As someone who has been commissioned by his publisher to write a book about “zombie pirates,” I have resolved to read all I can on the topic. (It has not been exhaustively explored.) So imagine what a pleasure it was for me to learn that one of the only prominent books containing zombie pirates was a book by one of my most favorite novelists… that I had yet to read!
The book, On Stranger Tides by the great Tim Powers, is a shrewd combination of history, science-fiction, and horror. Tides imagines the Caribbean of the early 1700’s as a place where pirates like Blackbeard use magic and wizardry to forge relationships with New World spirits and empower themselves.
Remarkably, Tides seems to include “both kinds” of zombie. That is to say, there are traditional Voodoo zombies who act like spooky automatons and serve their masters like robots, and there are also Romero-style zombies who rise from the deep to attack humans (with teeth, yes, but also with cutlasses). Here is my favorite description from a scene in which the protagonist finds his ship and crew attacked by a boatload of undead pirates:
“Then one of the lively corpses danced ponderously up to him and whirled a green cutlass at his head… Its body smelled like unfresh fish and felt like chains and jelly in a wet leather bag.”
Ha! What a great description! I love it.
If you are unfamiliar with Powers–but you like zombies–then I think Tides is an excellent way to discover one of the greatest living Sci-Fi/Horror authors. I should warn you that it’s a slow build–zombies don’t appear for the first 100 or so pages of the book, but when they do, hold on to your freakin hat!
Final Thought: How is this book “Print on Demand”? (This means that if you order it from BN.com or Amazon, or special order it at a brick-and-mortar bookstore, the publisher will print one copy and mail it to you, but it is not regularly stocked on bookstore shelves.) Seriously, I’m mystified. Powers is one of those authors like John C. Gardner who are so good and so important that I have trouble believing that everything they wrote is not constantly in print.
This may, in Powers’ case, change soon, however.
Many years ago, Tides was optioned by Walt Disney, which promptly sat on it and did nothing with the rights. However, this year it was announced that the next installment in the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean franchise would be titled Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Probably, this means they plan to import the plot of Powers’ book to the world of the film-series. It’s unsure if the film will get made (reports on film websites say that Depp is having “second thoughts”), but if it is made, then hopefully a long-overdue Powers renaissance will occur.