I usually end up reading something scary in October. This year, it was an anthology of zombie stories collected and edited by John Joseph Adams titled The Living Dead. I’d read a review about it on the Publisher’s Weekly web site about a month ago, and it sounded really good. When I got my hands on a copy, and saw that some of my favorite authors had contributed, I got even more excited to read it.
Some of my favorite stories included:
“Malthusian’s Zombie” by Jeffrey Ford. This is a government-created zombie story and what I really liked about it was how Ford used psychology and medical science to explain how you could make a zombie.
“How the Day Runs Down” by John Langan. This may be my favorite story in the whole thing. Langan tells the story of how a town managed to survive an outbreak as a play, with some elements of Sherwood Anderson. You get characters standing up on stage to tell their part of the story. The narrator is, I think, the angel of Death (and he doesn’t know much more than the regular people about why people wouldn’t stay dead).
“The Almost Last Story by the Almost Last Man” by Scott Edelman. This story features Romero-type zombies, and it’s about a writer who manages to hole up in a library during an outbreak. He keeps starting stories (but not finishing them) in order to try and make sense of what’s going on. As Edelman’s story progresses, the writer starts to wonder who he’s writing these stories for and if there’s any point to writing them if there’s no one alive to read them.
“Sparks Fly Upwards” by Lisa Morton. This is a post-zombie outbreak story about survivor’s who have given up a lot of their rights in order to live in a safe community run by an ecological nut. They’ve even give up the right to reproduce without asking permission. This story is about a couple who find themselves with child, but without permission to keep it. This is one of the stories that I really wish had been expanded into a novella or even a full length novel. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on here, and I really would have liked to see Morton spin it out. I wonder if the characters in the story would have put up with their leader much longer.
Normally, I don’t read short stories. For me, it always seems like the story ends just when I was really getting into it. I like long stories. Just a few years ago, I didn’t even like to buy novels that were less than an inch thick. But I discovered while reading The Living Dead that there was no reason I had to read every story. The stories in here were so diverse that I didn’t have to worry about losing the overall point of the book by just reading the stories that interested me.
There was a lot of variety in this book. You get the usual Romero-type zombies, government-created zombies, space zombies, far-future zombies, fantasy zombies, and on and on. There were even a couple of stories in here that didn’t actually have any zombies in them. There really is something here for any type of zombie fan.
As I read, and picked and chose stories, I kept wondering what it was that drew me to these stories. I think what interests me is not so much the zombies themselves, but how people react to them. I really liked the stories that involved some kind of survival element. The stories with non-violent zombies didn’t interest me at all, and I skipped a lot of those. And I think what interests me about these stories is that all the bullshit of modern life–bills, taxes, the DMV, etc.–goes away and we get knocked several rungs back down the civilization ladder. When that sort of organization goes away, it’s like we have to start over and re-learn how to live and work with each other and survive. I don’t know what other people get out of zombie stories, but for me it’s always more about the political science and sociological stuff than trying to scare the crap out of myself.