Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Prime Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
With so many books and movies about zombies out there, the topic might appear, if you'll pardon the pun, to have been done to death. Paula Guran thought so when she started to compile Zombies: The Recent Dead in 2010. However, with the popularity of The Walking Dead TV show there was another resurgence in the popularity of all things shambling and smelly, so much so that she was even able to compile a second anthology- Zombies: More Recent Dead. The preface includes a list of movies, tv shows, computer games, comics and books about zombies from the past decade, which is pretty useful if you're a zombie fan and want to add to your to watch/play/read list.
I read a lot of books about zombies, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were still new things to say about them. There are stories in this book with twists on the subgenre that I hadn't come across before, and those that rely on the more traditional zombie tropes for the most part do it so well that I didn't care that I'd read similar things before. There is an interesting mixture of styles and genres, including alternate history, fantasy and science fiction. Some of the stories were fairly light hearted and others were so depressing that I had to put the book down for a while after reading them. There were many very different interpretations of what a zombie might be, and what a world full of them might be like. There are too many stories to review them all in depth so I will just mention those that made the biggest impression on me.
Dead Song- Jay Wilburn
This was probably my favourite of the whole collection. It's narrated by a man in a music studio reading the narration for a documentary about a legendary figure, Tiny 'Mud Music' Jones, who travelled all over post apocalyptic America gathering samples of the new musical genres that had sprung up among groups of survivors. Jones, who may or may not be dead, lives on through the legend of the 'mud music' he risked his life to try and bring back to civilisation. It's hard to describe Wilburn's writing style but it reminded me a bit of Tim Powers, author of Last Call and other strange speculative fiction, and a little of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Rocket Man- Stephen Graham Jones
This story was like the 80's coming of age movie Stand By Me but with zombies. It's full of nostalgia and longing. Also zombies. No Wil Wheaton though.
Iphigenia in Aulis- Mike Carey
Iphigenia in Aulis is a short story set in the world of the novel The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. It's about a girl named Melanie who is one of a group of special children kept in a military facility under restraints because they were born infected with the zombie plague. Melanie struggles to understand her world and find someone to love and something to live for despite her limitations.
Becca at the End of the World- Shira Lipkin
This the tragic, beautiful story of a mother trying to remain strong for her teenage daughter who has been bitten by a zombie and is already beginning to change. Becca, the daughter wants to document the process and her mother agrees because she would give her anything she wanted at this point. I challenge you to read this one without a tear coming to your eye.
Trail of Dead- Joanne Anderton
A lonely woman treks through the Australian desert, followed everywhere she goes by a trail of dead people and animals. Meanwhile, the Hunter and his apprentice, Chase, try to track her down and stop her. It was refreshing to read a zombie story set in Australia for a change and zombie emus and lizards make for some very creepy imagery.
What Maisie Knew- David Liss
This is one of two stories in the collection which features men having sex with zombie prostitutes. I suppose it was inevitable that this was a scenario that would come up at some point but I can't say I enjoy reading about it. A married man accidentally kills a young woman in a hit and run accident while driving drunk. Later he sees her as a zombie, dancing in a zombie stripper bar. Worried that she might somehow tell someone who killed her, he illegally buys her and keeps her in a flat, where he periodically tortures her or rapes her to get information out of her. It's nasty misogynist stuff which I could have done without even if the anti-hero does eventually get his comeuppance. In a short story anthology there's always going to be one or two stories you don't like.
Delice- Holly Newstein
Set in New Orleans, this is a story of revenge. The poor dead slave girl, Delice, is raised from the dead by the Mambo, or Voodou priestess, Ava Ani to right the wrongs done to her and other girls like her by the wealthy Duplessis family. Personally I am a sucker for stories about voodou, so I lapped this up. The story is very atmospheric and a little gruesome.
Present- Nicole Kornher-Stace
As a mother of young children this story of a teenage mother trying to survive and protect her son struck a chord with me. Survival in a zombie apocalypse would be hard enough without the additional everyday difficulties of trying to get a toddler to eat what he is given and go to sleep when you need him to and having to find nappies as well as food. Then comes the dilemma of whether your child would be better off dead than living in a world like that and whether you have the strength to gently and quickly put them out of their misery. The final solution the mother in this story comes to is unusual and more melancholy than truly sad.
Bit Rot- Charles Stross
This trans-humanist science fiction story, set in the far future might seem a little out of place in a zombie anthology, but I liked this novel take on the theme. The inhabitants of a ship travelling to a distant galaxy run into trouble in the form of a massive burst of gamma radiation. Their robot bodies are damaged by the blast and need to be repaired. With their higher brain functions impaired or completely destroyed they seek mindlessly to consume the materials they need to fix themselves. The result is strikingly original and very, very creepy.
Love, Resurrected – Cat Rambo
Aife Crofadottir is a resourceful general in the service of the sorcerer Balthus. When she is killed in battle, the sorcerer's twisted love for her causes him to resurrect her. Instead of being restored to life she is now an animate corpse, slowly rotting. Aife hates her new existence but continues to fight for Balthus because it's all there is left for her to do. It was interesting to read a fantasy story from the perspective of one of the evil sorcerer's servants for a change.
Zombies: More Recent Dead is a diverse and entertaining collection which would make a great addition to the library of any zombie fan.