Friday, December 3, 2010
The Living Dead 2, Edited by John Joseph Adams
Night Shade Books, 2010
$11.89 at Barnes&Noble
Read it and creep....
This book is shockingly good. At times, I to stop reading and check the cheesy cover to make sure I was still working on the same title. The dense collection of 44 different short stories from 49 contemporary writers and collaborators presents countless variations on the theme of the Living Dead. They go by many names: walkers, moaners, smirkers, the dead, zombies and "the z-word," and they appear as figures of vengeance, divine wrath, bioterrorism, alien invasion and comedy.
The sheer diversity of vision gathered here is one of the most encouraging qualities I've ever seen in an anthology. Adams's collection satisfies my childhood nostalgia for reading ghost stories under the blankets with a flashlight, and the tales come from both career writers and new voices, male and female, giving hope to the idea that creative ideas and solid storytelling still exist. Established contributors include Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead graphic novel and AMC television series), Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth), and Max Brooks (World War Z: the granddaddy of pop-zombie resurgence). Newcomers include recent MFA graduates from University of Iowa, aspiring novelists, and even one contribution from Kyra M. Schon, the actress who played Karen Cooper, the zombie in the basement of George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead.
My favorite stories in this collection play with and distort the reanimated bogeyman-concept until it's barely recognizable. In David Moody's "Who We Used To Be," an unexplained event causes instantaneous global death and persistent consciousness and motor control, and a family of three struggles to keep their home cool and their neighbors out to stave off inevitable decomposition. David J. Schow's "Where the Heart Was" describes a betrayed husband returning again and again to attack his cheating wife and best friend. And Gary Braunbeck's "We Now Pause for Station Identification" describes zombies malingering around their favorite haunts, morphing into plant life, and converting the world into an alien habitat.
Andrew Gilstrap, writing in PopMatters, put it well when he said the contributors in this anthology knew where zombie fiction has been, and...take the genre in new directions entirely. Stories focus on sentient zombies, the newly infected wrestling with their consciences, organized armies of the undead, brain-eaters in addiction-recovery therapy, and zombies who find religion. The writing is consistently, startlingly good without--for the most part--employing gratuitous gore and violence.
Disappointments in this anthology are few and far between. Editor John Joseph Adams doesn't necessarily recommend you read the collection straight through, but you may want to skip past "Zombie Gigalo," a story on par with Palahniuk's "Guts" for gross-out factor but far beneath his storytelling craft. "He Said, Laughing" feels like it was lifted word-for-word from Scorcese's Apocolypse Now (but with zombies, get it?), and "When the Zombies Win," is a short, dull, one-dimensional portrayal of a post-human earth that reaches more for tone than narrative. For a concise tale-by-tale review of the entire collection, check out John Denardo's excellent piece in SF Signal.
It's no wonder this collection was named Fangoria's book of the month. Check it out, read it, and enjoy the ads in the back for forthcoming titles The Loving Dead and Harrison Geillor's The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten. By the time you reach Sarah Langan's final story, "Are You Trying to Tell Me This is Heaven?" even the biggest anti-zombie killjoy will be screaming for braaaaaaaiiiiins.