Saturday, 25 August 2012

More Zombie Short Stories...

Like those people who always make sure they have plenty of tinned goods (in case of an emergency) I always make sure I have at least a couple of short story collections to hand. You know, just in case a book isn't working for me and I don't know what to read next. Or if Hope has been running me ragged and I just want something to read that's even shorter than normal. Yesterday was one of those days (I was also completely wiped out after taking Hope to the Strange Chemistry launch on Thursday night...) so I needed some short story action just to keep me ticking over. I'm sure it won't surprise you at all to learn that I have a zombie anthology ready for situations just like this one... :o)

I haven't made it all the way through Otto Penzler's 'Zombies' yet but I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that it's a collection that any self respecting zombie fan needs to have on their shelves. And not just because it is so large and weighty that it makes a very effective zombie killing weapon... What we have here is a book that stretches the definition of zombie to the point where the reader is presented with a wide range of stories that tackle zombies in all their forms. There is something here for everyone. The last time I picked 'Zombies' up I was immediately introduced to a writer that I'd never heard of. This time round I was pleased to make the re-acquaintance of three writers that I should have known would have written a zombie tale; I just never realised that they had. The table of contents here is so large (there's over eight hundred pages of zombie tales...) that there are lots of little gems waiting to be found.

After reading 'Friday Night in Beast House', the other day, I was keen to read more by Richard Laymon if only I could find it. 'Zombies' duly obliged by giving me 'Mess Hall', a story of serial killers and revenge from beyond the grave. The plot itself is a little too straightforward albeit with a twist that makes the tale one worth sticking with. After all, why would zombies want to rescue the heroine when they could just eat her instead? This twist adds a frantic flourish to the closing paragraphs and Laymon balances out the linear plot by racking up the tension and gore in all the right places. He doesn't hold back on the 'prelude to torture' either and that's something that you might want to bear in mind before giving this tale a read...

It's always a bit of a treat to come across an unexpected Richard Matheson story so I was really pleased to find 'Where There’s A Will’ lurking in the contents. This was written in conjunction with his son, Christian, and gives the reader a slant on zombie fiction that is perhaps missing from today’s tales of ‘post zombie apocalypse’ survival. A man wakes up inside a coffin and… Well, you can probably guess. As with ‘Mess Hall’, 'Where There’s A Will’ is predictable and very straightforward (although it would have made for a great horror episode on TV, shot from a first person perspective). You know what’s coming straight away and that’s a bit of a shame given what the Mathesons do with the subject matter. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story that felt as claustrophobic as this one. The Mathesons leave you in no doubt just what it must feel like being trapped in a very tight fitting coffin. I found myself unconsciously flexing my arms as I read it (just to give myself a little more room). Despite knowing where the plot was ultimately headed, I couldn’t help but root for the hero and that’s what added the real impact to the ending.

Last up was Robert McCammon’s ‘Eat Me’, a tale of one zombies search for companionship in a world where admitting loneliness is now a crime. What I love about McCammon’s work is how he really goes to town telling us just how weird the ‘post apocalypse’ can be. Everything is as it was before but with enough of a slant on it to let us know that things are actually really different. In that respect, reading ‘Eat Me’ reminded me of McCammon’s ‘Something Passed By’; another tale of ‘end time weirdness’.  The atmosphere here is bleak but you can’t help but drink it in.

McCammon uses the characters of Jim and Brenda to really explore the inherent loneliness of being a zombie, giving it a human voice that we can all identify with. And if zombies ever do end up having sex I’m pretty sure they’d be doing it just like Jim and Brenda do in ‘Eat Me’. I wasn’t sure what to expect here but I certainly wasn’t expecting something so visceral yet tender at the same time. If there’s ever a sequel to the ‘Hungry for your love’ collection then I fully expect to see ‘ Eat Me’ there.

A mixed bag of short stories then but all were good to one degree or another. You can guess what the stand out tale was for me; the other two did a good job but were ultimately restricted by their own plots.

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