I selected The New Dead as the anthology for my zombie class this year, and it's been pretty satisfying, as far as these things go. It has a variety o...moreI selected The New Dead as the anthology for my zombie class this year, and it's been pretty satisfying, as far as these things go. It has a variety of stories that engage the genre from different perspectives and traditions, along with stories from the leading names in the genre (though it seems like the more prominent the person, the shorter the story they contributed -- I'm talking to you, Max Brooks).
My top three stories in no particular order: "What Maisie Knew" by David Liss -- a cowardly man does cowardly things when he discovers a zombie who knows his secret. "Family Business" by Jonathan Mayberry -- the depth of feeling and thought for the zombie question exceed anything else in the book, though to be fair, this is the longest story in the book as well. Also, Jonathan Mayberry violates the 'famous person, short story' argument I made just a few lines ago. "Ghost Trap" by Rick Hautala -- a small set piece with a couple really chilling moments and a solid resolution.
I also thought three of the brief stories were really great as well. "Among Us" by Aimee Bender seems to come from the 1970s tradition of experimental and soft science-fiction. It reminds me of a story from The Living Dead, one of the anthologies I used in a previous class; I'm also reminded of the seminal "Heat Death of the Universe" story by Pamela Zoline. Brian Keene has perhaps the most emotionally satisfying story in this collection with his lament, "The Wind Cries Mary." I wasn't all that impressed with the first (admittedly early-career) novel I read from Keene, but this inclines me toward trying another. Finally, the story I found most chilling was Joe Hill's could-have-been-a-crappy-gimmick-but-wasn't "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead."
The stories I haven't mentioned are pretty good too -- there are a couple that toy with Haitian voudoun, including one that re-casts the end of a real-life event through the eyes of a zombie practitioner. The only story I found out of place is "Shooting Pool," by Joe R. Landsdale. While I think the story is well-crafted and entertaining, it isn't really about zombies. I suppose you could argue for a connection, but you'd have to start that argument by saying "This is a rationalization, but here's how it might be relevant." I think Landsale's name meant more than the content of the story, and I suspect Golden couldn't go back and say "Sorry, Joe, just not enough zombies."
If Indiana Jones, Hellboy, and Captain America are to be believed, Hitler spent an awful lot of time and Deutschmarks trying to find occult solutions...moreIf Indiana Jones, Hellboy, and Captain America are to be believed, Hitler spent an awful lot of time and Deutschmarks trying to find occult solutions to the pernicious problem of killing all those people who lived in countries he didn't rule. Wikipedia's article on the subject (conveniently titled "Nazism and occultism") suggests these ideas are bunk while simulatneously answering another question I didn't realize I had: does Nazism use the letter 'i' twice? But we all know popular fiction is more true than history anyway.
Enter into the fray Scott Kenemore's Zombies vs. Nazis, the most recent in his line of zombie humor books that started with The Zen of Zombie. This book compiles a series of recently-uncovered Nazi communiques from three operatives stationed in Haiti to discover and weaponize Haitian voodoo zombie technology. It's a funny, thoughtful consideration of the relationship between modern Hollywood zombies and the Haitian voodoo zombie. A few thoughts:
Kenemore and artist Adam Wallenta and the designer of the book (if Wallenta didn't do that work himself) do a nice job distinguishing between the three characters in voice and format. As the story unfolds through messages written by the three characters to their contact back in Berlin, three distinct personalities emerge. Kenemore does an excellent job of simulating the kind of conflicting narrative that emerges when people of different temperament report events to a third party. As a mockumentary document, Zombies vs. Nazis doesn't try very hard to convince. At times, the voice used in the documents feels very authentic (though he early abandons any attempt at brevity that such communications would require), while other times it gives way to humor. The document design helps the reader distinguish instantly between the three voices, but also undermines the idea that these documents were intercepted by Allied communications techs (why would they be bloody?), and the pictures mixed into the book add to the story but detract from its 'documentary' state. That said, packaging the book in the distinctive size and style of the other Zen of Zombie books removed any chance this would be a deep simulation, so Kenemore and Wallenta were wise not to sacrifice humor or storytelling on that altar. The most interesting bit of the book, for my money, was Kenemore's decision to create an intersection point between the Hollywood zombie and the Voodoo zombie. In Zombies vs. Nazis, we learn that Haitian dark magic voodoo practitioners, bocors, are able to raise zombies from the dead using a two-part chant, and to control zombies with another set of sounds. This is different but not wholly distinct from voodoo tradition. But Kenemore adds the idea that voodoo zombies are actually hollywood zombies -- they crave flesh and spread the zombie plague by bites. Their "natural state" is aggression, and only a knowledgeable bocor could control them. It's a clever blend that I haven't seen in other texts (though the idea that voodoo is used to raise hollywood zombies has been around for a while).
Zombies vs. Nazis is a funny, interesting take on the zombie story with a new angle and solid production. Well worth a read.
Full Disclosure: I've met Scott a few times, welcoming him to speak in my class and trading correspondence a bit.(less)
Set in the nearish future -- 2040 or so--Istanbul, McDonald's book dances around contemporary issues as they may evolve in the old-and-new world of th...moreSet in the nearish future -- 2040 or so--Istanbul, McDonald's book dances around contemporary issues as they may evolve in the old-and-new world of the Middle East. We follow the adventures of a natural gas trader, his wife who trades in antiquities, his neighbors who work for government think tanks, and a number of other characters. While the central plot of the novel seems to involve a nanotechnology terrorist conspiracy, there are many threads to pull together. Some thoughts:
I read this book for my SF book club, but I didn't finish it on time, so I knew much about how the book would end before it did. I have to say this took a lot of the fire out of the second half of the novel. McDonald spends a lot of time (too much, which is why I didn't finish on time) building up the characters and plots, which makes the denouement work well, but the path to get there is a bit bumpy. The characters are intricately drawn and thorough, each distinctive and realistic and understandable. While it took me a while to get into the novel because of the many characters I had to keep track of, once they were all oriented in my head, it was a pleasure to read. Someone in my book group complained that the ending was a bit too pat, that the threads draw together too nicely, and I can see the validity of this complaint if the characters were not intended to be part of a single narrative, but they're introduced with that design, so it didn't bother me. There's one narrative confluence that feels a bit too coincidental, but it adds drama to the event, so it works for me. I love idea of nanotech toys, but am pretty creeped out by the brain-chemistry and thought-altering nanotech that McDonald foresees as part of the future world. Everyone gets hopped up on different nano in order to work, think, trade, or fight just a little faster than the guy before them. Yikes! I like McDonald's choice to set the book in Istanbul, which is something many Western SF writers don't do. By engaging with another culture and considering how the future technology would affect life there, McDonald adds a new spin to the book that gives it depth and character.
Overall, a pretty good book with solid characters and good writing. However, the pace is too slow for my taste, and the first haf of the book is harder to get into than I'd like.(less)