My first impulse was to describe Adam Roberts' I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas as a "charming concoction." Except that the book has multiple graphic incidents of various people having their faces chewed off by zombies, which I suspect most readers would not find charming. Impaled, blasted, and bludgeoned zombies are probably also low on most charm meters. And yet...despite the zombocalyptic goings-on, this novel's essentially lighthearted approach to its blood-and-guts (OK, brain-and-guts) subject matter is, well, charming.
Strictly speaking, the entire genre of zombie/vampire-and-classic lit mashups qualifies as undead literature, and not just because of all the bloodsuckers and brainsuckers shambling about: these are works purportedly re-animated by injections of gore, but the result is at best a Frankenstein's monster (minus any acquaintance with Goethe and Milton). Not, of course, that the new soft porn-and-classic lit mashups are any less undead. In any event, Roberts' brief novel--which, not incidentally, is a new work, not Dickens with zombies erupting at random intervals--parodies this trend instead of playing it straight. As in many of the mashups, the often-digressive narrative traces how our hero, Ebenezer Scrooge, discovers his destiny (or Destiny) as a dreaded slayer of zombies. At first, Ebenezer is convinced that the lesson he's supposed to learn is one of charity to all mankind: "'I have been a miser and a misanthrope--I have sealed myself away from human company. But I shall do so no longer'" (62). Except that, as it turns out, charity is precisely the last thing needful under the circumstances, given the true nature of his mission. (Indeed, charity is also what gets the Cratchits yearning for brains.) Instead, Scrooge must learn why he's the only human being immune to zombification, which also unlocks the secret of Ni Timh, or Tiny Tim, who is neither tiny nor in the habit of requesting God's blessing on everyone. However, his crutch does make a useful tool for spiking zombies.
Roberts actually is a Victorianist, and the novel has good gory fun poking holes in nineteenth-century literary and cultural cliches. Given that the only way to deal with meandering zombies is to do them in, the novel as a whole mocks Victorian calls for mutual sympathy and identification as the best means of pacifying the impoverished lower orders. The entire narrative, after all, is about society quite literally eating itself; it's not for nothing that Marley pops in not as a ghost, but as a zombie out to nosh on Scrooge's brains. No posthumous moralizing there. (My students, who recently had to suffer through an excerpt from Past and Present, would probably cheer at Thomas Carlyle's decapitated head being toted down the street.) Similarly, Scrooge's nephew Fred, who turns out to be a self-aggrandizing twit, is a mashup in his own right of Victorian conservatism in matters both political (he reads the zombies in terms of property-smashing radical mobs) and domestic ("'this, our home, is as good as a castle'" ). For that matter, Scrooge's belief in his zombie-motivated redemption--"'this Zombie Catastrophe has been the making of me, as a man'" (96), he explains to a soon-to-be zombified Charles Dickens--seems more than a little callous, requiring as it does the extermination of a considerable proportion of the human race.
Quite a bit of the humor comes from the galloping anachronisms and literary call-outs--beginning with the title, which pays homage to Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (which I know only in outline, but I Am Scrooge's basic plot does seem to be a Matheson/Dickens mashup--as the complaint about Will Smith in the preface suggests). At various points, the novel lurches into steampunk and/or H. G. Wellsian science fiction (Wells, like Dickens, puts in an appearance). I was pleased to see that Roberts is about as irritated as I am with Jack the Ripper's omnipresence in neo-Victorian fiction: that gentleman not only appears (gussied up with several Jack the Ripper conspiracy theory details), but, more importantly, gets promptly chomped by a zombified "victim." Of course, Jack shouldn't be wandering about in 1843, and neither should John Brown (the Queen's favorite Scot, not the abolitionist), but hey. Alert readers will catch allusions to, among other things, The Pirates of Penzance, Dr. Who, Shakespeare (Christmas Past has a thing for cod-Shakespearean iambic pentameter), W. B. Yeats, The Wizard of Oz, Stephen Hawking, John Tenniel (the illustration of Queen Victoria comes from this caricature), Edward Lear, and quite a few others I'm sure I've missed here. (The final explanations of what Christmas is really all about, by the way, sound suspiciously...academic, dare one say.) Overall, a fine antidote to books like this.