I finished this book while on vacation in West Hollywood for Halloween. While I was in the process of reading it I thought it was going to be a four-sI finished this book while on vacation in West Hollywood for Halloween. While I was in the process of reading it I thought it was going to be a four-star read, but by the time I had completed it I had to take it back down to three. Here's my take on its contents:
LAZARUS by John Connolly Biblical Lazarus as a zombie, reanimated by a Jesus who is as detached from the human condition as his spectral progenitor. I liked this one.
WHAT MAISIE KNEW by David Liss Ridiculously stupid story about a shmoe who accidentally kills someone, then encounters her reanimated corpse in a sex club that caters to necrophiliacs. Against all the internal logic (such as it is) of the story, said corpse remembers the whole thing and brings him to poetic zombie justice. I hated this story.
COPPER by Stephen R. Bissette A social justice story involving a retired cop, a veteran, and bringing down the neighborhood bully. Loved it.
IN THE DUST by Tim Lebbon A story about the quarantined town that the government imprisoned the first population of infected in becoming humanity's final refuge. Loved it.
LIFE SENTENCE by Kelly Armstrong In a world where the supernatural and the mundane live side-by-side, what lengths would a Wallstreet douchebag go to to live forever in undeath? I didn't really enjoy finding out the answer all that much. Meh.
DELICE by Holly Newstein A voodoo justice story, sort of like "Mess Hall" by Richard Laymon in "Book of the Dead." Except that this story was good and didn't involve castration.
THE WIND CRIES MARY by Brian Keene A better name for this story might have been "When a ghost loves a zombie." I didn't dislike it, and it was only a few pages long so no harm, no foul.
FAMILY BUSINESS by Jonathan Maberry After the zombie apocalypse, half-brothers bring closure with dignity to the unliving and their surviving relatives. I really enjoyed this one.
THE ZOMBIE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY by M.B. Homler Cut from about the same cloth as "Zombieland," and just as entertaining in about 1/5 the time. I liked this story.
MY DOLLY by Derek Nikitas Avant-garde bullshit that reads like the first part of necro-porn. I hated this story only slight less than "What Maisie Knew."
SECOND WIND by Mike Carey Irony: becoming a zombie makes a human being out of a monster. I would really like to read more of Mike Carey's work.
GHOST TRAP by Rick Hautala Mr. Hautala, Stephen King called and he wants his schtick about small town yokels finding zombies in rural Maine back. Meh.
THE STORM DOOR by Tad Williams X-Files-esque story that offers-up a supernatural backstory for the zombie holocaust. It was OK.
KIDS AND THEIR TOYS by James A. Moore This was a really disturbing story about the monsters being us. Loved it.
SHOOTING POOL by Joe R. Lansdale Unless I completely missed it, there were no zombies in this story. A tale about the monsters being us in a book about zombies needs to have freakin' zombies in it! Didn't care for it - not because it was particularly bad, but because it was totally out-of-place.
WEAPONIZED by David Wellington Zombie proliferation: a cautionary tale. Not bad.
TWITTERING FROM THE CIRCUS OF THE DEAD by Joe Hill Is it real? Is it a viral advertisement? I don't know, but it was pretty entertaining!
Three decomposing stars for "The New Dead."...more
"Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse" was one of several anthologies I bought from the local Borders Books and Music that went out of business befor"Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse" was one of several anthologies I bought from the local Borders Books and Music that went out of business before the entire chain followed suit. I read it over a three-day period while I was very sick with an upper-respiratory infection. Given that the book is about life during and after the apocalypse, I like to think that reading the book while simultaneously trying to cough up a lung with about five gallons of puss and mucus just contributed to the authenticity of the experience.
Here's my take:
Cover Awesome! I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but when you pick up a book entitled "Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse" you want to see a decimated cityscape, not a puppy sleeping in the corner or some bare-chested guy ravishing a blonde (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Introduction by John Joseph Adams Mr. Adams notes that while 9/11 and the embryonic facism bred by the response to it in the United States seems to have reinvigorated the post-apocalyptic genre, the real allure of these stories is that they present a "new frontier" for us to explore.
I'm not sold on that argument. I think that post-apocalyptic fiction allows us to indulge our more base fantasies and provide an "exhaust valve" for our resentment of the mind-numbing conformity and consumerism of modern society. "Star Trek" is for exploring new frontiers, post-apocalyptic fiction is for sexually repressed starship captains who want to beat up men and steal their women (or vice-versa), in my opinion.
The End of the Whole Mess by Stephen King Not one of the better stories in my opinion. It's written in the first-person from the point-of-view of one of the two people responsible for the End of the World, who end it in a highly unconventional manner.
Spoiler(ish) Alert: I'm not buying the McGuffin in this story, as the people of Texas seem to have developed an immunity to at least the pacifying qualities of the substance; too bad they haven't done the same for its retarding properties.
Salvage by Orson Scott Card What is it about the American Southwest in general and Utah in particular that makes it figuer so prominently in post-apocalyptic fiction? I think it's the cultish nature of the Mormon faith - literally and perjoratively - more than anything else.
Personally, I don't care much for mormonism, and I am not really that fond of this story, either. The society in the story is sufficiently isolated, insular, and self-absorbed in its mormonism, but also really boring. Without the post-apocalyptic backdrop and a few minor tweaks, this story could just as easily have been a piece of historical fiction set in some isolated religious settlement.
The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi In the future, humanity will have shit where it eats to the point where there is only shit left, and will adapt itself accordingly.
This is more of a cyberpunk/dystopia story than a straight-up post-apocalytpic yarn. Yes, there is mutation and mutilation of the protagonists, but it is all self-inflicted. There is massive environmental degredation, too, and the disturbing thing about it is that the mindset of the characters (who see it as a non-issue now that society has figured out how to not only live but thrive in its cultural and industrial excrement) isn't that far off from the stump speeches of the 2012 GOP frontrunners.
Bread and Bombs by M. Rickert Speaking of the GOP frontrunners: this is a tale of what happens when children decide that hatered and bigotry is something they would rather not learn from their parents, and act accordingly.
I hope the candidates currently pushing for anti-marriage equality amendments and trying to make issues of the non-issue of sharia law in the United States meet a similar fate.
How We Got in Town and Out Again by Jonathan Lethem Only slightly more interesting than it sounds this is a story about a young man and a young woman trying to beat a rigged virtual reality game put on by a travelling con-artist/carnival barker.
One of the interesting concepts of this story is that in post-apocalyptic society the virtual reality equivalent of crapware becomes entertainment.
Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels by George R.R. Martin Now this is what I think of when I think of post-apocalyptic fiction. This is very Thundarr the Barbian/Beneath the Planet of the Apes stuff: degenerate human beings living in the sewers and subway tunnels of major cities centuries after "the bomb," rediscovered by returning colonists from outer space who no longer recognize their fellow man.
Waiting for the Zephyr by Tobias S. Buckell Another story that is more about a (strangely optimistic) dystopian future than a post-apocalyptic one. Years afer a tactical nuclear war that was either brought about by, or was caused by depletion of the Earth's fossil fuel resources, giant airships travel the world, playing the role of trade caravans and wandering minstrels. The protagonist only has to overcome the provincialism of her family to stowaway on one.
Never Dispair by Jack McDevitt Set in the universe of "Eternity Road," this is a variation on what I like to think of as "true" post-apocalyptic fiction: members of a post-apocalytpic society interacting directly with relics from pre-apocalyptic society and trying to glean some meaning from the experience.
I really enjoyed this story a lot, but would have liked it even more if the historical figure that the protagonists met had been someone less heroic and benevolent.
When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth by Cory Doctorow Having spent many years working in information systems myself, I enjoyed this story about the extent to which the Internet transcends the physical, sociological, and political limitations of the real world.
Of course, the punchline is that it can do so only within the context of all three: without the physical mediums of electrified power and communications lines; the sociological capacity of people to want/need/understand online communication and "community;" and the political will of global actors not to destroy the first two with war and/or terrorism the World Wide Web is pretty much useless.
If I have one complaint about this story, it's the same complaint I have about most Internet enthusiasts today: quit fellating Google! In the first place, any rogue state or terrorist organization that wanted to cripple the Web would make Google and the Googleplex its secondary target (the first would be ICANN). Rather than being "the last man standing" I would bet good money that Google would be the first to go. Secondly, there is a great, big Web out there beyond Google and the extent to which online rivalries would have played out after society's collapse would have made for some interesting reading.
The Last of the O-Forms by James Van Pelt As I've stated elsewhere on this site, this is the most disturbing story in the bunch. Child exploitation is just not easy to read about, and even though it's not sexual in nature, what the father in this story does to his daughter is grotesque.
That's no smear against the author, by the way. We're talking post-apocalyptic fiction; grotesqueness is pretty much the point.
Still Life with Apocalypse by Richard Kadrey A very short short story where the protagonist gives us some insight into the futility of trying to go about life as usual after the apocalypse because there's nothing usual about life after the apocalypse. Surreal and wierd, I really enjoyed this one.
Artie's Angels by Catherin Wells A story about life in a vault. It makes me think about Topeka from "A Boy and His Dog," only from the point-of-view of characters who value orderly society more than anarchic "freedom" and violence.
Judgement Passed by Jerry Oltion What if Jesus appeared on Earth, passed judgement, and left? What if a handful of astronauts weren't around for this event? Would the faithful among them accept their fate as God's will, or would they try to impose their beliefs on the very supreme(?) being that saw fit not to give a shit about them?
Maybe the obnoxious, psychotic fundamentalist is a cliche, but then again maybe it's well-deserved.
Mute by Gene Wolfe A brother and sister come home from school after the apocalypse. Were they not raptured? Were they just dropped off in the country and left to fend for themselves by callous, indifferent adults? Are they dead and the story is a metaphor for how the afterlife sucks?
I have no idea; the author doesn't really say.
Frankly, I didn't like this story at all.
Inertia by Nancy Kress This story reminded me a lot of the Twilight Zone episode with the pig-faced people who are considered beautiful and the buxom, statuesque blonde who is considered a freak and exiled with others of her kind so as to not frighten children. Apart from beauty being in the eye of the beholder, the other moral of that story is that sometimes it is the monsters who retain their humanity when everyone else decides to take a vacation from human decency and compassion.
In "Inertia," this is also the case and the worse part is that in their eagerness to destroy the ugliness of the plague victims in this dystopian reality, mankind is dooming itself to its own extinction.
And the Deep Blue Sea by Elizabeth Bear This is one of only two supernatural end-of-the-world stories (the other being "Judgement Passed," though the author makes it clear that even though Jesus makes an appearance in that story, he may not be any more divine than you or I).
In fiction, the devil is almost always more interesting than his good counterparts, and this story is no exception. The heroine reminds me a lot of Johnny Blaze, in that she's traded her soul for mad motocycle skills and is using her ill-gotten supernatural gains against her benefactor.
Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler When a plague renders most of the human race mute and illiterate, the few who can read and write and speak hide their abilities from the violent, jealous many.
It's an interesting premise, and a very sad story because the protagonist is left to shoulder the burden of keeping civilization alive among the literate minority very much alone. What's worse, she experienced love and companionship with one of her own kind just long enough to know how hurtful it can be to lose it.
Killers by Carol Emshwiller If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, imagine what that woman is capable of the person who scroned her is now boning her rival and living next door to her.
I took away three morals from this story:
1) We're all capable of violence for petty reasons. 2) We're all capable of hating someone over a label even after they've transcended it (like 99.9% of the world's Muslims have). 3) If you're hiding out and you can't be with the one you love, then for chrissakes love the one you're with.
Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus by Neal Barrett, Jr. I love this story. Sex, drugs, tacos, and sentient mutant animals! I bet five quatloos that Mr. Barrett played a lot of "Gamma World" as a kid!
The End ofthe Word(sic) as We Know It by Dale Bailey Apparently, if you're the last man on Earth and the last woman on Earth doesn't turn you on, you drink yourself to death while waxing poetic about how the end of the world wasn't all that impressive.
Despite the moral to the story sucking, I really enjoyed this one. Its descriptions of a depopulated subarbia remind me a lot of "Earth Abides," and that's a good thing.
A Song Before Sunset by David Grigg Very similar to Edgar Pangborn's "A Master of Babylon" (which appears to be a pseudonym for New York City in post-apocalyptic fiction), "A Song Before Sunset" is much a more rewarding read because civilization doesn't go quietly into the night of superstition and ignorance in this one.
Now, you might argue that that runs counter to the whole point of post-apocalyptic fiction, but I maintain that a story without real conflict (i.e.: both sides have a shot at winning)isn't worth the read. And more to the point, post-apolcapytic fiction with no hint of civilization is very hard to read for lack of a frame of reference and even harder to enjoy.
Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers by John Langan The protagonist in this story is apparently the love-child of Batman and Bill Mummy's character from that Twilight Zone episode who can wish people into the cornfield.
While the author doesn't come right out and say it, you get the impression that Wayne, a sterotypical comicbook fanboy (of the thin rather than fat variety) ushers in the apocalypse from his imagination. Why would he does this? So that he can impress chicks by saving them from it - along from their piss-poor taste in men - as Batman.
As much as I enjoyed reading this story, thinking about it after the fact kind of pissed me off.
On the whole, I give this book three stars. ...more
"World War Z" was mentioned on several Web sites that deal with the topic of zombies in literature and popular culture. It was so ubiquitous that I de"World War Z" was mentioned on several Web sites that deal with the topic of zombies in literature and popular culture. It was so ubiquitous that I decided I was missing out on something special and ordered a used copy off of Amazon.com after seeing it referenced for the nth time.
How right I was!
For those who don't know, the author, Max Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. If you look at his photograph on the back and cover the top half of his face, he and his father could be identical twins. I don't know if Max was able to get his manuscript in front of a publisher more easily because of his parents or not, but he didn't need to trade on his name for this book, in my opinion.
"World War Z" is terrific fun. There's not an overall story so much as an overall plot; each chapter is a vignette that fleshes out the zombie-infested world that Mr. Brooks has created ("World War Z" does in paperback for zombies what "Heavy Metal" did in celluloid for busty sci-fi women).
Each vignette plays out in chronological order, beginning with society's first encounters with the disease that turns people into ravenous living corpses. Using this approach, Mr. Brooks is able to make some relevant social commentary about the nature of our contemporary, consumer society.
The zombie virus originates in China, which is ironic considering that China is the modern engine of our consumer society; the world turns to China to satiate its appetite and China responds in kind with dead bodies whose appetite for us can't be satiated. The origins of the virus itself are unknown, though it's hinted that they're a byproduct of industrial pollution that spread through poorly-conceived and implemented dam projects along the Yellow River. The virus spreads due to the global nature of society, but also through the black market organ trade that China is up to its eyeballs in. The moral to the story is: be careful of irresponsible economic activity (i.e.: consumerism) as it may come back to bite you!
Once knowledge of the virus is made public, Mr. Brooks explores the nature of contemporary corporate media and its obsession with "infotainment" over objective, informative reporting. He also alludes to the many gross strategic blunders of the Bush Regime's "flypaper" strategy, and juxtaposes the two in "The Battle of Yonkers" where a heavily but inappropriately armed American military meets it Waterloo at the hands of the undead residents of Manhattan who are streaming onto the mainland through the city. "Embedded" reporters on the scene catch the entire fiasco on live television and a nation lulled into a false sense of security is alerted to just how fucked they truly are in spite of the media's incompetence.
Other vignettes tell the story of individual survivors and collectively they tell the story of how humanity fought back from edge of extinction to win "World War Z." I give Mr. Brooks a lot of credit because not all of these stories are from the perspective of Americans; most aren't actually. Unlike Romero's "Dead" films (which I love), this gives "World War Z" a level of depth that even those gruesome parables lack. How would a zombie apocalypse play out in the Middle East? Which country would be the first to "go nuclear," and against whom? How do you equip an army to fight an enemy that can't die, anyway, and who figures it out? Much like in the real world, the answers are painfully obvious only after they're discovered and more often than not the person making the discovery isn't a strapping Aryan good ol' boy.
"World War Z" is being made into a movie. I'm cautiously optimistic about its prospects; if it's half as good as the book I'll be paying full ticket price on opening day!
Update: Despite good reviews, I have no desire to see the movie "World War Z." It's too far off from the source material, and while it might be a good film in its own right, it isn't "World War Z." It's just a Hollywood zombie flick....more
A friend of mine lent me this book, and I read it over the Christmas holiday of 2003. I know that zombies aren't proper Christmas undead (ghosts are -A friend of mine lent me this book, and I read it over the Christmas holiday of 2003. I know that zombies aren't proper Christmas undead (ghosts are - just ask Charles Dickens), but what the hell?
To be honest, I couldn't remember all of the stories, so I pulled the contents from Wikipedia and will make a note of what I remember about each of them. Like a lot of fiction from this genre, some were really good, but most weren't - and an attempt at social commentary was usually the deciding factor in either case.
Cover I have to address the cover of this book: it's stupid. I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but I mean, really, it looks like a book about witchcraft, or ghosts, or demonic possession. I have no idea who picked the artwork, but he or she should be subjected to one of the gruesome endings that the characters within the book eventually meet!
Foreword by George A. Romero Supposedly, all of the stories in the book were either set in George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" universe or were deeply inspired by it. I have no idea what George actually said in the forward, but I am sure sure it was a humble recognition of his own stature as the father of the genre.
God bless you, George, you sick fuck!
Introduction: On Going Too Far, or Flesh Eating Zombies: New Hope for the Future" by Skipp and Spector I have no idea what these guys had to say either; unlike Romero's forward, I probably didn't even read it, actually.
"Blossom" by Chan McConnell (pseudonym for David J. Schow) This was the story of a man and his undead whore. She didn't start out that way, but apparently she didn't manage to say the safe word before choking to death on her own vomit, then tearing her jon's penis off with her zombie vagina.
No, I'm not kidding.
I didn't really care for this story, and the author has no one but himself to blame because when he went for subtlety instead of shock, his writing wasn't half bad.
The last page of the story describes shocked hotel employees who had seen a good-looking, up-scale call girl (I like to think of Julie Roberts in "Pretty Woman") go into a room, and witness a blood-spattered undead corpse, bloated from consuming its patron come out. My advice: read the first and last pages of this story, and go rent "Teeth" rather than read the crap in between.
"Mess Hall" by Richard Laymon I think this story is about a woman who is abducted by a serial killer, raped, and murdered who then reanimates and exacts revenge on her killer.
Zombie short fiction writers seem to have a think for castration and penis mutilation - I'm almost positive the undead avenger (avengerette?) has enough wits about her that she deliberately bites her assailant's weenie off first, then his testicles, and actually savors his suffering for a bit before finishing him off.
"It Helps If You Sing" by Ramsey Campbell Something about Haitian voodoo and social commentary on Christian fundamentalism.
"Home Delivery" by Stephen King I have a love-hate relationship with Stephen King. I think as a whole the body of his work is overrated, and I'll be damned why it seems to be that his best books are awful movies.
But I digress.
"Home Delivery" may or may not be an attempt to explain what the Venus probe referenced in Romero's original "Night of the Living Dead" encountered on its way back to Earth. Whether it is or it isn't, the zombie plague is apparently an extra-terrestrial (un)life form that the press has dubbed "Star Wormwood." And the worm-like things from said star infest living beings and turn them into zombies.
"Home Delivery" is about a simpleton woman living alone on an island who, it is revealed, cleaved her zombiefied husband in two with an axe and threw his remains down the well.
To be honest, I wish the story had been about the ill-fated astronauts who attempted to rendezvous with Star Wormwood.
"Wet Work" by Phillip Nutman What if Jason Bourne was a zombie, but smart like Bub in "Day of the Dead?"
What if he were even smarter, and pissed off at "the establishment?"
And "the establishment" was also a bunch of zombies.
That's pretty much this story.
"A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned" by Edward Bryant Remember when I said that zombie fiction writers have a thing about genital mutilation? Well, it happens again in this story. There is a particularly graphic passage about what happens when you grab a man by his junk and disembowel him by jerking up really hard.
Props to the author. It's hard to have an over-the-top gross-out scene in a zombie story that doesn't involve necrophilia, and this story has it.
Oh, and it also has some necrophilia, too. Yuck...
"Bodies and Heads" by Steve Rasnic Tem I have no idea what the hell this story was doing in the book. It really didn't have anything to do with zombies, Romero-esque or otherwise.
All around the world people are shaking their heads violently for no apparent reason. If you ask them why they're unresponsive. If you grab them by their head, then their body twists beneath them.
Eventually, everyone's' heads come off, and it turns out that their abdomens have mutated into giant maws that eat them.
The only thing missing from this story was someone's belly button moaning "brains...!"
This story really made me said, because I realized it had consumed twenty minutes of my life I would never be able to get back...
"Choices" by Glen Vasey For the life of me, I cannot remember what this story was about.
"The Good Parts" by Les Daniels Zombies dig porn! Zombies will act out the things they see in porn with each other! Incredibly, zombies breed healthy, cherubic little human babies and don't eat them, but feed them strained peas and carrots until their human offspring are mature enough to reanact porn on their own, thus perpetuating the cycle of living and undead sex.
Les Daniels clearly needs to get laid, though I have to give him credit - the zombie birthing process made me laugh out loud and slightly nauseated all at the same time.
"Less Than Zombie" by Douglas E. Winter What if "Less Than Zero" had been a zombie movie?
Yeah, I still wouldn't have liked it much then, either.
"Like Pavlov's Dogs" by Steven R. Boyett My favorite story of the bunch, "Like Pavlov's Dogs" is set primarily in a biosphere whose inhabitants survive the zombie apocalypse unscathed. Much like the biker gang in the original "Dawn of the Dead," this story teaches us that even in a world of ravenous, shambling corpses we have far more to fear from the living than the dead.
"Saxophone" by Nicholas Royle Nope. I can't recall this story, either.
"On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert With Dead Folks" by Joe R. Lansdale Lots and lots of necrophilia and post-zombie-apocalypse depravity on the part of the surviving human beings.
If you've ever wondered how you might go about staffing a brothel with zombie whores (I know I have!), the answer involves wiring their mouths shut and amputating their hands.
However, if you get hold of a freshly dead hottie (again, I'm looking at you, Julie Roberts) and bolt the right electronic components to her noggin, you don't have to resort to dismemberment to enjoy her company, though you will have to work harder at getting into her pants.
If you think my summary was painful to read, you should try the actual story. Joe R. Lansdale, shame on you!
"Dead Giveaway" by Brian Hodge Zombies like late morning television, specifically "The Price is Right."
A composite Wink Martindale/Chuck Woolery/Richard Dawson gives away fabulous living prizes to undead contestants under the watchful eye of his undead boss, who is all about the ratings.
I hear Brian Hodge is working on a sequel for sweeps week.
No, not really...
"Jerry's Kids Meet Wormboy" by David J. Schow Another "the living are more dangerous than the living dead" parable. The titular Wormboy is a stereotypical geek (fat, unhygienic, antisocial - probably plays Dungeons & Dragons) who indulges in cannibalism before the zombie apocalypse hits, so has no trouble fitting right in afterward.
Pound for pound, this is the grossest story in the book. At the same time, it probably has given hope to dozens of lonely, obese, cannibalistic teens who are just waiting for the zombie apocalypse so they can have someone to relate to...
"Eat Me" by Robert R. McCammon Not McCammon's finest work ("Night Boat," which he oddly refuses to allow to be republished was an awesome zombie story).
"Eat Me" answers the eternal question: in a world populated entirely by the living dead, can two people experience true intimacy?
The answer, of course, is "yes" and - unsurprisingly - involves genital mutilation.
Why do I give this book four stars? Well, for starters, it was a zombie anthology long before zombie anthologies were cool. Props for that.
Secondly, it attempted to do for Romero's work what fanzines did for "Star Trek" during the 1970s and into the 1980s before the franchise was expanded and eventually bastardized beyond recognition. And just like some of the early published "Star Trek" stories were complete shit (cough... Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath... cough), we the fans were forgiving because we love the genre.
Thirdly, I really don't think that the current zombie-mania would have happened if it weren't for respected horror writers contributing to "Book of the Dead." I just hope (now that I've ordered four new zombie anthologies) that what follows is better than what came before.
And lastly, Goodreads doesn't allow you to give three-and-a-half-stars....more