21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology [edited] by Christopher Golden (Advanced Reader Copy)
Release Date: July 17, 2012
Genre: Fiction, zombies, anthology, humor, satire, horror, it’s all about the brains baby
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Summary: Zombies, they’re not just for horror movies anymore! They can be metaphors for our fears, our reliance on media, life-threatening illnesses, the homeless, and every other possibility in between. This anthology strives to explore the different ways that zombies can be tackled and how they have evolved since slowly shambling onto the silver screen. A wide range of authors lend their take in these 19 never before published stories compiled by editor Christopher Golden.
First off, I apologize about the belated posting, I am in the middle of San Diego Comic Con planning and packing, where hopefully I will have time to get this ARC signed while I’m in my full zombie Girl Scout regalia. Don’t worry, the cookies I’ll be selling are made from real Girl Scouts. Just kidding, I’m not selling cookies, just killing Girl Scouts. There will of course be a full post when I return detailing all the fun literary (and some of the not so literary) panels I partake in. My anal retentive schedule is ready and raring to go!
Where was I? Right, zombies! Golden uses the stories in this anthology as a lens to process our 21st century fears, the fear of death, the unknown, etc. There are nineteen stories in all, some covering the literal undead while others tackle drug use, loss, media consumption and every zombie metaphor imaginable. Zombies are called the walking dead, Infects, workers, the NODS, survivors, Hamlin’s Revenge, and the Dead Ones. They’re created by the R1 Virus, use the Revenant Patch, are spread by spiders, caused by drug use, and occur during the apocalypse, the Resurrection, and the Devastation. This is not your typical anthology about the undead.
A good portion of the stories deal with zombies in relation to media, television and video games in particular, a metaphor that mass media consumption is turning us into brainless zombies. This theme is tackled in “Why Mother’s Let Their Babies Watch Television: A Just-So Horror Story” through dark humor in Verite’s story that reads like a fairy tale about infanticide. Stephen Susco’s “The Drop” followers users of the most wildly successful, ultimate RPG game called Cynapse. Not to be confused with Synapse in the film Antitrust. While fans, fondly referred to as ‘Napsacks await the drop of the appropriately titled Revenant Patch, our protagonist stumbles across the games horrifying secret from one of the patch’s beta testers. “Couch Potato” by Brian Keene does double duty with zombies as representative of television and drug reliance.
Most prevalent however in the take on zombies as media obsessed is the hilarious satire “Reality Bites” from author S.G. Browne. The story is focused specifically on trashy reality television, in this case, zombie based reality television on the channel ZTV. This satire centers on the unoriginality of Hollywood, using programming such as “Dancing with the Undead” and “Reanimated Jersey Shore” to remind us just how brainless and mindless “reality” (yeah, right) television is making Americans. As we’re told, “This is television… They [the viewers] don’t want clever and smart. That’s why shows like Arrested Zombie Development get cancelled.” My funny bone was tickled so hard at that line that I may have literally died.
Second to the media metaphor is the correlation between zombiesm and drug use. This is explored through the heroine addicted Mom in the aforementioned “Couch Potato”, along with Caitlin Kittredge’s “Devil Dust” and “The Happy Bird and Other Tales” by Rio Youers. Both stories focus on themes of revenge and drugs, which make you emotionless zombie slaves. With zombies as a blatant metaphor for enslavement/drug addiction. They function in the same way as the media based stories but with a lot more heft behind them. The same can be said for “Jack and Jill” by Jonathan Maberry, which correlates cancer with zombiesm and takes the phrase walking dead to a terrifyingly possible level.
One of my favorite tales wasn’t much a straight zombie story, but more an exploration of social classes through a dystopic society. “Antiparallelogram” by Amber Benson revolves around a misshaped store in the Color Sector that sells special elixirs to the public. These bestow buyers with super powers and if you so please can turn you into monsters: vampires, werewolves and even zombies. Social classes are much more prevalent in this city, with people having to wear colored jump suits that denote the citizens stations in life (pink = orphan, purple = homeless, etc). Members of society must move above purple by the time they’re 30 or they will be given an orange jumpsuit, which labels them as one of the walking dead. They have a year to live before they are euthanized for overpopulation purposes. Homeless as the walking dead metaphor? Perfection. Dear Amber Benson, please write an entire book set in this crazy colortocracy!
Still other stories focus on zombies as just zombies. In Mark Morris’ “Biters”, thirteen year olds team up with the Infant Care Program, where they bring home and care for zombie babies that are used to test possible cures. Worst replacement for home ec ever. “All the Comforts of Home: A Beacon Story” by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow takes zombies and transforms them into servants for survivors living inside hotels with all the amenities and Dan Chaon’s “How We Escaped Our Certain Fate” views zombies as pests who trample gardens, dash in front of cars and overturn garbage cans. Provided of course you’re a stranger or the faceless person at the convenience store who made the zombie their coffee every day.
Another top story goes to fellow Rutgers alum Kurt Sutter, who penned “Tic Boom, A Love Story”. Written akin to a screenplay, this slightly more traditional zombie story follows a Tourettes stricken man who talks to the dead and may have more screws loose than Norman Bates. Of course, the apocalypse will do that to you. Sutter gets bonus points for the great twist ending in this, his first ever published prose story. But I wouldn’t expect a shoddy tale from the “Sons of Anarchy” creator.
Of course, there were a few stories I liked a little less than other, one which irked me a lot more than most. As you may have gleaned from another post about Orson Scott Card where I railed against his homophobia and racism, I am not a huge OSC fan, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Of course he proved me right. Rather than being about straight zombies, “Carousel” is an uber religious story about loved ones being resurrected. When the protagonist’s wife returns as a giant bitch and convinces her children to join her in death, our “hero” visits a carousel, talks to God, and assumes that homeless people are incapable of being decent human beings. Especially in public restrooms. I will refrain from ranting further. ::shakes progressive fist at OSC::
-Zombies, zombies and more zombies
-All the different takes on the genre, particularly what zombies represent
-Stories that I wanted to be longer than short stories
-S.G. Browne, Amber Benson, John Skipp, Cody Goodfellow and Kurt Sutter
-Orson Scott Card’s love of Jesus and hate of the homeless
-Stories that felt much longer than short stories
Now that this anthology is under my belt I’m going to strive to finish the other zombie anthologies I purchased on an undead anthology spree a couple of years ago. Specifically Christopher Golden’s other collection The New Dead, John Skipp’s Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead and John Joseph Adam’s The Living Dead. Whether they’ll be reviewed on here is another story. I just don’t know how many more zombie related jokes I can make in these titles.