After the success of John Joseph Adams’ last anthology Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, he returns with a new fantastic collection, The Living Dead, with stories from the greatest horror fiction writers in publication: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Laurel K. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, and many others. It is a fascinating collection for it proves to the reader that no zombie story is the same, and what amazing settings and situations authors can come up that involve zombies.
In the first story, from Dan Simmons, “This Year’s Class Picture,” Ms. Geiss, a former high school teacher, has barricaded herself in her old high school. A barbed wire fence and wall surround the school, along with a moat filled with gasoline. Geiss spends her days with her class, a class of zombie children. After hitting them with a tranquilizer, she chained them to their chairs and each day shows them pictures of humanity, the beauty of the world, and the greatness of the human race, trying to make a connection, trying to get a reaction. But each day she is greeted by the dead stares in their faces, with their eyes hungry for human flesh.
In Neil Gaiman’s “Bitter Grounds,” the narrator has had enough with his life and just up and leaves one day. Meeting an anthropology professor presenting a paper on zombies in New Orleans, he steals the man’s identity, and never expecting to go through with it, finds himself in New Orleans being the professor. At night in the streets of the old city, he meets some people that later he considers may not be human. He presents the paper as the professor, semi-believing in its intention, especially after his experiences of the night before.
In “The Dead Kid” from Darrell Schweitzer, David is a young boy who wants to hang out with the big kids who are always bullying him; he wants to be like them so they’ll stop bullying him. So one day they show him “the dead kid”: a very young child that is being kept trapped in a box in a cave in the forest. It is very pale, twin empty sockets where its eyes should be, and spends its days slowly writhing, trying to get free of its prison.
The Living Dead is a sobering read in that it primarily reveals to the readers the horrors zombies are capable of, but also presents the dark and evil side of humanity and what it is capable of when pitted against these walking corpses. The idea of the zombie forces one to face the reality of death and how in this way it may be cheated, but when the cost is a term that has become synonymous with something that is dead but alive, incredibly stupid, and hungers for flesh; it makes one yearn all the more for an undisturbed grave.
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Originally written on October 9th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.