Alan Goldsher, Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion (New York: Gallery Books, 2010), 310pp
As a fan of both zombies and the Beatles, when I became aware of a book which brought the two together I had to give it a read. Of course, I knew that Paul is Undead wouldn't be shortlisted for any Booker Prizes any time soon, but I hoped it would provide a few laughs. Unfortunately, despite my goodwill, it failed to reach even these modest expectations. The book isn't funny or clever, and it shambles along awkwardly like a... well, like a zombie.
The book does have one or two amusing moments (Mick Jagger's "Recite your discography, mortal!" bit was funny), but these raise light smiles betraying mild amusement, rather than genuine laughs. It is obvious that Goldsher is trying too hard to be funny and there is nothing quite so painfully unfunny as someone trying to be funny. Most of the text is so bland that at times it's hard to know if what is being said is even meant to be a joke. (Is "all for zombies, and zombies for all" meant to be a recurring joke? I don't even know.) Goldsher's characters also have an annoying tendency to garnish every sentence with the word 'fook' or 'fookin'', which makes the world's most famous Scousers sound like Yorkshiremen down at t' mill. Goldsher clearly has no problem with swearing (he uses the word 'cunt' liberally here, and uses the proper spelling of 'fuck' on occasion), which makes his decision to use 'fook' even stranger.
A couple of the jokes are also in bad taste: Goldsher makes light of both the real-life attempt on George Harrison's life in 1999 (on pg. 39) and of John Lennon's murder in 1980 (pp1-2). Yes, if the real-life John Lennon could have been reanimated "for the 263rd time" after he was shot, one might be able to make light of it. Appropriating the actual words of the newsflash bulletin announcing Lennon's assassination ("An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us... the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles..." ) was also a classless move.
The Beatles themselves are unlike any other zombies in fiction (not in a unique, genre-busting way, but in a bland, 'I'm-making-this-up-as-I-go-along' way). They talk like normal humans, but can detach and reattach body parts at will. They have psychic powers like hypnosis and telekinesis, and can only be killed by diamond bullets. Most stupidly, the means of becoming a zombie is to have a zombie bite your neck and lick (yes, lick) your brain stem fluid with an unreasonably dexterous tongue. Goldsher's descriptions of this, which he calls the 'Liverpool Process', read like a instruction book for an arts and crafts workshop (make the incision here, remove this here, seal it up here... and here's one I made earlier...). As if that wasn't enough stupidity, Mick Jagger the zombie hunter (yeah, that's right) defeats his prey by kissing them on the chest (it resurrects their heart and makes them mortal again, apparently). All told, the 'zombies' are like a crude, poorly-executed hybrid of zombie, werewolf and vampire.
Even if Goldsher's zombies weren't disappointing, it is still clear that the zombie trope doesn't fit well with the Beatles' story. Zombies are an innumerable, lobotomised mass of shambling corpses; the Beatles were a vibrant, innovative rock band. The two concepts just don't mesh. If, like myself, your first thought upon hearing about Paul is Undead was "What? How can they make a story out of that?", then upon finishing the book you still won't be convinced. The zombies aren't true zombies and, even more disappointingly, the Beatles aren't the Beatles. The book is told in an interview style but Goldsher fails to convince that any of his characters are anything like their real-life counterparts beyond the superficial (i.e. John the headstrong leader, Paul the PR-conscious diplomat, George the dark horse and Ringo the scrappy). John's parts don't sound like John, Paul's don't sound like Paul's, etc. And I highly doubt George Harrison would utter the phrase "Looky, looky, Parnesy went wee-wee." (pg. 51). I know he was the youngest of the group, but he wasn't a toddler. For someone who claims to be a Beatles fanatic, it is disappointing that Goldsher fails completely to provide a convincing portrayal of how the Fab Four would actually act. All the characters sound the same; that is, they all sound like Goldsher (even Queen Elizabeth II, who makes a brief appearance, speaks in Americanised English slang, rather than, you know, the Queen's English). With Paul is Undead, Goldsher tries to mash The Beatles Anthology with Max Brooks' World War Z. An interesting concept. Unfortunately, he fails completely.