Book review: Paul is Undead

Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion
By Alan Goldsher
Published by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, to be released June 2010
Advance Review Copy with Uncorrected Proofs provided by the publisher
ISBN: 1439177929

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Do you like zombies? Do you like the Beatles? Both of them are currently enjoying a long run of popularity that makes them seem immortal. But wait a minute–what if they were immortal? I mean, what would happen if someone decided to cross the current literary obsession with zombies with music lovers’ long-running obsession with the Fab Four? Well, someone did!

Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Beatles, in an alternate universe where zombies are as common and accepted as vampires in the world created by Charlaine Harris in her Southern Vampire series, upon which the popular TV series “True Blood” is based. Alan Goldsher, a talented but sick-minded gent, is responsible for this black comedy; it is based upon the facts of Beatlemania which every true fan is familiar with, but with a grotesque twist.

Based upon the theory that zombies first came to England on a slave ship via the Liverpool docks around 1837, after a careless sea captain disposed of some dead slaves without making sure they were dead, Goldsher speculates that The First Zombie may have come from Tunisia, where the Undead are relatively docile. (“Docile” as compared to your average Undead, that is. It seems that Tunisian zombies can get by on a handful of brains a year if they had to, unlike your average zombie, who requires a brain a day.)

The First managed to survive by lurking in the train yards of Liverpool, where he was assured of peace and quiet, plenty of dark places to hide in and plenty to eat, in the form of unwary tramps and railroad employees working late. After the Liverpool sewer system was completed in 1929, The First and his children–all the poor souls that he converted into zombies–relocated there. And it was from there that The First crawled out of a toilet into the Liverpool Maternity Hospital on October 9, 1940, where he wandered into the room of Mrs. Julia Lennon, who had just endured a thirty-hour labor, and snatched up her baby boy John. After undergoing the Liverpool Process (described in gruesome detail in the book’s introduction), our boy John became the (un)living legend he is today. And because of the legendary Liverpool Process, he also became one of the strongest, smartest Liverpudlian zombies ever created.

In short order, our John grew up to become a major music fan and aspiring musician, who was determined to become “the Toppermost of the Poppermost”. But unlike the dearly departed John Lennon of this universe, he wanted to–dare I say it?–rule the world. And I don’t mean just the music world, either. He wanted to rule the whole world. So he recruited cute little Paul McCartney into his band and then turned him into a zombie. Paul then turned young George Harrison into a zombie. John wanted to turn Stu Sutcliffe, but Stu was turned into a vampire first by his German girlfriend’s best friend (the details of who gets turned into what get complicated, but stick with it, it’s worth the effort). So they recruit a replacement drummer from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, none other than Richard Starkey, a/k/a Ringo Starr. But nobody turns Ringo into anything, because he’s a Seventh Level Ninja Lord. Come on, everybody knows supernatural creatures need a Renfield, a mortal guardian who protects them from their mortal enemies. So the Fab Four, in Alan Goldsher’s universe, are literally a killer rock band who loves their fans to death. And they have no shortage of willing fans who want to die for them. Except that they don’t really die, they just get turned into zombies.

This darkly humorous version of Beatlemania will appeal to anybody who loves zombies and The Beatles. The entire British Invasion becomes the Attack of The Undead Rockers, led by the Fab Four and their arch rivals The Zombies, who aren’t really zombies, they just call themselves that, which pisses off The Beatles to no end. It also pisses off Rod Argent, cofounder of the Zombies, who thinks the lads from Liverpool are just trying to ride on his band’s coattails. Meanwhile, The Rolling Stones are led by fearless zombie hunter Mick Jagger, whose attempts at eradicating The Beatles fail comically and disastrously every time.

The only thing scarier than The Beatles is John’s romance with Yoko Ono, who in this universe is not only an avant-garde artist but also a Ninth Level Ninja Lord who kicks Ringo’s ass when he tries to get rid of her to save the group. And wait till you read about what happened to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when The Beatles went to him to be enlightened. Not that he didn’t deserve it, for being such a holy hypocrite in real life, preaching about peace and love while sexually harassing his female followers, especially Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence, which is why nobody ever saw her hanging out with the rest of the seekers of wisdom during that long visit to Rishikesh, India. But John claims that he, Paul, and George ate Prudence because she spent so much time locked up in her room and the boys didn’t like her standoffishness. John even refers to her as “Dear Prudence” as he lovingly describes how he and his mates devoured her like a fried chicken at a picnic; “Our picnic was very civil. I got the drumsticks, George got the thighs and wings, Paulie got the breasts.”

Without a doubt, “Paul Is Undead” is gruesome fun for everyone. Some of the humor is questionable, like the part where the Beatles drop acid and John has a vision of Jesus agreeing with him that the Beatles are, indeed, bigger than Jesus, because, apparently, Our Sweet Lord can’t play the guitar to save His life. I could have accepted that if it was only an acid-induced delusion on John’s part, but did the author really have to include a statement from Jesus in which He admits that He would have liked to keep John in Heaven, but didn’t for fear of offending His Father? Things like that can get you banned in the Bible Belt of this great country, Mr. Goldsher, just like The Beatles were. And what really happened at the end of the book, when The Beatles were staging a comeback at the Double Door, a dive bar in Chicago? Was this book published posthumously? Or is the author now a zombie as well? Unless Goldsher decides to write a sequel (if he’s still able to write, that is), we may never know. So get ready to meet The Beatles as you’ve never seen them before. The worlds of music and horror will never be the same again.