The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology
Edited by Christopher Golden
Cover Artist: Per Haarensen
Review by Benjamin Wald
St. Martin's Griffin Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312559717
Date: 16 February 2010 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It has become impossible to ignore the popularity of the zombie story. Something about these shambling corpses strikes a deep chord in our collective psyche. Perhaps it's the evocation of our own mortality, perhaps it's a fear of the loss of individuality, or perhaps we're just drawn to the blood and guts that a full out zombie apocalypse entails. Whatever the reason, The New Dead has zombies in abundance, with 19 original stories of undead monsters hungry for human flesh.
The first thing to note about this collection is that it takes a wide view of its subject matter. Unlike some recent anthologies that focus more on traditional zombies, The New Dead is willing to allow all manner of risen corpses into its pages, whether or not they fit the George Romero mould. Examples range from voodoo zombies, to military zombies, and even a biblical zombie. This ecumenicalism is perhaps stretched a bit too far in including Joe R. Lansdale's story "Shooting Pool", in which not only could I not identify a single zombie, no matter how far the term is stretched, but I was unable to even find any supernatural elements whatsoever. It's a decent story, but it seems misplaced in this volume. However, this one quibble aside, the loosened entrance requirements worked well overall. The non-traditional zombies made for some excellent stories, and also added a bit of unpredictability into the collection. As I started each story, I was never sure exactly what to expect.
The quality of the stories is quite high. All of them kept my attention, and quite a few had images or scenes that were highly effective. However, none of the stories were really knock-outs either. I enjoyed reading them all, but none of them stuck with me. The story that came closest was probably "What Maisie Knew", a story that features a memorably horrid protagonist who is disturbingly good at rationalizing his increasingly awful actions. It's an effective character portrait, supplemented with an idea; the dead are reanimated as servants and cheap labor, which is effective if not quite original. The ending has some real bite as well.
Also worth mentioning is Joe Hill's interestingly experimental story, "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead". As the name implies, it combines the idea of a story told entirely through a series of twitter posts with the idea of a circus featuring some unusual, and undead, performers. I liked the idea, but in practice the two ideas tended to pull in opposite directions. I wanted more description of the circus of the dead and the events unfolding, but I also found the level of detail that was being twittered in the midst of what was supposed to be unfolding action somewhat implausible. Still, as an experiment it certainly has potential, and the story has some memorable moments.
The stories as a whole tend to eschew the blood and guts angle of zombies for more metaphorical, spiritual, or even existential ruminations on the idea of the living dead. This makes for a number of very poignant stories, and in several cases manages to put the plot device of zombies to interesting new use.
All of the stories kept my interest, and there were several memorable images and scenes. While there is a lack of standouts, the stories are uniformly of quite high quality. This is a welcome change from many original themed anthologies I have read, which tend to include stories of more uneven quality. While this book may not convert those skeptical of the appeal of the living dead, for those already bitten, so to speak, by the zombie bug this collection is well worth the money.