REVIEW SUMMARY: This is the zombie anthology for the new millennium.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of thirty-four zombie stories.
PROS: 28 good stories, 8 of which are outstanding.
CONS: 6 stories are mediocre or worse.
BOTTOM LINE: A good anthology and a must-have for fans of zombie fiction.
John Joseph Adams keeps depressing me: first, with his post-apocalyptic fiction anthology Wastelands, and now with his zombie anthology The Living Dead. To be sure, both anthologies are quite enjoyable – it’s just hat the subject matter is just so damned bleak. Of course, given the themes of these anthologies, this is not surprising. Nor would I have it any other way.
What is surprising is how the contributing authors each spin their zombie stories and wind up with such a wide range of flavors. Pass along a single idea to 20 authors and you will get close to 20 non-overlapping takes on the theme. Not all of the stories here are the Dawn of the Dead-type stories that you might expect, though I’m very glad that some of them are. In some stories, the undead are hunted and killed, in others they are accepted as part of normal society. Some stories have undead mobs, some have a lone zombie. In most stories, the zombies were physical creatures, in others they were symbolic. (Some stories lacked any zombies whatsoever beside a mention of them, to varying degrees of success.) Some stories are written as pure horror, some as semi-comedy, some as social statements, some as Literature. Some stories even manage to make the zombies sympathetic, if you can believe that. It’s this wide range of styles and approaches that makes an anthology like this worth reading.
And what makes this particular theme so appealing? I think contributing author Will McIntosh said it best when he said that zombie fiction explores our fear of death. These stories are filled with imagery that’s sure to linger (I’m looking at you, Poppy Z. Brite!) and many of the stories will, too.
In addition to the 33 zombie story reprints, Adams includes one original story (“How the Day Runs Down” by John Langan). The oldest story (“Meathouse Man” by George R. R. Martin) was written in 1976, but the large majority of these stories were written in the last decade. As such, The Living Dead can be viewed as the zombie anthology for the new millennium. (Oh, and it’s got a fantastic David Palumbo cover.)
Standout stories in this volume include:
- “This Year’s Class Picture” by Dan Simmons (1992)
- “Blossom” by David J. Schow (1989)
- “The Dead” by Michael Swanwick (1996)
- “Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead” by Joe Hill (2005)
- “Sparks Fly Upward” by Lisa Morton (2006)
- “Meathouse Man” by George R. R. Martin (1976)
- “Deadman’s Road” by Joe Lansdale (2007)
- “Passion Play” by Nancy Holder (1992)
Individual story reviews follow (story title links jump to free online versions!)…