Humans: the other white meat. At least, that’s what we are from the perspective (an admittedly narrow one, based upon an overwhelming craving for brains) of the living dead, otherwise fondly known as zombies. If what you’re craving is to feed your need for the best stories around about zombies, you can’t go wrong by picking up a copy of the anthology The Living Dead edited by John Joseph Adams, who has done a superb job of assembling gems of tales about the living dead, the oft-maligned ultimate examples of consumerism ran amok.. Halloween, it’s true, is over, but, stories about zombies can be enjoyed all year ‘round - and every culture, race, and nation has a tradition of stories told involving the living dead. Zombies are the subjects of anthropological research, movies, and nightmares, and truly have universal appeal.
The short stories about zombies collected in The Living Dead are by a who’s-who list of some of the biggest names in the horror/sci-fi genre. Contributors include Clive Barker (“Sex, Death, and Sunshine”), Joe Hill (“Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead”), Laurell K. Hamilton (“Those Who Seek Forgiveness”), George R.R. Martin (“Meathouse Man”), Neil Gaiman (“Bitter Grounds”), and Stephen King (“Home Delivery”). There’s even one entry written jointly by two of my favorite sci-fi authors, Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg (“The Song the Zombie Sang”).
As could be expected, some of the stories in this compilation are really good; some are really quirky, but also good; and some might be good stories, but not what I’d say I’d consider to be either scary or examples of what you might think of as “traditional” zombie stories, in which the zombies are the main element and are driven by their insatiable hunger for human flesh and brains. One of the things I liked a lot about this collection is discovering talented authors I’d not previously read and reading great stories by them, such as Poppy Z. Brite (“Calcutta, Lord of Nerves”), Sherman Alexie (“Ghost Dance”), Dale Bailey (“Death and Suffrage”) and David Barr Kirtley (“Skull-Faced Boy”).
Though I like Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, on which the Hellraiser movies are based loosely, and I like some of his short stories in the Books of Blood collection, “Sex, Death, and Starshine” isn’t one of my favorites. In a capsule, it’s about actors and actresses who come back from the dead to appear in a play. Lead actress Diane Duvall is more suited to her starring role in the soap opera The Love Child, for which she’s famous, than a role requiring any genuine acting skills. The director, Terry Calloway, only keeps her in the play because of her name value, and because he’s having an affair with her. When Duvall also dies but wants to continue in the play, she breaks the news to Terry during a very intimate moment:
“You are dead?” he said.
It’s not that Barker’s story isn’t good - it is - it just seems to me to be more about people who come back from the dead for other reasons than to roam around the countryside searching for sustenance from the living to satisfy their unholy appetites. Other stories here also have differing views about the nature of zombies, like Martin’s “Meathouse Man” and Joe Hill’s “Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead.”. They appealed to me despite the fact that neither has the slobbering, hunger-driven type of zombies in them.
“I’m afraid so. Two hours ago in my sleep. But I had to come, Terry; so much
unfinished business. I made my choice. You should be flattered. You are flattered,
Joe Hill, one of today’s best writers in the horror (or any other) genre and perhaps most well-known for his superbly chilling novel Heart-Shaped Box, writes a tale of a reunion of high school friends in the most unlikely of places and circumstances: they’re bit actors playing zombies in the making of George Romero’s renowned zombie flick Dawn of the Dead. The story is quirky and bittersweet, which is the kind I doubt I would ordinarily be attracted to - but Joe Hill is such a talented writer and the setting is so unique that I liked this story quite a lot. Hey, who wouldn’t, with George Romero himself as a character?
Rather than synopsize any more of the tales, I’ll leave it to you to do yourselves a favor, run (or, if you are zombies, lurch haltingly) to your favorite book store (or, more conveniently, buy it here at your favorite source for book reviews), and experience the pleasure of an all-out Zombie Fest. You can gorge yourselves to bursting on an unequaled cornucopia - one might say a banquet - of zombie deliciousness. Nothing says the holidays like zombies!