Zombie Fear Factor: Dumb Beasts or Something More?

It’s the season for that of-the-moment homegrown tradition, the zombie parade. Seems every town, large and small, has one; everyone from tots to retirees seem to enjoy dressing up as the undead and shambling down Main Street.

I’m all for it, but it got me thinking about the first time I sat down to write about a zombie horde in my AFTERTIME series, and how I set my guys apart from all their pop culture peers. After all, once you’ve seen one nice suburban soccer mom tricked out in oozing gashes and exposed eye sockets – faux ones anyway – you’ve kinda seen them all…

(This is probably a good time to point out that my creatures aren’t, technically, zombies; they are humans infected with a virus that leaves them feverish, insensible, and craving the flesh of the living.)

I decided to come at the problem from what I didn’t like – specifically, what bored me about zombies I’d come across in books and movies. The biggest problem is that they’re one-dimensional. They lack personality – collective personality, that is; I accept the notion that individualism is not advised when creating a zombie herd. The nature of their threat is that they are a known terror. You never have to wonder what they’re going to do next, because you already know – they are driven by their taste for bra-a-a-i-i-n-s and will shamble (or lope, given the advent of the “fast zombie”) mindlessly and relentlessly until they get them.

But wait. What if they weren’t an entirely known threat? In other words, what if you didn’t always know what to expect when they came after you? This is the question that got my attention, as I sat with my notebook in the early days of conceptualizing AFTERTIME.

I knew I didn’t want my Beaters (the name of my zombies in the books) to be intelligent. There are a few examples of talking zombies in the canon, and they leave me cold. Those aren’t zombies, they’re just bloodied human foes with an unusual diet. But what if they could inch along the continuum? What if, in other words, they started out as mindless flesh-lumps, but either retained traces of humanity, or regained them as time went on?

As I started to write, I kept both of these possibilities in mind. Beaters start out like dementia patients, uttering random syllables from time to time, and pantomiming distantly remembered tasks, like opening the fridge door or combing their hair. What makes that horrifying is that they retain the silhouette of human actions without intent or comprehension. Readers have often commented that those scenes – where a Beater dresses a doll or puts rags on a clothesline – as among the most chilling.

The other thing I did, starting late in the first book of the trilogy, is give them the capacity to learn. Not to regain individualism, but to develop collective, cooperative techniques to get what they wanted, which was live victims. So, they discover that they can stand on each other to scale a wall, or surround a victim to take away exit routes. This was particularly effective in the final book, HORIZON, when citizens have taken shelter on an island, because Beaters can’t swim.

Until the day that they start to learn.

Hell, that scared even me. And that’s the sign that you’re on the right track, if you’re a zombie writer.


Sophie Littlefield writes the award-winning post-apocalyptic AFTERTIME series for Harlequin Luna. She also writes paranormal fiction for young adults. Her first novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, won an Anthony Award for Best First Novel and an RT Book Award for Best First Mystery.

Sophie grew up in rural Missouri and makes her home in northern California. (Photo © Gigi Pandian)


PUBLISHER: Mira | RELEASE DATE: Sept 2012 | BUY IT: Amazon UK / Amazon US

Awakening in a bleak landscape as scarred as her body, Cass Dollar vaguely recalls surviving something terrible. Having no idea how many weeks have passed, she slowly realizes the horrifying truth: Ruthie has vanished. And with her, nearly all of civilization. Where once-lush hills carried cars and commerce, the roads today see only cannibalistic Beaters—people turned hungry for human flesh by a government experiment gone wrong.

In a broken, barren California, Cass will undergo a harrowing quest to get Ruthie back. Few people trust an outsider, let alone a woman who became a zombie and somehow turned back, but she finds help from an enigmatic outlaw, Smoke. Smoke is her savior, and her safety. For the Beaters are out there. And the humans grip at survival with their trigger fingers. Especially when they learn that she and Ruthie have become the most feared, and desired, of weapons in a brave new world…

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Sophie is kindly giving away a set of all 3 books in the series (Aftertime, Rebirth, Horizon). Please Note: The above book cover is the UK edition of Aftertime – however, Sophie will be sending the US editions.

For entry into the giveaway please answer the following question then fill out the form below: If you were creating a zombie herd, what skill or capability would you give them to make them super terrifying?

This giveaway is US/UK/Canada only and ends 12:00am GMT 30th November 2012

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Carolyn created Book Chick City in July 2009 due to her love of books. A Brit chick obsessed with zombies, kick-arse chicks and sexy heroes. She's also seriously addicted to chocolate, shopping, and coffee. Her favourite genres are Urban Fantasy, Romance and Zombie Lit... Brrraaaaiiinnnnsss!


Chris Bails November 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I would give them fast speed or super-human strength. Then they could eat all the brains they wanted, because not everyone can run fast. I know I am not a fast runner


Julie Picton November 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Make them fast!!


Laura Harris November 2, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Woo, would love this! If I created zombies, I’d make them super fast. Hat would catch everyone out you see, cos zombies are usually portrayed as shuffling slow coaches.


Donna Barton November 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Make them not only fast but smart!!!! That would be very very frightening….if a zombie could really think things through or plan something!!!!!


Hilda Wright November 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm

I’d give them indigestion, chronic indigestion. Then you’d know that if they got you they’d be chewing you really really slowly. Doesn’t get much scarier than that!


Louise November 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm

I’d make them smart… like super smart, with some sort of zombie sense so they can co ordinate attacks and *predict* the moves of those wanting to decap them!… You know them scene in Jurassic Park when the Raptors try to fool them.. just like that! 😉


Rachel Mccraith November 2, 2012 at 6:35 pm

I’d make them pretty indestructible, so only decapitation would kill them


Melissa (Books and Things) November 2, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Make them athletic. Flexible. Smart. That would scare me.


Karis Boone November 2, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I would give them the ability to shoot infected blood from their eyes.


Lesley D November 2, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I would make them clever hunters, sort of like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.


Jessica Bronder November 2, 2012 at 8:04 pm

I would make sure that their bodies couldn’t decompose. They are almost perfect killers now with how relentless they are. It’s just that the body starts breaking down and they have trouble getting to their next meal.


sarah elizabeth November 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm

I would give them luck! A lucky zombie would always catch his victim! Scary!


Lynsey Buchanan November 2, 2012 at 8:43 pm

I would make them smarter & faster


keith November 2, 2012 at 9:13 pm

i would make them burst in to flames if they didnt eat in time, gotta keep those zombies on their toes cant have them wandering aimlessly all day! 😉


laura thomas November 2, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I would make them super smart. Then they could operate as a military unit, using traps and weapons. Just what we need, smart zombies!


Anne L November 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm

I’d make them faster – running zombies are scarier than staggering zombies. And I’d also give them the ability to work out how to get in to houses/hiding places.

Walking in to a locked door does not work… put your back in to it or find another way in? Open upstairs window = ladder!


sherry fundin November 2, 2012 at 11:17 pm

mind reading. don’t think you could get away from them. lol thanks for the great giveaway.


Joani S November 3, 2012 at 12:23 am

I think a fast zombie would be very scary, especially for those of us not in the best of shape!!


jonica motoike November 3, 2012 at 1:15 am

i think that if a zombie had some sort of speech


Victoria Zumbrum November 3, 2012 at 2:39 am

I would make them faster. They are so slow. Tore923@aol.com


Karen Wapinski November 3, 2012 at 2:58 am

I would make them super-fast. Terrifying. Super fast flesh eating zombies without empathy.
Thanks for the giveaway ^_^


Solange November 3, 2012 at 6:39 am

I would make them able to freeze people so their victims are unable to run away


Val Swift November 3, 2012 at 9:05 am

I would make them fast


Mel S November 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I would make my zombie hoard silent and fast – so you never know when they are coming…


Barbara Elness November 3, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I would give the zombies intelligence and cunning so they’d be harder to outwit and evade.


Rachel at theJeepDiva November 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm

I would make my zombies taller than normal with big bulging muscles. You would see them and freak out because you know if they get a hold of you they can tear you limb from limb.


Nicole November 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm

I would give them X Ray vision and a strong sense of smell


Georgia McAllister November 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Speed definitely.


debbie November 5, 2012 at 2:37 pm

I would give them the ability to think- we always think zombies are mindless. What if they could actually still think and do everything they could do in their previous “life”?


Christine Fridlington November 6, 2012 at 12:04 am

Like some of the previous posters, I also immediately thought of X-ray vision and extra speed when I saw the question.


celeste November 6, 2012 at 1:28 am

the ability to learn


Megan McDade November 6, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I would make them super fast. I think Zombies are at there best fast rather than slow! Thanks for the giveaway!


Amber Fischler November 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Give them a pack mentality. Individually not so scary, but the zombies would be much scarier if they work together to catch their prey.


Srivalli November 6, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Mutate and evolve and be a thinking zombie.


Kristen November 7, 2012 at 7:46 am

Learning is the scariest trait for me – and it makes the most sense. Animals learn, so why not zombies?


Wrighty November 7, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I think giving them the ability to learn and cooperate with each other would be extremely terrifying! They are already fierce and relentless so if they were able to function at a higher level it would be almost impossible to get away. Eek!

Thanks for the offer!


sarah November 8, 2012 at 6:14 am

Zombies that don’t rot and never die. Then they wouldn’t lose any speed or strength and it would be harder to survive them if you can’t count on them dying off from hunger.


Brian November 10, 2012 at 10:25 am

Wings. What could be scarier than a flying zombie?


Ashley snyder November 14, 2012 at 5:03 am

wow. that’s a hard one. why would i create a zombie herd? lol. anyways…
cognitive thinking and problem solving. we would be screwed. lol. they would be all… hey guys im totally a survivor.. and i would be all OK. 😀 and then they would eat my dumb self


Adam Robinson November 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm

a hive mind. the more there are the more aware they would be and one would be able to notify the rest of dinner


Karen Colquhoun November 18, 2012 at 2:13 am

crash helmets and make them really really fast!

The trailer for world war Z shows them with speed!


Robert Banning November 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Eternal Un-life. Once the dead rise, they cannot “re-die.”


Annabelle H November 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm

I’d make them Intelligent!


Peter Gilby November 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm



Helen Porter November 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm

id definitely make them faster!!


caroline james November 28, 2012 at 9:43 pm

I’d make them faster!


Alison November 29, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Super fast speed


Kelly Hooper November 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I’d get them the ability to reproduce, then they could build their own zombie army


bn100 November 29, 2012 at 9:38 pm

to make them teleport


Penni November 30, 2012 at 2:25 am

I would make them strong and have the innate ability of martial arts! Nothing like a good fight scene 😉


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