Featuring Nancy Collins, Charles Pinion, Tim Waggoner, Richard Lee Byers, Robert Sommers, Seanan MacGuire, GK Hayes, Jim C Hines, Sean Taylor, Jean Rabe, Gregory Nicoll, Del Stone Jr, S Boyd Taylor, Laszlo Xalieri, Nancy Holder, and Wendy Webb; horror (2011)
DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0658-5
It's probably unfair to blame George A Romero for this, but it does seem like ever since he made a career out of making increasingly repetitive and hackneyed zombie movies, every other zombie story that hit the mainstream media needs to be some pretentious parable illustrating the evil of commercialism and human impulses or something like that. The other half are self-conscious parodies that become increasingly unfunny. Everything seems derivative of one another, as if these people fear that, by creating straightforward movies about zombies that kill, they would be mistaken for that film school drop-out that made a YouTube zombie movie with a $200 budget and some cold cream goop over the actors' faces.
Zombiesque, a zombie story anthology, follows the same "I'm different from the others, I really am!" formula, telling me that the stories here "unforgettable" because they are narrated from a zombie's point of view. I'm skeptical, but hey, I'll bite.
Nancy Collins is a professional at what she does, and she starts things off with At First Only Darkness. A zombie rises out from the grave, and it is hungry. Why does it feel hungry? Is the hunger all-consuming? All that teeth-snapping is one thing, but I've come across the same philosophy in the 1985 zombie comedy Return Of The Living Dead, and that was... what, 26 years before the publication of this story?
Charles Pinion steps up next with The Immortal Part, where a zombie foodie reminisces about how he comes to accept his new appetites and eventually decides that there is no reason he can't create yummy dishes with the help of cookbooks. This one makes for a pretty amusing diversion.
Tim Waggoner offers possibly the most chilling story of involuntary self-sacrifice in this anthology with Do No Harm. Nano-devices have infected humans, wiping their memories and turning them into zombie-like creatures. People now live in Hives like insects, surviving on humans (the nano-devices don't want to cannibalize themselves, after all). Our heroine is the Queen of her Hive, but she vaguely recalls an oath from her past as a doctor that forbids her from doing harm on a living creature. Because the Hive does what she orders them to, and she can't order them to kill for food, her Hive is weak... dangerously so, as they are all always hungry. This unwillingness to survive eventually bites her in the rear end big time when the Hives begin turning on one another. I really like this story, mostly of the deft narrative and the way the author builds up the story to its chilling ending. The "survival of the fittest" theme has been done many times before, but here, the theme fits the story perfectly.
Richard Lee Byers offers an amusing black comedy of sorts with Zombie Camp, where people go to take a pill and become zombies (with an antidote to transform them back to normal at the end of the day, of course) and indulge in their wilder side to their hearts' content. This is not a bad story at all, even if the take-home message is that a silly fool that met a bad end completely deserved what happened to that person. The moral of the story seems to be: don't be a freaking killjoy, and get out if you don't want to have fun. This one gets a special mention for not being another zombie-up-for-brains-haw-haw story.
Robert Sommers's Into That Good Night has a newly raised zombie making his way back to his family during a zombie outbreak. Will he kill them or...? As a veteran of zombie stories, I find this one a very well-written story with good build-up of suspense but, unfortunately, all that work is wasted on me as I saw that ending coming from a mile away the moment the hero started remembering that he has a family.
Seanan MacGuire brings on the funny and the sass with Gimme A "Z"!, where even death and reanimation can't stop our heroine from going back to be part of her high school cheerleader team. This one is actually a pretty ordinary tale cobbled together from bimbo-with-brains and other young adult high school tropes, but it's a nice change of pace compared to the other stories in this anthology.
GK Hayes spoils his entire story with the title of his story You Always Hurt The One You Love. A zombie tries desperately to mask his condition by trying to maintain his normal human routine, but he is hungry and his girlfriend keeps insisting on showing up to comfort him. What happens when she shows up? Look at the title of this story and marvel at the author's sabotage of his own story.
Jim C Hines decides to do things differently by going the action hero route with In The Line Of Duty. Zombies are sentient and they have been roped in by the country to act as shock troopers, doing things that would damage ordinary humans. Our hero is part of a SWAT-like team that does everyone's dirty work, and he stumbles upon a nefarious zombie plot in this story. Will he still side with the humans or wear the Team Zombie T-shirt? This one may be short, but it's a nice story that feels contained and has some solid pacing. I like this one.
Sean Taylor's Posthumous is wicked and nasty, as it has an author, now a zombie, continuing to create "posthumous bestsellers" in her name for her husband. He can't bring himself to touch her, much less show her any physical affection, but she is devoted to her. She adores him... in her own twisted and sadistic way, as this story will show. This one is predictable, but it gets my approval anyway for reveling in its thoroughly evil overtones.
Jean Rabe's The Warlock's Run is about a zombie race car driver gearing up for his greatest triumph. It starts out good, I'm eager to go... and then the story just meanders on and on and on that the story feel like an eternity to finish despite it actually being pretty short. The ending is cool, though, if, again, predictable.
Gregory Nicoll's But None Shall Sing For Me is about some voodoo-flavored zombie melodrama in a Caribbean island. The scenery is far more evocative and interesting than the actual story, which tries to be both a plot-driven story and a character introspection showcase only to be let down by the limitations of its length.
Del Stone Jr's Zero is a very grim and acerbic tale of angst, mother issues, and a twisted form of fag hag crush. If this sounds twisted and delicious, it is. This is a lovely story that almost brings a tear to my eye because of how well it combines the usually tedious melodrama of whiny self-absorption with zombie tropes. Again, I find the twist at the end rather predictable, though. I still like this one, however.
S Boyd Taylor's A Distant Sound Of Hammers is set in a time when sentient zombies rule and humans are kept both as food and entertainment. Our heroine is a zombie who finds a way to become human again, with predictable results. The author tries to tell me that the whole thing is probably worth it, being human is something to be cherished, blah blah blah, but it's hard for me to care for this otherwise well-constructed tale when the heroine seems to suffer from colossal stupidity.
Laszlo Xalieri offers a zombie-flavored Interview With A Vampire-style story, only this zombie is sentient and thoroughly evil, or so it seems. The Confession, however, suffers from pretentious navel-gazing, insufferably annoying switches in points of view, and a refusal to quit rambling. The author could have chosen a less time-consuming manner to tell me that he's way smarter than I can ever dream of being.
Nancy Holder goes beyond the call of duty to make Mr Xalieri look like Ernest Hemingway in her Zombie Zero. The now zombified wife of a narcissistic movie star is muzzled up and exhibited as a display of her husband's "devotion" to her, and she is mad. This story goes into her head, and it just rambles on and on, going off on all kinds of bizarre tangents to culminate in a confusing ending that makes no sense even after I've tried reading those pages three times. Maybe this is some kind of parable related to the state of mind after one is high on drugs or something?
Wendy Webb's In The Quiet Of Spring is about a rustic witch who decides to find someone to help around the house in a rather unorthodox manner. Short and pretty pointless, this one nonetheless has the advantage of being an unpretentious and - thank goodness - coherent tale. It's not my ideal way to end this anthology, but I'll take what I can get.
Zombiesque is a mixed bag, but even if I take into account the handful of better stories, there is nothing here that can't be found in other zombie anthologies out there. I've read better anthologies before, but I've also read worse ones. This one is average, but to the point where it's so average that I can't muster up the enthusiasm to recommend it to anyone.
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