Zippered Flesh 2
Weldon Burge, Editor
Smart Rhino Publications
February, 2013; $14.95 PB
Reviewed by K. H. Vaughan
In Zippered Flesh 2, Smart Rhino and editor Weldon Burge offer stories about alterations to the body, the lengths that people will go to in pursuit of their ideas of perfection, and the terrible changes that they will inflict upon themselves and others. Unlike many small press offerings, it’s a meaty volume, with 22 stories filling nearly 300 pages. It features creepy and appropriate cover art by Shelley Everitt Bergen of Groundfrost Illustration and Design. The print version is nicely formatted and copy-edited, making it a better-than-average product compared to other small publishers.
Thematically, the anthology brings to mind artists such as David Cronenberg, J. G. Ballard, Brian Yuzna, Clive Barker, and Stuart Gordon. Body horror is not new by any stretch, but as science increasingly dispels the supernatural and more people turn away from the spiritual, the body becomes a more important psychological landscape. Threaten my non-existent soul and I will laugh. Threaten my bodily integrity and you have my attention.
At its best, body horror is more than just the shock of the grotesque, a la Tom Six, but tells us about the characters who use the body as a canvas for whatever unique artistic vision or psychopathology drives them. It explores identity and wholeness in ways that other genres do not. How much can your body change before you are a different person altogether? How deeply can you inhabit another’s flesh before you become them. The terrible beauty of body horror is that it doesn’t simply end. When you encounter Jason Voorhees, your suffering is nearly over. The horrors inflicted on the characters of Zippered Flesh 2 can endure for a long and twisted lifetime, which gives them power.
In some ways, the volume is not as shocking or disturbing as I expected, but that may just be me. I’ve worked with self-mutilators professionally and have always been interested in body modification. I still own a copy of Vale & Juno’s RE/Search: Modern Primitives, one of the first publications to really examine the resurgence of body modification as anything more than a passing fad or freak show. However, because the stories are so focused on the embodiment of horror it is easy to allow them to affect you. We all know the pain of needles, dissatisfactions with the image reflected in the mirror, and the betrayals our bodies inflict upon us. These stories capitalize on these basic experiences, often to great effect.
The quality of the writing is fairly consistent throughout, and above-average for a market that pays token rates. The anthology includes a mix of new and established writers, including some award-winners with national profiles. Overall, I think the collection is stronger than Zippered Flesh 1, and readers who enjoyed any of the stories from that volume should be very pleased by the follow-up effort. I would have liked more attention to the psychological in the series; it is the anticipation of the shot, not the sting that hurts. The stronger pieces in the volume let us inside the skin of the characters instead of stopping at the surface. In several, the protagonist is simply the unwilling victim of a Frankenstein-like mad scientist, which makes sense given the theme of the volume, but too many in close proximity lessons the impact of each. Likewise, although vanity is probably the motivation behind most body modification in real life, I would have enjoyed more psychological diversity in the characters. There are so many ways that the body can be manipulated, and for so many reasons. The subject matter means that Zippered Flesh 2 will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Body horror can freak people out in ways that other genres may not; it can be too personal. But if you like your terrors physical, this anthology has a lot to offer, and I hope that Zippered Flesh 3 will follow.