The Rising by Brian Keene

Brian Keene The Rising

Brian Keene’s The Rising

Picture yourself in a world where the living dead don’t just walk around aimlessly. They sprint after you relentlessly. They strategize their next moves effectively. They crave your flesh with a chilling intelligence that makes them far more terrifying than their slow-moving counterparts. This wasn’t the bleak reality of yet another zombie apocalypse movie. This was the horrifying new normal Brian Keene unleashed in his 2003 novel, “The Rising.”

How One Book Infected Modern Zombie Horror

Published in the early 2000s, “The Rising” throws us into the brutal aftermath of a mysterious plague that reanimates the dead. But unlike the slow, brain-hungry hordes we’re used to from classic zombie fiction, Keene’s creations are a different breed entirely. These fast-moving, intelligent beings retain fragments of their past lives, their hunger fueled by a twisted form of consciousness.

“The Rising” wasn’t just about survival. It introduced having to confront a new enemy. Rather than it being another generic zombie-survival novel, it was a genre-redefining masterpiece that breathed new life into the undead. This post explores the lasting influence of “The Rising” on modern zombie horror, a ripple effect felt across various media platforms, from chilling, popular television shows to heart-pounding video games.

Step into the dark and read your FREE thriller from bestselling author Dan Padavona

Over 100,000 downloads!

Redefining the Zombie

For decades, the zombie trope had thrived on simplicity: the slow, shambling corpse, driven by a primal hunger for brains. They were relentless, yes, but also very predictable. In most situations, you board up the windows and stockpile supplies to increase your chances of survival. With a little planning, these flesh-eaters could be outmaneuvered, even outrun. The most daunting aspect of the classic zombie trope was how long one could actually survive in this scenario.

Brian Keene shattered this comfortable formula with “The Rising.” He introduced a terrifying new breed of undead: the fast zombies. These weren’t the lumbering hordes we’ve been used to. Imagine a relentless pack of sprinting, snarling creatures, their decaying bodies fueled by a twisted, ravenous hunger. This would drastically change almost every encounter someone would have with a zombie, as they were no longer able to outrun them as easily as before, if at all.

However, speed wasn’t their only weapon. Keene’s zombies possessed a level of intelligence unseen before. These zombies had memories of their past life, as you could see and feel the rage they possessed. Some even regained the ability to speak, their rasping voices adding a layer of psychological horror to the physical threat. This wasn’t just about outrunning a decaying corpse anymore. These new zombies could strategize, working together to flank survivors or exploit weaknesses in their defenses. The predictable siege mentality of classic zombie fiction was thrown out the window.

The impact was undeniable. This shift in the zombie threat created a far more terrifying and unpredictable enemy. Survival went from a matter of strength and outlasting the zombies to a constant battle of wits, forcing characters to adapt and strategize on the fly. The horror became more personal, as the presence of recognizable faces and real emotions added a completely new layer to the everlasting battle against the undead.

The Rising: Influence on Modern Media

The publication of “The Rising” coincided perfectly with a renewed interest in zombies in the early 2000s. Keene’s fast zombies injected a shot of adrenaline straight into the subgenre, making the undead a terrifying threat once again. Mainstream media quickly took notice.

“The best post-apocalyptic thriller since The Stand”

We saw the influence creep into movies like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) with its rage-fueled “infected,” and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) with its fast-moving zombies that overwhelmed traditional defenses. Television wasn’t immune either. Shows like AMC’s “The Walking Dead” gradually introduced faster, smarter walkers, upping the stakes for the surviving characters and subtly showcasing the zombies’ ability to learn as the show went on. These adaptations, while not direct copies of “The Rising,” captured the essence and inspiration of the genre shift that Keene initiated. Later in the early 2010’s, genre films like World War Z (2013), based on Max Brooks’ novel of the same name, showcased a variety of terrifying zombie types, including the fast and coordinated “sprinters.” This further solidified the effect Keene had on the zombie horror subgenre.

The ripple effect wasn’t just limited to the big screen. Horror writers eagerly embraced the concept of smart and fast zombies. This shift resulted in a wave of thrilling and thought-provoking narratives that explored the emotional and moral complexities of a world overrun by the undead.

One prominent example is Mira Grant’s “Feed” series (starting in 2010). This series takes a unique approach, depicting a zombie apocalypse where the infected, known as “Feeders,” retain some of their past memories and personalities, similarly to Keene. This creates a complex social hierarchy amongst the undead, forcing survivors to grapple with ethical dilemmas, adding complex layers to their fight against the undead. The series explores themes of media manipulation and the power of information control in a time of crisis, all set against the backdrop of a persistent threat.

These are just a few examples of how horror writers embraced the fast zombie trope. This shift in the subgenre forced readers to confront both the physical and psychological threats of the undead. The presence of “zombies” who retain remnants of their humanity raises questions about empathy and survival. This exploration of complex themes elevates the zombie narrative beyond just gore and thrills, solidifying its place as a genre capable of tackling profound human struggles.

Video Games Embrace Zombies

the zombie apocalypse

Alongside novels and popular television and movies, video games also felt the impact of “The Rising” in a profound way. Games shifted from slow-moving, predictable enemies to a frantic, fast-paced experience. Titles like Left 4 Dead (2008) and its popular sequel Left 4 Dead 2 (2009) thrived on this concept. I absolutely love these games, even to this day, especially as I’ve recognized the inspiration of these games and how the developers added their own creative, horrifying twists. Players took on the role of survivors facing down relentless hordes of the infected. These games emphasized teamwork and quick thinking, as you not only had to outrun, but also had to outsmart the enemies. The iconic “Tank” and “Witch” Special Infected added layers of fear and unpredictable behavior, forcing players to adjust their tactics based on the situation.

Another award winning title, Dying Light (2015), took the concept a step further. Set in a sprawling open world overrun by fast and agile zombies, the game encouraged players to master parkour-style traversal of the world. This focus on agility and quick escapes highlighted the desperate need for constant movement in a world where the dead can easily outrun you.  The game’s day/night cycle added another layer of challenge, as the infected became more aggressive and numerous at night.

The concept of a rapidly spreading and adaptable threat became a core element in many zombie video games, especially relevant in more recent titles. This resulted in a new focus on crafting, resource management, and base-building, as players struggle to establish a foothold in a constantly deteriorating world. Overall, video games that embraced the fast zombie trope have created a new level of terror and have forced players to adapt their gameplay strategies constantly, rather than fighting off slow, unsurprising enemies. 

In all honesty, Brian Keene added a new level of fun and excitement to not only video games, but to any television show or novel that was within the subgenre. “The Rising” was a genre-defining moment, as it shattered the mold of the slow moving corpse, bringing the undead back to life. This shift influenced a new generation of storytellers across various media, adding terrifying new layers to any zombie apocalypse nightmares you may have had before.

So, have you experienced the terrifying world of “The Rising?” If you haven’t, I highly recommend picking up a copy and experiencing the fast-paced horror for yourself. And for those who are familiar with the novel, what are your favorite adaptations that capture Keene’s vision? 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *