The New Dead
Edited by Christopher Golden
By their nature, anthologies are a mixed bag, and The New Dead is no exception. The variety of authors and styles means that there are always a couple of stories that don’t work, or at least don’t stand up as well as the others. The good news is that there’s far more good stories here than mediocre ones.
The New Dead comes out the gate strong with John Connolly’s “Lazarus” a quiet and somber look at the biblical story of resurrection; and David Liss’ “What Mazie Knew”, which packs a strong, Twilight Zone-style ending. Other standouts include “In the Dust” by Tim Lebbon, Jonathan Maberry’s “Family Business”, “Ghost Trap” by Rick Hautala, and “Kids and Their Toys”, by James A. Moore. And of course, there’s a Max Brooks story, “Closure, Limited”, which seems to have been cut out of World War Z. If so, it must have been for space, because it’s an excellent piece of work, a hauntingly sad bit about helping people get closure about those they lost in the war. I’m far more familiar with Brooks’ work than any of the other authors featured here, so perhaps I’m a little biased, but his may be the best story in the collection.
For those who might grow weary of 378 pages of the flesh-eating undead, there is quite a bit of variety in how the zombies are portrayed. In “Life Sentence” and “Second Wind”, by Kelley Armstrong and Mike Carey, respectively, it’s possible for zombies to be almost completely as functional as they were in life. And the zombies in “What Mazie Knew” are not the usual zombies, but instead scientifically brought back to life in order to perform menial labor for the living, as well as other, less savory tasks.
As I said before, though, there are a couple of weak links in this collection: Aimee Brooks’ “Among Us’ seems totally out of place here, having very little to do with zombies. It’s not helped at all by coming directly after “Closure, Limited”, which makes the difference all the more stark. “The Zombie Who Fell from the Sky”, by M.B. Homler feels too silly. It’s obviously supposed to be so, but it doesn’t really fit here, and its tongue-in-cheek style wound up just annoying me. But you may feel differently about this one. And Joe R. Lansdale’s “Shooting Pool” doesn’t fit in at all. It’s not that it’s a bad story, but this is a collection of stories about zombies, and there aren’t any to be found there.
The New Dead ends as strong as it begins, with Joe Hill’s “Twittering From the Circus of the Dead”, written in the style of Twitter posts from a teenage girl whose family takes in the titular circus, only to discover that the performers aren’t wearing zombie makeup. It’s a pretty absurd concept, but the use of Twitter to tell the story helps the story in a way that a normal narrative structure wouldn’t.
As a whole, The New Dead is a solid collection of short stories. There’s very little here that doesn’t work, and every author takes on the subject in a different way, keeping the zombie theme fresh. At no point during the book do you start to think, “This feels a lot like I already read this a hundred pages ago”. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of zombies.
– By Ray