Zombies: Encounters With The Hungry Dead
Edited by John Skipp
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers
Trade Paper, 704 pages, $19.95
Review by Sheila Merritt
The vitality of zombies in horror fiction is as pervasive as a plague. The lumbering dead are legion; eating their way through our culture and consciousness with a vicious voracity. In John Skipp’s anthology, Zombies: Encounters With the Hungry Dead, there is gore galore. The stories in this hefty volume are mostly reprints; classics from Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, W.B. Seabrook, and Ray Bradbury as well as more recent works by contemporary writers. Even a couple of guys named Stephen King and Neil Gaiman are included. The book covers the spectrum of zombie fiction: There is a variety of points of view; diverse locations; wide ranging social/political commentary; satire; sex; even poignant romance.
In Robert McCammon’s tale of a literally all consuming love, entitled “Eat Me,” two desperately lonely people connect carnally and carnivorously. They meet at a dance club, where one of them negatively responds to the ambience: “The drum’s pounding offended him, in an obscene way; it reminded him too much of how his heartbeat used to feel before it clenched and ceased.”
Less sensitivity is offered in Joe R. Lansdale’s “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert With Dead Folks,” and Cody Goodfellow’s “We Will Rebuild.” Both feature intolerant hicks as characters, an all too common component in much of zombie fiction. John Skipp points out in his introduction to Goodfellow’s treatment that “Redneck zombie horror is so ubiquitous – from B movies and the small press all the way to the top – that calling ’em a dime a dozen is overrating the currency by more than half.” Caustically comic commentary from a ferociously funny fellow; Skipp then elucidates that it requires skill to employ such an overused motif and make it work. Both Goodfellow and Lansdale are successful with their respective takes.
Completely different in tone and locale is Poppy Z. Brite’s “Calcutta Lord of Nerves.” Seething with atmosphere, the texture of this tale’s text stuns and rivets. The India setting is exotic and heady; a fever dream come true. Adding zombies to the teeming poverty and overwhelming population could seem like overkill; but Brite’s ability to seamlessly incorporate yet another horror into the mix works brilliantly. She describes a group of zombies thus: “Their eyes shone iridescent. Faint starry light shimmered in the empty spaces of their bodies. They were like cut-outs in the fabric of reality, like conduits to a blank universe.”
To prove that the walking dead are not land locked, Steve Duffy’s depth defying “Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed” takes place at sea. This tale contains a passage that packs a major wallop: “Clustered round the anchor, hanging on to it in a crawling hideous mass, were maybe six or seven of the bodies; dragged up from the oozing deep, these, up from long years of slow decay down where the sun’s warmth and light never penetrates, there on the chilly bottom. Green phosphorescent eyes stared back at me, and a billow of putrescence erupted in bubbles on to the surface.”
Zombies: Encounters With the Hungry Dead compiles 32 diverse and diverting stories that encompass the undying allure of zombies. They seldom endear but they do endure. Editor Skipp has chosen tales that display creativity when dealing with resurrected cannibalistic corpses. The works in this impressive volume are a reminder that there is a brain behind every good zombie story.