“Artsy” Zombies: Anthology Recommendations

Posted by Kelly Gardner on November 03, 2012 in Blog tagged with , , , , , , , , , , ,

The walking dead have permeated popular culture to such an extent that no visit to a bookshop or cinema goes without encountering some variation of the contemporary zombie. Zombie literature is inescapable, and the sheer volume available is as daunting as a relentless crowd of flesh-hungry foes.
With this in mind, I would like to suggest three zombie themed anthologies that not only act as an introduction to the genre, but also flesh-out various interpretations of the zombie as a multifaceted monster.

If you are to read only one zombie book, let it be ZOMBIES: A Compendium of the Living Dead (2011) edited by Otto Penzler. This tome of zombie literature, vast in scope, offers its readers fifty-seven short stories starting with, what is arguably the first short-story to feature Haitian zombies, W. B. Seabrook’s “Dead men working in Cane fields” (1929).
The book spans many years of literary history and features various prolific writers. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845) serves as the oldest story in the compendium and acts as a guide with which we can measure the growth of contemporary zombie fascination. Mind control, automata, witchcraft and voodoo: this compendium encompasses a broad spectrum of zombieism and presents the reader with noteworthy stories by respectable authors such as Richard Matheson, Michael Marshall, H. P. Lovecraft, Theodore Sturgeon, Stephen King, Guy De Maupassant, Joe R. Lansdale, Robert Bloch, Sheridan Le Fanu and many more.
Each story is accompanied by a brief note on the author and scattered throughout the anthology are black and white drawings from the likes of pulp magazine Weird Tales.

ZOMBIES: A Compendium of the Living Dead takes the notion of zombies seriously and it is a weighty venture spanning eight hundred and fourteen pages of two column format, it requires a bit of dedication. The second anthology on the list is just over half the size and while continuing to challenge a clichéd zombie trope, is an anthology that presents the reader with, what it argues to be, the best zombie literature of the past three decades. The Living Dead (2008) edited by John Joseph Adams features stories by renowned authors, including Steven King, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, George R. R. Martin, Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill and Laurell K. Hamilton to name but a few.
The anthology covers the gamut of zombie incarnations and would be well suited to readers unaccustomed to the violence and gore of the standard zombie novel. Reviews of the anthology are largely divided due to most of the stories veering away from the conventional zombie apocalypse theme. The Living Dead is a zombie anthology for readers who crave more than the stock hoards of flesh eating revenants.
A few of standout stories would be:
“The Age of Sorrow” by Nancy Kilpatrick is an end-of-days zombie apocalypse featuring a female character as the last surviving human.
“This Year’s Class Picture” by Dan Simmons is illustrates that the love a teacher has for her students goes beyond the grave.
“Stockholm Syndrome” by David Tallerman is a chilling tale of callous neighbours.

The Living Dead showcases a varied collection of tales and suggests that the vacuous eyes and violent thoughts of the living often outweigh the horrors of risen corpses.

As an aside, John Joseph Adams has compiled a second anthology of zombie stories entitled “The Living Dead 2” (2010). His second attempt caters more towards the disappointed fans of the first anthology and features the likes of acclaimed zombie authors such as Max Brooks, S. G. Browne, Joe McKinney, John Skipp and Kim Paffenroth. It is a collection of more conventional zombie stories and should satiate the hunger of many a zombie fan.


The final anthology has been released under two different titles The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology (2010) and Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead (2010). In the foreword to the anthology, Christopher Golden cites the poem “The March of the Dead” by Robert William Service as inspiration for the tone of the anthology. Golden successfully compiles a collection of stories that turn the mirror on humanity and relocates monstrosity in the capabilities of the human characters as opposed to the undead. Turning to a handful of ever insightful Amazon reviews, one angry reader proclaims that “zombies are not meant for people to get artsy with; they’re ZOMBIES” and herein lies the evident charm of this anthology. The collection is not one of pretentious stories by authors eager to join the zombie bandwagon; it is a collection that questions the very nature of what it means to be a zombie. The standard zombie tale is limited in scope and predictable due to its apocalyptic nature, there are only so many ways for zombies to overrun the planet. Anthologies, like the ones suggested, provide the reader with alternative approaches to the zombie figure.
ZOMBIE: An Anthology of the Undead is a wonderful smorgasbord of zombie tales including John Connolly’s “Lazarus”, an alternative interpretation of the biblical resurrection of Lazarus and Max Brooks’ “Closure, LTD” an epilogue of sorts to “World War Z” (2006) that sees survivors of the zombie war coming to terms with the loss of zombiefied family members. My favourite story of the collection is “What Maisie Knew” by David Liss, having recently documented the phenomenon of the soul leaving the body at the time of death, corpses are renovated, reanimated and sold as obedient slaves that mindlessly cater to their owner’s orders, regardless of how abject those orders may be. The final story of the anthology written by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, is called “Twittering From the Circus of the Dead” and is epistolic in style due to it being told entirely in Twitter posts. Humorous and horrific, the tweets detail a disastrous family vacation ending with a trip to the Circus of the Dead.

While these anthologies are a fraction of the copious amount of zombie literature available, they offer the reader an alternative approach to the living dead and would serve as a fantastic starting point for anyone eager to sink their teeth into the genre.

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