Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Written by various
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Published by Night Shade Books
Everyone knows there are pretty much three major horror subgenres: vampires, werewolves, and zombies. The debate over which is the best, or what your favorite says about you, could go on forever (and, knowing the passion of horror fans, most likely will). My personal favorite tends to change depending on my mood. But I will admit more than just a little soft spot for our brain-loving undead friends.
For those of you out there like me, Night Shade Books has put together The Living Dead, a collection of short stories featuring our shambling buddies. Packed between the covers are a whopping 34 different tales of reanimated corpses, and while none of them is unique only to this collection, editor Adams has managed to gather the best of the best all into one place, which is nice.
The list of recognizable names is considerable: Clive Barker, Joe Hill, Laurell K. Hamilton, Stephen King, Douglas E. Winter, Joe Lansdale, Neil Gaiman, and more. The table of contents reads very much like a “Who’s Who of Horror”, and the names I didn’t recognize turned out, for the most part, to have earned their rightful place among their peers.
The collection contains familiar tales like King’s “Home Delivery”, Barker’s “Sex, Dead and Starshine”, and a story by Dale Bailey called “Death and Sufferage”, which most should recognize as the basis for Masters of Horror’s Season One episode “Homecoming”. My favorites, though, turned out to be works by some of the lesser known authors which, though they’ve been previously published, I had not read before.
The first of the thirty-four stories is Dan Simmons’ “This Year’s Class Picture”, and it’s a wonderful start for the collection. The imagery is both gruesome and wonderful, and the story itself is a very strong one. Some other high points were Susan Palwick’s “Beautiful Stuff”, which is wonderfully told from the zombie point of view; Lisa Morton’s powerful “Sparks Fly Upward”; Catherine Cheek’s witty “She’s Taking Her Tits to the Grave”, Will McIntosh’s globally conscious “Followed”, and Nancy Holder’s religiously themed “Passion Play”.
The best thing about this collection is that it eloquently shows just how many different ways a horror story can speak to you. The themes and messages are myriad, as are the styles and the nature of the reanimated dead. We’ve got voodoo zombies and thinking zombies and unknown-cause zombies. While it’s inevitable that there be some low points in a collection this large, it’s worth noting that even they aren’t terribly low. There are a few stories that were forgettable enough to be out of my head soon after I was done reading them, but nothing so painfully bad I wished I hadn’t read it.
The joy of a short story collection is that you can ingest it however you like, and it doesn’t require a huge investment of time. You can read one story and not pick it up again for months without having to worry about losing your place. You can read it cover to cover or pick and choose what you’d like to read. But whether you’re a nibbler or a devourer, The Living Dead is definitely a tasty treat.
4 out of 5
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Note: The Living Dead is part of Monster Librarian’s Spring Into Terror collaboration among numerous horror fiction review sites. Be sure to hit their link to see what other titles that are taking part might be of interest to you.