Pariah by Bob Fingerman. If you like zombies, you need to read this. It will claw its way up your list of favorites.
While zombies were declared the next vampires, you couldn't tell it by looking to novels. The zombie is a bit of a tough creature to write a novel about, I guess. Lots of short fiction. And if you ask what people's favorite zombie novels are, you're likely to get a list that isn't exactly high quality. There is one writer specifically whose high level of success I can only credit with his being the only person writing full-length zombie fiction when the trend hit, because his work is cliched and grating.
Pariah isn't a traditional novel, though. It's got a bit of the feel of the novel-in-stories. On the scale, it leans further towards novel, but especially when dealing with the backstories of the main characters, you get chapters which easily stand alone.
Pariah is about a group of people trapped in a fortified apartment block in NYC. Pretty standard. Going further into the standard, you've got the cast of characters: the artist, the alpha jock, the beta jock, the loner black guy, the cantankerous old couple... What's amazing is the way that Fingerman takes advantage of the slower pace that the genre allows and goes into the characters and looks at why they are how they are, and it's pure gold. They are fully realized and the emotional impact of that is what sets this novel apart. You care when someone dies, even though in another work, the character would simply be a placeholder for a kill scene. It's obvious that he very consciously took a zombie cliche and in the post-modern tradition decided to both use and deconstruct it. It's got all the elements of a yaaaaawn ho-hum standard zombie flick, but as Mike Mignola says, Fingerman has written “The thinking man’s zombie novel.”
And seriously, he knocked it out of the park.
And for those who are thinking, "oh great, a slow character examination," at about the halfway point he tosses in an element that shakes things up dramatically and had me turning pages in a way that few books have. But he never cheats to give the reader all the answers (which is one way he cranks up the tension). There's no scientist stuck in the building, and there are no convenient news broadcasts. Because of the scarcity of answers, the bits that Fingerman dangles in front of you become manna to a starving man.
He does something else very interesting. His perspective wanders. But that's for tomorrow.
Check out this Cracked article: 6 Tricks Movies Use to Make Sure You Root for the Right Guy
I thought that maybe I was the only person who feels the way I do about Gladiator, but check this out:
"Gladiator opens with a rag-tag bunch of Germanic peasants preparing to fight the Romans, who are trying to invade their ancestral land. It's like a scene out of Braveheart: The plucky locals are powered only by their axes and patriotism, while their imperialistic enemy uses armor, phalanxes, disciplined formations and a whole bunch of shit that's on fire. Go underdogs!
Problem is, the viewers in this scene are supposed to be rooting for the Romans, led by Russell Crowe. The Roman emperor watching the battle is also meant to be a good guy. What's a movie to do?
Quick, give them a dog!"
Glad I got my opinion out there a bit before this dropped. Like I said, I like the movie. The cinematography is amazing and it's very entertaining. But I was just like, "Fuck that dude!" Apparently Hollywood anticipated my response. Gladiator comes up several more times throughout the article.