile new forms of social order grow to replace existing ones, often just as dangerous as the zombie threat. And if you get bitten, or someone accuses you of it for an ulterior purpose, your place in any social order immediately disappears; you instantly become vulnerable to the whims of those around you.

    - Character development revolves around whether you remain human by protecting others, or become a monster yourself by sacrificing other survivors for your own safety

    -----------------------------------------------------------------

    I feel like when you take those critical themes in mind, you realize that you can replace the zombies with pretty much anything and still tell the exact same story.

    Vampires decided to live in the open, hunting and preying on humans. Survivors band together for safety, but you can never be sure if one has secretly turned.

    Alien parasites, a cult that forces demonic possession on those they capture, a psychic that can use mind control; in a high tech setting it could be a data virus that infects your neural interface, that's spread through physical contact to avoid detection on the 'net...

    What do you folks think? Is it possible to tell a zombie story without zombies, or are zombies themselves a key element that just cannot be replaced?
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  2. #2
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    I think that in order to have a zombie story, you might not need to experience zombies, but at the very least I would assume that in the world you create, zombies should have the potential to exist.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ehlionney View Post
    I'm having an argument with friends over whether a zombie story requires zombies.

    Their point of view is that if there are no zombies then it's not a zombie story, period. That seems logical.
    My point of view is, a zombie story is about the characters, not the zombies. It's about a setting where:

    - there's no time or resources to do anything but simply struggle to survive. What does this have to do with something being a zombie story?

    - You're outnumbered and outgunned and can't even sleep unless you've barricaded yourself in six ways from Sunday and set reliable guards. What does this have to do with something being a zombie story?


    - The fallen return as your enemies, no matter how close you were before. What does this have to do with something being a zombie story?


    - You live in constant fear that, should you fall as well, you'll become part of the enemy completely against your will, the ultimate indignity. "You" might not even exist anymore, just your soulless body operating against your will. What does this have to do with something being a zombie story?


    - You know that if you slip up, you face the likelihood of watching yourself "turn" and helpless to do anything about it. Honestly, I think this fear is probably the strongest theme in the "zombie" story that sets it apart from other horror... getting mobbed by zombies, meh, that's just a brutal death like any slasher/gore piece. The part that really gets the viewer/reader is watching the character allllllmost get away, then a simple bite... but not so simple. This just sounds like you've decided zombie = The Walking Dead, which is decidedly not the case.

    - Catastrophic collapse of social order is often a key element; says who? you can't trust the people around you not to trip you as a distraction so they can get away, steal your supplies, etc... fragile new forms of social order grow to replace existing ones, often just as dangerous as the zombie threat. And if you get bitten, or someone accuses you of it for an ulterior purpose, your place in any social order immediately disappears; you instantly become vulnerable to the whims of those around you.

    - Character development revolves around whether you remain human by protecting others, or become a monster yourself by sacrificing other survivors for your own safety

    -----------------------------------------------------------------

    I feel like when you take those critical themes in mind, you realize that you can replace the zombies with pretty much anything and still tell the exact same story. Well, if I define zombie story as necessarily involving a comet, mall montages, teen angst and road trips, then I can replace the zombies with anything and tell the exact same story too, but it's not because that's by nature a zombie story; it's a single zombie story that in no way defines a longstanding genre.

    Vampires decided to live in the open, hunting and preying on humans. Survivors band together for safety, but you can never be sure if one has secretly turned.

    Alien parasites, a cult that forces demonic possession on those they capture, a psychic that can use mind control; in a high tech setting it could be a data virus that infects your neural interface, that's spread through physical contact to avoid detection on the 'net...

    What do you folks think? Is it possible to tell a zombie story without zombies, or are zombies themselves a key element that just cannot be replaced?
    I think you believe, for whatever reason, that The Walking Dead is the beginning, end, and template for zombie as a genre, when it's really, really not. You're just describing a vaguely post-apocalyptic setting, not zombies at all.

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    Here's a question:

    Would a film that fails to hit your criteria, but includes zombies, NOT be a zombie movie?

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    You can't really have a zombie story without zombies. But in the end, it's just the classification. Even if they aren't classified as zombies, it's easy to categorize them as zombies.

    If you say the fallen return as your enemies, it will probably be categorized as zombies because that's what zombies do. If they die, they come back and haunt the living. Even if you use a different term, some people will call them zombies anyways because that's what the fallen is. They are essentially the same thing unless they have some unique quirks that separate them as zombies.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW sohalt's Avatar
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    I'm more or less with Kurogane on this one. A rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

    Eg. A Song of Ice and Fire doesn't use the word zombie, but I'd definitely describe it as a zombie story in large parts, at least concerning all chapters set north of the Wall. But I also tend to call the White Walkers ice zombies, because as you've laid out so nicely, that's the narrative function they fulfil.

    So can people eventually identify zombies as zombies even if you don't use the word zombie? I'd say yes.

    But they have to start reading first.

    Will people who like zombie stories also want to pick up such a novel without the word zombie in the blurb? No idea. Some people can be a bit literal about this stuff. But most people read more than one genre and the surprise zombie element could be a nice easter egg.
    Last edited by sohalt; 04-23-2017 at 12:50 PM.

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW Maythe's Avatar
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    I think it's possible to explore similar themes in another kind of story and it's possible for other kinds of stories to share substantial plot elements but if there's no zombies, it's not a zombie story. It's a vampire story or an alien invasion story or a demonic possession story...

    Now some zombie stories call their zombies by a different name (feral ghouls in fallout for example - they're zombies) but I think that hostile, mindless corpses or near-corpses are an essential element if you're calling it a zombie story. Zombie stories don't have to be apocalyptic, they don't have to involve being outnumbered, they don't even have to involve infection - but they do need zombies.
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  8. #8
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    You could tell a story which was set in a world with zombies without a zombie actually being in any scene. I think.

    But I'm not sure that's what you're asking.

    They'd have to be known to exist though. A threat in the background.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    I think you believe, for whatever reason, that The Walking Dead is the beginning, end, and template for zombie as a genre, when it's really, really not. You're just describing a vaguely post-apocalyptic setting, not zombies at all.
    This would be an astute observation, if I had ever watched/read that series

    I don't watch tv pretty much at all. The last time I lived in a house that has cable was 1996, and although my current roommate has Netflix, we're not the sit around watching tv together types lol

    Pretty much the only forms of media I consume are books, webcomics, light novels, video games, and graphic novels. Pretty much in that order, too. So I can definitely assure you that your assumptions are wildly inaccurate.

    As to "vaguely post apocalyptic setting" well sure, that is literally the concept of pretty much every zombie story. Even if it's not a global apocalypse, the area affected by a zombie outbreak almost inevitably experiences such conditions. Unless it's rapidly contained, but then where's the story?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Creep View Post
    Here's a question:

    Would a film that fails to hit your criteria, but includes zombies, NOT be a zombie movie?
    I know literally nothing about film, I literally live under a rock as far as tv and movies are concerned.

    But as far as stories are concerned in general, I can't really think of many examples of "zombie stories" that don't include most or all of those elements. I think in many cases, those stories would fall under other categories. For example, a lot of fantasy stories and games include zombies as generic monsters without it being considered a "zombie story."

    And a story that doesn't doesn't focus on building the fear of infection, social breakdown, etc, usually ends up resembling monster horror.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurogane View Post
    You can't really have a zombie story without zombies. But in the end, it's just the classification. Even if they aren't classified as zombies, it's easy to categorize them as zombies.

    If you say the fallen return as your enemies, it will probably be categorized as zombies because that's what zombies do. If they die, they come back and haunt the living. Even if you use a different term, some people will call them zombies anyways because that's what the fallen is. They are essentially the same thing unless they have some unique quirks that separate them as zombies.
    When I say "fallen return as enemies" that doesn't have to involve the undead. It just means that defeated allies join the enemy, by whatever mechanism. Definitely the dead rising is zombie (or at least vampire/some form of undead/etc) but I was careful when wording it as such that it's not limited to the dead rising.

    Quote Originally Posted by sohalt View Post
    I'm more or less with Kurogane on this one. A rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

    Eg. A Song of Ice and Fire doesn't use the word zombie, but I'd definitely describe it as a zombie story in large parts, at least concerning all chapters set north of the Wall. But I also tend to call the White Walkers ice zombies, because as you've laid out so nicely, that's the narrative function they fulfil.

    So can people eventually identify zombies as zombies even if you don't use the word zombie? I'd say yes.

    But they have to start reading first.

    Will people who like zombie stories also want to pick up such a novel without the word zombie in the blurb? No idea. Some people can be a bit literal about this stuff. But most people read more than one genre and the surprise zombie element could be a nice easter egg.
    Definitely a zombie is a zombie no matter what name a writer invents for it, I fully agree with you there. As to whether a zombie fan would read a book that doesn't have zombies (even by another name), that wasn't really my point here at all. I'm more curious whether the specific monster used is more important in defining a genre than the recurring themes that exemplify it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maythe View Post
    I think it's possible to explore similar themes in another kind of story and it's possible for other kinds of stories to share substantial plot elements but if there's no zombies, it's not a zombie story. It's a vampire story or an alien invasion story or a demonic possession story...

    Now some zombie stories call their zombies by a different name (feral ghouls in fallout for example - they're zombies) but I think that hostile, mindless corpses or near-corpses are an essential element if you're calling it a zombie story. Zombie stories don't have to be apocalyptic, they don't have to involve being outnumbered, they don't even have to involve infection - but they do need zombies.
    Same as above. I completely agree, a zombie is always a zombie. I'm curious, though, about zombie stories that involve neither infection nor apocalypse. Do you have any examples of such? I can think of stories that might fit that description, that HAVE zombies in them, but they're used as generic monsters, pawns of a necromancer, etc, and the writers were focusing on a fantasy theme rather than a zombie theme.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Maythe's Avatar
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    Well if the zombies are magically created (either by some necromancer type or in some way close to the originating Haitian stories) then they won't be infectious since the cause isn't a disease. The feral ghouls in fallout are simply the result of radiation and, again, aren't infectious (or strictly undead). In any scenario where the zombies aren't infectious then there's no reason for it to cause any sort of apocalypse although they could exist in some other type of apocalypse too. I can't think of any particular examples as I'm not much of a zombie fan so it's not a genre I'm widely read in.

    I suspect that the 'zombie apocalypse' is a sub genre in itself and in that case I imagine all your criteria apply but to say that a zombie story has to have all those elements but can somehow manage to avoid having actual zombies and yet still be a zombie story seems a bit convoluted to me. It seems to me that you've identified the themes and tropes of zombie apocalypse stories, some of which are shared by other genres, and have extrapolated out too far.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ehlionney View Post
    Definitely a zombie is a zombie no matter what name a writer invents for it, I fully agree with you there. As to whether a zombie fan would read a book that doesn't have zombies (even by another name), that wasn't really my point here at all. I'm more curious whether the specific monster used is more important in defining a genre than the recurring themes that exemplify it.
    Well, the question is who gets to define the genre, no? Some would argue it's the fans, that's why my first reply went there. The critics and academics however, that can be admittedly a different matter.

    In that case themes might be indeed the bigger factor. Case in point, the last presumable zombie story I watched was The Santa Clarita Diet, about a middle aged suburban real estate agent who tries to have it all, work, family, and brains, after zombification. This show meets almost none of the criteria you mapped out (she does meet other other zombies but the virus seems so far fairly contained, there's no immediate danger of societal breakdown), and it also doesn't reflect the zombie prototype as described by a commenter above (mindless, hostile). Our heroine keeps it pretty well together all things considered, and although there's a the threat of her state deteriorating and her becoming like the more usual mindless hostile zombie hanging over here, the majority of the show allows her to keep up appearances, so the themes are of course rather different.

    And indeed, one review I read discussed the show as a cannibal story, in the context of Hannibal, and that latest French movie about hipster cannibals, rather than in the context of other zombie movies. I remember that was the explicit angle of that review ; zombies are out, cannibals are in, and Santa Clarita is a case in point. Although the undead person here was explicitly called a zombie by other characters on the show, very much dead and walking, and could only eat human flesh, unlike cannibals who do have a choice in the matter.

    Now, that critic might have been an outlier, but it does suggest that to s o m e critics at least theme counts more than terminology when placing something in the context of a genre for the purpose of critical analysis.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ehlionney View Post
    This would be an astute observation, if I had ever watched/read that series

    I don't watch tv pretty much at all. The last time I lived in a house that has cable was 1996, and although my current roommate has Netflix, we're not the sit around watching tv together types lol

    Pretty much the only forms of media I consume are books, webcomics, light novels, video games, and graphic novels. Pretty much in that order, too. So I can definitely assure you that your assumptions are wildly inaccurate.

    As to "vaguely post apocalyptic setting" well sure, that is literally the concept of pretty much every zombie story. Even if it's not a global apocalypse, the area affected by a zombie outbreak almost inevitably experiences such conditions. Unless it's rapidly contained, but then where's the story?
    Walking Dead the show is based upon the wildly successful graphic novels. I knew what it was about long before I watched an episode, and I've never read the series; it's pretty well dispersed into pop culture.

    Not every zombie story -- Santa Clarita Diet was just mentioned (and it rocks) -- but I'm saying you're equating post-apocalypse with zombies, when they're not equivalent. The Road is not a zombie story, despite having most of your criteria.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    The Road is not a zombie story, despite having most of your criteria.
    Gosh yes, The Road was completely scary, and the whole issue was not turning into a "zombie" but turning into the kind of survivor that willingly ate babies for survival was awful. Even more scary than turning into a mindless zombie, because you did it with full knowledge.

    I can't recall off the top of my head, but there was a movie with Chris Pine in it where him, his brother and 2 girlfriends were some of the last survivors of a global pandemic. They started the film as selfish "dudebros" who thought they were special and later had to come to terms with their humanity and how others were so much worse, out there. It was a rare pandemic film that had no weird "coming back to life" palavers.
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  15. #15
    No.

    If you pitch me a story as a "zombie story" and I get all the way through it without encountering a single zombie, I will be irritated and give you an unfavorable review.

    If, however, you pitch it as a horror story with similar trappings and don't mention zombies as the cause for whatever apocalypse/survival/first person shooter scenario is happening, it would be fine.

    Subverting your audience's expectations is all well and good, but don't sell them something you don't intend to deliver. You stamp "zombie" on your blurb, I expect some gorram zombies.
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    Yeah but this comment only really applies to advertising. If you've already seen the movie, for example, is it fair to call it a zombie film if it hits every single condition, apart from actual zombies. It's really semantics, since yes, you can call (read: compare a film to) zombie movies... if you define the category as the conditions listed, rather than an actual zombie, then sure. Human parasite movies ARE zombie movies. Etc.

  17. #17
    Vickichuuuuuuuuu Ehlionney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Treehouseman View Post
    Gosh yes, The Road was completely scary, and the whole issue was not turning into a "zombie" but turning into the kind of survivor that willingly ate babies for survival was awful. Even more scary than turning into a mindless zombie, because you did it with full knowledge.

    I can't recall off the top of my head, but there was a movie with Chris Pine in it where him, his brother and 2 girlfriends were some of the last survivors of a global pandemic. They started the film as selfish "dudebros" who thought they were special and later had to come to terms with their humanity and how others were so much worse, out there. It was a rare pandemic film that had no weird "coming back to life" palavers.
    The "dudebros" bit would turn me off even if I did watch TV/movies lol T_T

    The Road seems like an interesting premise, is it a movie or book?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhoda Nightingale View Post
    No.

    If you pitch me a story as a "zombie story" and I get all the way through it without encountering a single zombie, I will be irritated and give you an unfavorable review.

    If, however, you pitch it as a horror story with similar trappings and don't mention zombies as the cause for whatever apocalypse/survival/first person shooter scenario is happening, it would be fine.

    Subverting your audience's expectations is all well and good, but don't sell them something you don't intend to deliver. You stamp "zombie" on your blurb, I expect some gorram zombies.
    I'm not talking about calling it an actual zombie story; that's definitely a good way to piss off the readers lol. I'm just saying that I feel like most of the recurring themes of the stereotypical zombie apocalypse story form a pretty solid genre that doesn't actually need zombies to work. I know that for myself as a reader, not as a writer, it's those themes that interest me in such stories rather than the zombies. I know that there are going to be readers who are the exact opposite, they don't care about the story themes as long as it has zombies (one of my squad leaders in the army literally joined the army to learn survival skills and weapons training in case zombies ever happen in real life... and he married a fellow soldier who felt the same way... they were pretty strange people... I went to a dinner party at their house once and they had seriously zombie-proofed it lol)

    Quote Originally Posted by sohalt View Post
    Well, the question is who gets to define the genre, no? Some would argue it's the fans, that's why my first reply went there. The critics and academics however, that can be admittedly a different matter.

    In that case themes might be indeed the bigger factor. Case in point, the last presumable zombie story I watched was The Santa Clarita Diet, about a middle aged suburban real estate agent who tries to have it all, work, family, and brains, after zombification. This show meets almost none of the criteria you mapped out (she does meet other other zombies but the virus seems so far fairly contained, there's no immediate danger of societal breakdown), and it also doesn't reflect the zombie prototype as described by a commenter above (mindless, hostile). Our heroine keeps it pretty well together all things considered, and although there's a the threat of her state deteriorating and her becoming like the more usual mindless hostile zombie hanging over here, the majority of the show allows her to keep up appearances, so the themes are of course rather different.

    And indeed, one review I read discussed the show as a cannibal story, in the context of Hannibal, and that latest French movie about hipster cannibals, rather than in the context of other zombie movies. I remember that was the explicit angle of that review ; zombies are out, cannibals are in, and Santa Clarita is a case in point. Although the undead person here was explicitly called a zombie by other characters on the show, very much dead and walking, and could only eat human flesh, unlike cannibals who do have a choice in the matter.

    Now, that critic might have been an outlier, but it does suggest that to s o m e critics at least theme counts more than terminology when placing something in the context of a genre for the purpose of critical analysis.
    I've heard my roommate talking about a TV show she likes with a similar premise, something about a zombie police coroner who eats brains to figure out how they died in order to solve crimes. But, besides the fact that she was a zombie, according to my roommate, the series is pretty much identical to similar crime dramas like Law and Order, NCIS, etc. But the character seems to be a normal human as long as she eats brains, just like what you're talking about. To me, honestly, that just seems like a crime drama with an interesting main character, not a zombie story.
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  18. #18
    I think you're defining "zombie story" very differently than I am, which is "literally anything with actual zombies in it." If it's dystopian horror, or situational comedy, or crime drama, or teen romance, and also has zombies, then it's a zombie story that falls inside one of those other categories. To me. I wonder if you're using a more broad definition applying to most post-apocalyptic disaster type horror/drama/survival movies and saying it's a sub-categories of zombies? Which is honestly a little hard for me to wrap my head around. Like, if you don't like zombies, why bring them into the equation at all? Why not just write in one of those existing genres and make the disaster happen some other way?

    To answer the earlier question: the monster (in this case, zombies) is not the same as the genre it normally hangs out it. You can have a disaster movie with most of the things typically found in zombie horror without zombies, sure. But it can't be a zombie story without zombies in it. Period.
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  19. #19
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    The Road was a book.... that won the Pulitzer, and was later made into a movie.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rhoda Nightingale View Post
    I think you're defining "zombie story" very differently than I am, which is "literally anything with actual zombies in it." If it's dystopian horror, or situational comedy, or crime drama, or teen romance, and also has zombies, then it's a zombie story that falls inside one of those other categories. To me. I wonder if you're using a more broad definition applying to most post-apocalyptic disaster type horror/drama/survival movies and saying it's a sub-categories of zombies? Which is honestly a little hard for me to wrap my head around. Like, if you don't like zombies, why bring them into the equation at all? Why not just write in one of those existing genres and make the disaster happen some other way?

    To answer the earlier question: the monster (in this case, zombies) is not the same as the genre it normally hangs out it. You can have a disaster movie with most of the things typically found in zombie horror without zombies, sure. But it can't be a zombie story without zombies in it. Period.
    This. If it has zombies, it's a zombie story. Santa Clarita Diet? Zombie story, despite it not being in any way post-apocalyptic or about running from anything (except your inane neighbours because you don't want to discuss the state of your lawn). Night of the Comet? Zombie story, even with mall montage. Walking Dead? Zombie story.

    The Road? Post-apocalyptic, struggle to survive, constant fear, collapse of social order, determination to not fall prey to the 'other,' etc... not a zombie story. Why? No zombies.

  21. #21
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    Everyone keeps coming back to the belief that my list of recurring themes is just a description of post-apocalypse in general.

    I'd like to point out that some of the key points I listed are the premise of allies becoming enemies even against their will, risk of being turned and the fear of being helpless once infected/whatever. Those aren't standard themes of post-apocalyptic stories that don't involve zombies. Yes, the societal collapse and the drive to survive are standard for post-apocalyptic stories, though, of course.

    I guess a better way of getting my point across would be, if you take an ACTUAL already written zombie apocalypse story, and do a find/replace of the word zombie, you can replace it with vampire or a variety of other options that have nothing to do with the undead but still pose risk of infection/domination (like demonic possession, mind-control, or a data virus in a sci-fi setting where humans have neural interfaces or where there are large quantities of androids, etc), and it is still literally the same story. But if you find/replace zombie with "crazed generic post-apocalyptic survivor human" there are critical themes that no longer make any sense.

    Yes, it's no longer a story about zombies at that point. I GET IT. But it tells the exact same story. And there aren't many other examples of this in media. A ghost story will always involve ghosts/spirits of some kind; you can replace the ghosts with alien energy beings but if it's still a horror story, the mind will immediately realize that they are just ghosts with a different name. If it's not a horror story, people will just see it as an alien story with invisible aliens. If you do an AI themed horror story with the antagonist being corrupted data entities that can't be seen/tracked, they're going to be interpreted as ghosts with a different name, once again.

    If we change the topic to vampire stories, they always revolve around the core concept of a powerful being that requires draining something from others in order to survive, and always invokes an archetype of a sneaky, plotting, intelligent character. You can change their weaknesses as much as you want, they can walk in the sun, they might not be villains; but the draining concept is a literal requirement. And any creature in sci-fi/fantasy that fits those themes is automatically compared to it; psychic vampires, data vampires, etc; even incubi/succubi that have their own niche, are constantly referred to as "sexual vampires" because of the theme of an intelligent, powerful entity that drains from others.

    In the majority of horror themes, you can't replace the primary monster with a different monster and still tell the same story in the same way that you can with zombies. And that's my point.
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  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    Yeah, but you can't.

    if it has vampires instead, it's .... a vampire story, not a zombie story. Demonic possession has nothing to do with the undead, coming back from the dead, the dead eating the living, etc., all of which are actually required for zombie stories, while being post-apocalyptic is not.

  23. #23
    I'm not sure what your question is. Do you just really want to write in a setting that you've seen more often than not in zombie stories only without the zombies? Because...you CAN. That's totally allowed. Are you arguing that zombies can be replaced with any other monster and not change the story at all? I disagree, but I also think you're overthinking this. Why is this bugging you? What is eating your brain about this Zombies vs No Zombies business?
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  24. #24
    Vickichuuuuuuuuu Ehlionney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rhoda Nightingale View Post
    Why is this bugging you? What is eating your brain about this Zombies vs No Zombies business?
    Honestly, mostly just the fact that to me, the only thing that makes zombies "scary" or interesting at all is that fear of turning. Without risk of infection, zombies are seriously the most boring enemies I can imagine. And so to me, the only way a story can "feel" like a zombie story is if it has that fear. And yet it seems that other people think as long as it's undead and eats brains then it's a good representation of a zombie. A zombie without infection is purely coincidental to the piece, in my opinion. Like the aforementioned examples of Santa Clarita Diet and iZombie (I had to ask my roommate the name of the show), they're not zombie stories, they're stories that contain zombies.

    And I basically am just sitting here feeling like an absolute lunatic because I have such an incompatible worldview that I seriously feel like screaming "what the hell is wrong with everybody!" >.< like, sorry, but I'm extremely confused how this doesn't make sense to anyone else. I feel like I'm seeing a purple sky and unable to understand why everyone else is calling it blue.
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  25. #25
    am writing, i swear tiddlywinks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ehlionney View Post
    I guess a better way of getting my point across would be, if you take an ACTUAL already written zombie apocalypse story, and do a find/replace of the word zombie, you can replace it with vampire or a variety of other options that have nothing to do with the undead but still pose risk of infection/domination (like demonic possession, mind-control, or a data virus in a sci-fi setting where humans have neural interfaces or where there are large quantities of androids, etc), and it is still literally the same story. But if you find/replace zombie with "crazed generic post-apocalyptic survivor human" there are critical themes that no longer make any sense.

    Yes, it's no longer a story about zombies at that point. I GET IT. But it tells the exact same story. t <snip>

    In the majority of horror themes, you can't replace the primary monster with a different monster and still tell the same story in the same way that you can with zombies. And that's my point.
    I'm going to agree with cornflake and Rhoda here - no, you cannot ubiquetely replace 'zombies' with 'other monster' and have the same story. (And I happen to like both zombie and vampire novels, and no you definitely shouldn't be equating those as interchangeable. There are very different tropes at play, and not every vampire story is the same, just as not every zombie story is the same, either.)

    Maybe it would help if we talk about this from some stories that either do, or do not, involve zombies? For example, "I am Legend". That's actually a really good one because the novella served as the basis for a Will Smith movie remake a couple years ago. In the movie, the creatures are zombies. In the novella, they are vampires. The two are not interchangeable. By changing the creatures to zombies in the movie, you have a completely different story. It becomes a zombie story, wherein Will Smith's character is trying to cure the infection, and is seemingly the last survivor, and there's this running theme of hope, or lack thereof. Kind of a run of the mill zombie story, to be honest. But the novella, which involved vampires, was actually pretty cool because it was about a theme of all these people who had been infected and changed, yes, but then the dude hunting them down and studying them? Well, he was seen as the monster, or the Legend, because HE was the only one that was different now and he was killing them off when they had families and they feared him. HE was the monster. Different tale when you replace vampires with zombies (a reverse of what you are suggesting, but different themes are at play because you invoke vampires, even if they were caused by a plague of sorts - you start thinking about other vampire stories where maybe the hunter/hunted, Van Helsing/Dracula call into question who the true monster is and the fear of the unknown. I don't think you'd have those same thoughts and questions if they were zombies in the novella.)

    Two novels that are zombie novels and might serve as good examples wherein you can't just "insert any old monster and tell the same story" would be World War Z and Mira Grant's Feed series. World War Z (again turned into a movie, which I don't recommend seeing as it completely destroys the cool story-telling premise of the book) is written as a post-war documentary accounting of the zombie infection; a journalist has collected together interviews of survivors, telling of the infection and the subsequent efforts at containment and survival in snippets that made me think of war documentaries combined with Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Would it work to insert another random monster and would it be the same story? No, IMO. The documentary is so cool because it relies on your common understanding of zombie tropes, but it's all about the style in which it's told that is so unique. Take away the zombies and I don't think it's as effective.

    The other example I would point to is Mira Grant's Feed series. Again, it plays on the known understandings of zombies, and uses that as a platform to demonstrate how new forms of communication could arise (blogging) to tell the news, as well as the power structures at play in a post-apocalyptic world that has rebuilt itself. The speed at which people are able to disseminate information and capture the essence of risings, as well as the political machinations that take place throughout the series, are again based on readerly understanding of zombie tropes. And it mirrors the speed at which zombies operate - which in this world is very fast when they are fresh.

    You take zombies out of those stories, and they don't work as zombie stories. Because they would be built around different tropes given a different monster...and likely be very different books in how they are constructed. Again, JMO, but these stories would not be the same if they were told without zombies because they are constructed around the fears / myths / tropes that are particular to zombies and then told in a narration style that enhances those unique elements to the zombie mythos.



    ETA: and not to complicate matters, but the fear of infection doesn't hold water if you're talking about voodoo created zombies - whole other animal and set of fears there. Methinks you are oversimplifying the zombie genre, as there are also humorous books told from the zombie's perspective who just wants to lead a normal life, too.
    Last edited by tiddlywinks; 04-24-2017 at 10:10 AM.
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