Pros: Some beautiful concepts & stories
Cons: Range of story quality, as is normal for anthologies; some shallow stories
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
While zombies have been around in movies and fiction for a long time, they’ve only recently taken center stage and become a micro-niche of their own. Naturally, this means it was time for an anthology. Zombiesque, edited by Stephen L. Antczak, James C. Bassett, and Martin H. Greenberg, contains 16 widely varying stories of the walking undead.
I’ll get my one general complaint out of the way first—you can tell that zombies are a young genre as genres go. Much like the first efforts in other genres, many of the authors are so preoccupied with exploring new concepts that they fail to give depth to the story and characters (much like many early science fiction stories). However, some of those concepts truly are fantastic, and there are stories in here with more depth.
There are several stories that simply try to give us a zombie’s-eye view on the world. Nancy A. Collins’s At First Only Darkness is fairly simple in this regard, although the very ending is chilling enough to lend it additional depth. Charles Pinion’s The Immortal Part is a very different version of the same, staring out through the eyes of a much less mindless zombie. Robert Sommers’s Into That Good Night delves with a bit more depth into the effect on personality, love, and family of the spread of zombification.
Tim Waggoner’s Do No Harm is one of my favorite tales. In this particular post-apocalyptic world, zombies are organized into hive-like structures. The Doctor, who is the queen of her hive, has the brains to lead them, but she lacks the desire to kill that’s so necessary to feeding her people. The solution that eventually arises is fascinating. Richard Lee Byers’s Zombie Camp is another wild one. A couple visits a resort where people can, for a time, experience what it’s like to be zombies. Unfortunately for them, this works out very differently for each of them. Another favorite is Jim C. Hines’s In the Line of Duty, in which some zombies have found a very useful place in society—in certain parts of law enforcement.
Of course there has to be some humor included, and Seanan McGuire’s Gimme a “Z”! fits the bill quite nicely. A cheerleader finds herself quite unexpectedly rising from the grave after a car accident. She doesn’t really see why she shouldn’t still be on the team, however, since her sense of school spirit is as strong as ever. However, while G.K. Hayes’s You Always Hurt the One You Love seems to be trying for a humorous tone, I found the characters more annoying than anything.
Sean Taylor’s Posthumous explores the relationship between an undead author and her still-very-much-living editor husband. I couldn’t help feeling as though the first part had a fair amount of character depth that then gave way to more standard horror fare later on.
Jean Rabe’s The Warlock’s Run depicts a world in which, for a price, you can bring a loved one back from the dead. And it explores how those zombies might think, feel, and make decisions once they’re back.
Gregory Nicoll’s But None Shall Sing for Me explores the emotions zombies might be capable of developing, against the backdrop of voodoo and the Caribbean. It’s an enchanting tale. In contrast, Del Stone Jr.’s Zero takes a quirkier and colder approach to a zombie as a young streetwalker.
S. Boyd Taylor’s A Distant Sound of Hammers delves into what might happen if the zombies organized and ended up on top, breeding humans for food. Questions of the pros and cons of being a zombie or a human in this society, set within the prickly relationship between a zombie man and his human sister, elevate what could have been a simplistic story into something with much more depth and interest.
Laszlo Xalieri’s The Confession is another of my favorite tales in this book. It’s a surreal and horrifying take on how a man might rise from the dead… or is it? As a zombie relates his tale to a man who chronicles it for him, details start to emerge that paint a picture perhaps at odds with the zombie’s tale.
Wendy Webb’s In the Quiet of Spring is a surprisingly sweet yet sinister tale, that depicts a most unexpected start to the advent of zombies. A wife is determined to return to a quiet, rural way of life, and she has ways of making that wish come true, despite her husband’s objections.
There aren’t as many truly gorgeous tales in here as in some anthologies, and there are definitely some that don’t have the depth they could. However, there also aren’t any real clunkers, and certainly the book drew me in and kept me reading from tale to tale. It’s delightful to see the wide variety of walking dead, particularly considering the narrow view of them we’ve had so far.