The Zombie Rights Campaign Blog

‘The Dishonored Dead’ – A ZRC Review

I had previously discussed a review on BuyZombie of ‘The Dishonored Dead’ by Robert Swartwood here on the ZRC blog, and the author was kind enough to send us a review copy to peruse. I got a bit sidetracked by Chicago outings/madness, and also wanted to give myself plenty of time to digest the book after reading, but I still apologize for the delay in completing the process.

The following review contains light but not inconsequential spoilers as it discusses the Zombie Rights aspects of ‘The Dishonored Dead’. If you want a shorter answer, ‘The Dishonored Dead’ is an intriguing read that subverts and comments about the Zombie Apocalypse and the relative humanity of the Living and Undead through the prism of dystopian fiction. We heartily recommend it and award it a Zombie Friendly rating. You can readily obtain it at Amazon.

Full review follows behind the cut:


So, what is ‘The Dishonored Dead’ about, and how does it relate to Undead Equality? The backstory of the novel concerns the state of the world some centuries after a catastrophic Zombie Apocalypse resulted in a war between the ‘Dead’, as they call themselves, and the Living inhabitants of the globe.

For unknown reasons, the living animal life on Earth was abruptly divided into two camps, those that remained conventionally alive, and those that were now dead but still functional, what the ZRC has traditionally referred to as the ‘Undead’ or Differently Animated. Tragically, perhaps because of a lack of organizations like ours to mediate, things quickly devolved between the two groups, and a war broke out for dominance of the planet. The Undead won that war, and the few Living people remaining were forced to go into hiding to survive.

A new society was devised, ruling the people from what was purported to the Dead perspective, eschewing traits identified with their living forbears and blamed for causing the downfall of the Living world.. traits like imagination and creativity, along with almost all forms of art and free expression.

The mysterious process that created the Dead was not finished, however. Despite being Dead, these new people, what we would traditionally call Zombies, were able to reproduce, to have little Dead children, to grow old and eventually to die. Those Dead children, however, were vulnerable to spontaneously reverting back to a Living state upon their tenth birthdays, and all aspects of the Living, their culture, ideas and of course their actual selves, were strictly forbidden. To deal with this threat to the status quo, the Dead civilization created the Hunters, a sort of secret police force dispatched to deal with the ‘Zombie’ threat and idolized by the general public for doing. The main task of these Hunters is to murder confused and frightened, newly Living ten year old children.

And so the world was now in the control of a drab, static civilization, almost completely unchanging over the centuries, with orthodoxy vigorously and mercilessly supported by the Hunters.

The principal character of ‘The Dishonored Dead’ is a family man named Conrad, literally the greatest Hunter in the world with over a thousand kills to his name, who makes a terrible and unforgivable mistake: he hesitates to slaughter a ‘Zombie’. This is obviously the greatest sin a Hunter can commit, and he finds himself threatened with losing everything and being unable to support his family. At the same time, a Living Rights group begins targeting the Hunters for assassination using a bombing campaign, putting Conrad’s continued existence in jeopardy.

Conrad is also dealing with problems at home, as his marriage has come under increasing strain and his son is about to turn ten, leaving Conrad to ponder what he will do if his own child becomes one of Them.

Salvation appears in the form of recruitment into a secret government program to prevent ‘Zombies’ from arising rather than exterminate them, which has only one catch: it will require working *with* the Living, side by side, and growing to understand these ‘abominations’ as people.

I won’t delve any further into the story or offer any additional spoilers because it is in fact quite an interesting book and a solid read.

‘The Dishonored Dead’ presents any number of issues for ZRC analysis and over the course of the book I found my position on its merits relative to The Cause shifting back and forth a number of times. At the very beginning, it was nice to see a Zombie character represented with thought and nuance as well as a rich internal life, but as the details of Conrad’s work and extremely intolerant mindset become apparent it gave me significant pause; was this just a different way of casting aspersion on the Differently Animated, another way Zombies could allegedly threaten the Living today?

Likewise the abandonment by the Dead of all their creativity, spark and originality could at least initially be seen as an insult to the Differently Animated. The novel’s ongoing debate over whether the Undead are, in fact, actual feeling humans or only automatons going through the motions of humanity, as their society teaches (and applauds), is a serious concern for the ZRC, mirroring the classic and slanderous concept of the Philosophical Zombie.

The government and society formed by the Undead/Dead in the story follows in the great and sad tradition of totalitarian dystopia across fiction. The obvious parallel often cited in these cases is ’1984′, but I actually felt that the situation here was more akin to that presented in Lois Lowry’s classic and controversial children’s book ‘The Giver’. Here we have a group of people who have not only been taught and told and indoctrinated to believe that they are without independent thought and value as fully realized individuals, but have become convinced, almost universally, that this is a good and necessary thing. Their world is dull not just because their senses have somewhat dulled, but because they choose to keep the world as drab and unchanging as possible, driving out individual thought and expression and dissent as carriers of a foul disease called ‘Imagination’.

Are these Zombies actually limited beings? Were they correct to build a peaceful world if the only price was their imagination and the lives of a relatively small number of terrified children? Again this story reminds me of a literary parallel, the haunting Ursula K. LeGuin story ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, which also asks the question of how much we can be willing to pay to obtain a contented world, a place generally without fear and hate, except that directed at a vanishing few.

Just asking these questions about a society of the Undead is itself a daring, perhaps revolutionary move in Zombie-related fiction. After all, you cannot ask about the rightness or wrongness of a choice made without presupposing the ability to make choices; you cannot evaluate a People’s guilt without acknowledging that it is in fact made up of individuals capable of moral behavior. ‘The Dishonored Dead’ therefore starts from a position far more enlightened than that of, sadly, the overwhelming majority of Zombie fiction. The questions it asks about the Dead, about the nature and value of Life and Unlife and how they might apply to a radically different and yet fundamentally same type of humanity, these are valuable questions to ask, and difficult ones to answer. The sympathy it demonstrates toward Zombies, both the conventionally named sort and the ones within the text, is commendable. Ultimately, such philosophical explorations can only lead us toward greater mutual understanding and hopefully a peaceful co-existence between the Living and the Differently Animated.

Plus, on a lighter note, it’s a good and interesting read.

The Zombie Rights Campaign rates ‘The Dishonored Dead’ as Zombie Friendly.

Thoughtful, sympathetic, philosophical about the Undead.  Good job!

You may purchase ‘The Dishonored Dead’ at major internet retailer Amazon, and hopefully will, showing them that Anti-Zombie fiction isn’t the only way to make money.

The ZRC wishes to again thank and acknowledge the author for providing us with a review copy of his work, a bold and laudable step that we wish more authors and creators in the field had the fortitude to take. Perhaps they aren’t as willing to stand behind their work as Mr. Swartwood?

About The Author

The role of 'Administrator' will be played tonight by John Sears, currently serving as President of The Zombie Rights Campaign.


One Response to “‘The Dishonored Dead’ – A ZRC Review”

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