The Living Dead

(This review first appeared on on Nov. 2, 2008)

Good news for those horror fans who already feel in danger of overdosing on happy jingle bell trimmed elves and candy canes: purchasing a copy of The Living Dead, John Joseph Adams’ latest anthology, will tide you over until the remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night hits the theatres.

In The Living Dead, Adams has pulled together so much supernatural horror and mayhem that even the Winchester brothers would turn tail and run. This mix of stories contains enough blood and gore to generate nightmares for readers for many evenings to come; however all the zombies aren’t non-thinking, flesh-eating types. As Adams says in his introduction, the thirty-four stories “include a wide range of zombie fiction…from the Romero-style zombie to the techno-zombie and everything in between.

Among the big name authors are Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Laurell K. Hamilton, Stephen King, and George R.R. Martin. It is the work of lesser known writers that take the reader on the most unexpected journeys through fictional landscapes of terror.

In “Death and Suffrage” Dale Bailey provides a twist on the consequences leaving the dead unappeased at election time. Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “The Third Dead Body” shows that even a zombie can dish out law and order. “Followed” by Will McIntosh shows a world where zombies exist as a means for retribution and redemption. In Susan Palwick’s “Beautiful Stuff,” the living dead give the living a clue about the secret to a happy life. David Tallerman’s troubled protagonist in “Stockholm Syndrome” faces a hoard of memories equally as frightening as the zombie outside his door. Poppy Z. Brite shows how India might cope with a zombie plague in “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves.”

In Nancy Kilpatrick’s poignant and chilling “Age of Sorrow” the last living woman in New Zealand, and possibly the entire planet, shows that survival isn’t enough to sustain the human spirit. In “Dead Like Me” by Adam-Troy Castro, the protagonist becomes the ultimate method actor to stay alive. In “Almost the Last Story by Almost the Last Man,” Scott Edelman explores question: How would a writer cope with all the time in the world to write, but no one to read his work but the undead?  He gives a new, gruesome twist to the age-old gripe “everyone’s a critic.”

The final story, written for the anthology, John Langan “How the Day Runs Down” meshes narratives with the aid of a Stage Manager/narrator ala Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town to show how a zombie plague might travel from the big cities to well-fortified small towns. Although not the strongest offering here, it serves well to round out the collection. The bonus of an original story among the thirty-three reprinted works once again proves John Joseph Adams’ passion as an anthologist, which seems as unstoppable as a hoard of the living dead — in a non-brain-eating way, of course.

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