Margaret K McElderry Books, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-4169-8954-7
Fantasy, 2012 (Reissue)
Zombies vs. Unicorns is a gimmick that started from several blog posts refereed by Holly Black (on the side of unicorns) and Justine Larbalestier (cheerleader for the zombies). Several authors took sides and this anthology was born. Not that the stories feature zombies and unicorns tearing at each other, mind you. Instead, the stories have either zombies or unicorns, with the cheerleaders prefacing each story with some rather contrived back-and-forth about whether sparkles are cooler than rigor mortis or vice versa.
I know, I was expecting some kung-fu clash of the titans between ghouls and pink ponies myself. But I guess this route will work better at attracting the most emo teens and bronies possible. Speaking of which, can you imagine a convention with both bronies and creepy emo self-professed vorarephiliacs in the same packed and smelly hall? Give them some weapons and I’d love to see that movie.
Okay, back to the stories. Garth Nix starts the show for Team Unicorn with The Highest Justice, where a princess has a unicorn bring her dead mother back to life to fulfill a promise she made to the mother before the mother was assassinated. This one seems more like a half-baked zombie story with a unicorn thrown in just so that Garth Nix wouldn’t be impaled by a fake unicorn horn carried by an enraged Holly Black in a Pinkie Pie outfit. It seems more like a silly Tales from the Crypt tale than anything else, really.
Team Zombie kicks off with Alaya Dawn Johnson with Love Will Tear Us Apart. Our hero, Grayson, is infected by a prion that compels him to eat people. So he goes around chowing on people until he finds himself liking his newest target, Jack. Jack’s father works for the agency that wants to put people like Grayson down, however, so can his prion-infested cooties convince Jack to choose dead over daddy? This is a story for emo teens who can’t accept the idea of romance unless one of the couple is dead and the whole thing is doomed because, oh my god, love hurts so much just and now that it’s no longer cool to write sad poetry on Livejournal, this story is the next best outlet. Or something.
Naomi Novik’s Purity Test, representing Team Unicorn, has a unicorn recruiting a sarcastic drunken woman to rescue some unicorn brats from an evil wizard. This one is pretty amusing after the two bland opening entries, but the whole thing feels so edgy and hard in a forced manner. It’s like she didn’t really like unicorns, but the author is terrified of opening the door at 12am to see Holly Black, in her Pinkie Pie outfit and eyes glowing, raising her fake unicorn horn of doom while howling, “You have failed me!”
Carrie Ryan is next with Bougainvillea, and it’s a zombie story set in the same world as her dystopian zombie series. Do you remember that story about some silly lass in a castle who decided to fall in love with a soldier from the enemy forces, opened the gates one night for the man to come snog her, only to discover that he also led his men in to slaughter her people, and killed herself out of shame? Well, this one has a similar theme, except the heroine comes out supposedly more bad-ass in a “betrayed by love, so she’s now all hot and ruthless – cool!” manner. That’s nice, dear, but remind me never to let any petulant, sulky teenage girl in charge of anything. They tend to destroy everything because they can’t help being stupid, if this story is anything to go by.
Margo Lanagan, probably very unhappy at being forced to write about unicorns, offers A Thousand Flowers, which has beastiality, miscarriage of justice, and all the wholesome stuff that bronies write and weep over in their My Little Pony Friendship fanfiction. This one is another silly Tales from the Crypt thing but without any humor that would make made this unintentionally hilarious story more memorable.
Maureen Johnson’s The Children of the Revolution wants everyone to know that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are crazy kooks involved in a religion that would have happened if George A Romero, not L Ron Hubbard, founded Scientology. The adopted kids are all zombies, and babysitters are still too stupid to follow instructions. Oh, and Angelina Jolie is a dumb ditz. Names are changed to protect the guilty, of course. Reading this story makes me understand what it feels like to have my brains being eaten while I’m reading a book.
Diana Peterfreund’s The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn is another unicorn story that really wants to be a zombie chow fest, but the author has an excuse: it’s set in the same world as her killer unicorn stories so it’s not like she’s doing this under duress. A young lady, hating all unicorns for the deaths in her family, finds herself nursing a baby unicorn and gets too attached to it. This one, by the way, is easily one of the very, very, very few rock-solid stories of the bunch. It has pathos, dramatic character growth, turbulent emotions, and an ending that makes me want to borrow Holly Black’s Pinkle Pie outfit and fake unicorn horn of doom so that I can show up at the author’s doorstep and use my special sparkle powers to get Ms Peterfreund to make the story a bit longer. Then again, the cliffhanger ending is what makes this story work, and I’d look really stupid in that My Little Pony get-up anyway.
Scott Westerfeld takes one for the zombies with Inoculata, where a bunch of stupid teens decide to obey their hormonal urges and rebel against the tight rules imposed by the grown-ups. Rules to keep out zombies… so boring and who cares if everyone else dies, right? It’s all about those teens. Grown-ups suck and they should all die anyway. This story alone is enough to tempt me to give the win to Team Unicorn because it just hammers home how annoying and obnoxious teenagers can be in young adult stories.
Meg Cabot of course represents the unicorns. Princess Prettypants wants to be a more… er, “empowering”, I guess that’s the word, version of Stephen King’s Carrie. Our heroine gets a unicorn for her birthday, and she likes it when it allows her to get back at the bullies and make them adore her. This one has plenty of unfortunate implications: guys are attractive only when they start doing stereotypically manly things, believing even for a minute that an attractive guy who is “above your station” can like you will lead to unfortunate and painful consequences, the right guy for you is always the one that disapproves of everything you do and wants you to change and live up to his expectations (and, of course, he’s right and you’re wrong – you’re happier being what he wants you to be), and even rebels and uncool kids at the end of the day just want to be part of the cool kids. In other words, it’s just another story by Meg Cabot, only with a unicorn because, hey. nobody wants to mess with a woman with glowing eyes and a Pinkie Pie outfit.
Cassandra Clare decides to put the zombies on an equal playing field with the unicorns. If Margo Lanagan can wax lyrical about the beauty-tragedy of bestiality, she’d do the same about necrophilia in Cold Hands! The setting is interesting – a town where a curse makes the dead come back to life – but the plot – the murder of the heroine’s boyfriend – is a different matter. This story is predictable in a “there are six Tales from the Crypt episodes with variations of this plot” way, the characters behave stupid and out of character with every turn of the page, and it has the predictable melancholic emo ending thing to assure black-clad surly and whiny teens that love really indeed sucks so they are better off not being loved by any sane human being at the end of the day.
Kathleen Duey must have believed that writing about unicorns would give her hives, so she comes up with a sadistic serial-killing thing that experience pleasure through extremely excruciating pain or the killing of children. And that’s the protagonist of The Third Virgin! Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoy this story because of the way the author skirts the NC-17 territory with some of the protagonist’s thoughts and actions. Still, by this time, the unicorn trying very hard to be so gangster is so played out.
Libba Bray closes the anthology with Prom Night. The adults all turned into zombies a while back, forcing the teens to kill them or get them out of town. Now, these teens live in a barricaded town, running the show like adults would. Our heroine is one of those with guns and in charge of ensuring that the zombies can’t get in. Well, teens will always be teens, so there’s still time for a prom night. This one is clearly tailored after the Romero formula, but still, it works very well for a short story, and while I can see the ending coming from a while away (I’ve seen enough of those movies to get a good sense of the twists and turns of a typical zombie movie these days), it is a perfect fit for this story.
So, at the end of the day, Team Zombie has one solid story while Team Unicorn has two. Team Unicorn seems to be the winner here, but eh. The zombie stories are pretty derivative on the whole while Team Unicorn suffers from a uniform show of unoriginal attempts to be “hip and edgy” by making the unicorns resemble villains from zombie movies or a gore affair by Eli Roth. Team Unicorn, I feel, would have done better by reveling in the audacity of pink sparkles, brony porn, and everything foo-foo and fi-fi about unicorns.
So, Zombies vs. Unicorns? Who cares? Wake me up when it’s Bronies vs. Furries.