Horror anthologies are a dime a dozen these days – especially those featuring zombies – so one has to be pretty special to catch my attention. Christopher Golden’s “The New Dead” is one such collection. Featuring stories by such undead-fiction luminaries as Max Brooks, Briane Keene, and Matthew Wellington, as well as genre stalwarts like Joe R. Lansdale and Joe Hill, The New Dead offers a collection of slightly skewed and refreshingly original takes on the well-trodden unholy ground of zombie fiction.
Things get started nicely with John Connolly’s “Lazarus” - a dark and tragic take on the biblical tale in which we see reanimation through the eyes of Lazarus, himself, and learn that this particular miracle is not all it’s cracked up to be. At first, Lazarus’ return is celebrated, but, soon, his family realizes that the new, unfeeling, undead Lazarus is not the man they buried, and shun him. Through sparse prose, Connolly takes a beloved biblical story and warps it into a tragic and disturbing meditation on love, loss, and loneliness. It’s fantastic stuff, and a hell of a way to kick off the anthology.
David Liss’ “What Maisie Knew” keeps things fresh with a surprisingly vulgar, funny, and deeply disturbed portrait of a successful and happily married man sucked into a seamy underground world of reanimates, death fetishists, and necrophilia, all in hopes of hiding a secret from his past that refuses to stay buried. Liss’ story is equally satirical and sadistic, and will have you laughing out loud as often as it has you recoiling in disgust. This one stands amongst my favorite stories in the collection.
Up next is Stephen R. Bissette’s compelling and beautifully written “Copper”. It’s the story of a group of undead veterans living in the “shells” of a middle-American factory ghost town, where the last living neighbor is a crusty old Korean War vet named Copper. The undead vets don’t want to eat the old codger, though; they need him for something much more important than sustenance – they need a leader! Bissette’s story is a marvel of minimalism, with poetic rhythm and structure, and an unique-yet-often-esoteric narrative style that is thoroughly engaging.
There are 19 stories in all, ranging from the humorous (Joe Hill’s “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead” to the horrific (Tim Lebbon’s “In the Dust”) to the downright heartbreaking (Briane Keene’s surprising sensitive “The Wind Cries Mary”), and not a real dog among them. Sure, there are a couple of underwhelming entries (Kelley Armstrong’s “Life Sentence” is a bit underdeveloped while M.B. Homler’s “The Zombie Who Fell From the Sky” tries too hard in its attempt to be darkly humorous) but they’re still entertaining in their own right, and, at the very least, held my interest.
Golden deserves serious kudos for not only putting together such an impressive roster of talent, but also for amassing such a richly diverse and unique collection of tales from them. While this is an easy sell to zombie fans, many of the stories deviate so completely from established zombie lore that even those averse to undead fiction should find much to love here. Very highly recommended!