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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

The Living Dead 2, ed. John Joseph Adams

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The Living Dead 2

edited by John Joseph Adams

(Night Shade Books)

“Alone, Together” by Robert Kirkman“Danger Word” by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
“Zombieville” by Paula R. Stiles“The Anteroom” by Adam-Troy Castro
“When the Zombie Win” by Karina Sumner-Smith
“Mouja” by Matt London
“Category Five” by Marc Paoletti
“Living With the Dead” by Molly Brown
“Twenty-Three Snapshots of San Francisco” by Seth Lindberg
“The Mexican Bus” by Walter Greatshell
“The Other Side” by Jamie Lackey
“Where the Heart Was” David J. Schow
“Good People” by David Wellington
“Lost Canyon of the Dead” by Brian Keene
“Pirates vs Zombies” by Amelia Beamer
“The Crocodiles” by Steven Popkes
“The Skull Faced City” by David Barr Kirtley
“Obedience” by Brenna Yovanoff
“Steve and Fred” by Max Brooks
“The Rapeworm” by Charles Coleman Finlay
“Everglades” by Mira Grant
“We Now Pause for Station Identification” by Gary A. Braunbeck
“Reluctance” by Cherie Priest
“Arlene Schabowski of the Undead” by Mark McLaughlin and Kyra M. Schon
“Zombie Gigolo” by S.G. Browne
“Rural Dead” by Bret Hammond
“The Summer Place” by Bob Fingerman
“The Wrong Grave” by Kelly Link
“The Human Race” by Scott Edelman
“Who We Used to Be” by David Moody
“Therapeutic Intervention” by Rory Harper
“He Said, Laughing” by Simon R. Green
“Last Stand” by Kelley Armstrong
“The Thought War” by Paul McAuley
“Dating in a Dead World” by Joe McKinney
“Flotsam and Jetsam” by Carrie Ryan
“Thin Them Out” by Kim Paffenroth, R. J. Sevin and Julia Sevin
“Zombie Season” by Catherine MacLeod
“Tameshigiri” by Steven Gould
“Zero Tolerance” by Jonathan Maberry
“And the Next, and the Next” by Genevieve Valentine
“The Price of a Slice” by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow
“Are You Trying to Tell Me This Is Heaven?” by Sarah Langan

Reviewed by Sarah Joynt-Borger

Zombies have become so popular that we’re constantly inundated with them; from the movies (Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Zombieland, etc.) to books (World War Z, Patient Zero, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) to video games (Resident Evil, BioShock, Left4Dead), zombies have been covered extensively.

And yet, in the new anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, The Living Dead 2, a collection of 40-odd short stories (most of them brand-new for this volume) zombie fiction has come back with a vengeance. The Living Dead 2 explores the world after zombies, not in terms of the violent stand-off between living and dead (though that is present) but rather the mental and emotional toll of living post-apocalypse, when survivors no longer fight just for their lives, but also for their humanity.

Every story in the collection handles this theme in different ways, some with humor, others so dark that they will haunt you for a while, but all are well worth the time…there’s forty-three excellent stories here, each with a unique voice and tone.

The first story in the anthology is by Robert Kirkman, widely known for his graphic novel The Walking Dead, which AMC has turned into a TV show (not to shamelessly plug, but the first episode airs Oct 31st, and if you’ve ever had even a passing interest in zombie fiction, I highly recommend you watch!)—put loosely, it’s a zombie movie that never ends. The series deals with what happens psychologically, physically and emotionally to the people who have survived the initial onslaught.

Kirkman’s “Alone, Together,” takes place in this world and deals with grief, survivor guilt and the Smurfette Syndrome, all combined with touches of dark humor and a realistic grit. An excellent choice to start the compilation, “Alone, Together” sets the tone and fills out the idea that while zombies may eat us, it’s other people who can wound us the worst.

Danger Word,” by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due explores a world where we can no longer protect our children, not even from ourselves. A haunting tale that touches on every parent’s worst nightmare, “Danger Word,” stays with the reader long after reading it.

Zombieville,” by Paula R. Stiles, deals with Zombies in Africa as a metaphor for the current AIDS crisis there. The metaphor is subtle, however, and the characters and plot compelling.

Adam-Troy Castro’s “The Anteroom” deals with what happens after zombie-ism…i.e., where do zombie’s souls go when they die? Perhaps the bleakest story in the collection, “The Anteroom,” gives a chilling glimpse into the psyche of those who did horrible things after their free will was taken…only to find their free will, and their memories, returned.

When the Zombies Win,” by Karina Sumner-Smith, delves into a world where only zombies remain…and yet still they grasp and hunger.

Matt London combines ninjas and zombies for the ultimate geek-out in “Mouja.” While slightly heavy on the explanations of the fighting styles of the ninjas, “Mouja” is solid zombie-pocolypse entertainment.

Category Five” by Marc Paoletti focuses on a couple stuck in a flooding ward during a Hurricane Katrina-type situation…one with zombies…and the desperate choice the couple must make as the water rises.

Exploring a new idea of zombie—ones that don’t terrorize but simply refuse to stay buried—Molly Brown’s “Living with the Dead” is suburbia haunted not by ghosts, but by the silent, ever-present bodies of the dead.

In “Twenty-Three Snapshots of San Francisco,” Seth Lindberg reveals the fall of San Francisco through twenty-three snapshots, with a narrator describing what is happening in each. In the gaps between the photos, the reader imagines screams and terrors more horrific than any amount of detail the author could have given us.

Walter Greatshell’s “The Mexican Bus” takes place in the same world as his Xombie novels, where all the women in the world suddenly turn blue and homicidal. The hero of “The Mexican Bus” happens to be backpacking through Mexico, on a bus, when it happens.

The Other Side” by Jamie Lackey, deals with the intense peer pressure experienced in high school…and the forms of teasing that might evolve twenty years after zombies first appeared. A distressing story about the struggle to fit in that is especially poignant in our current times, and the cruelty of those that decide what is ‘normal.’

David J. Schow—a prolific writer and “one of the early innovators of Zombie fiction,” proves why he is considered the originator of the term ‘splatterpunk’ in his story, “Where the Heart Was,” a story about a man, the married women he’s sleeping with, and the husband who just won’t. die. Fun, in a, well, splatterpunk sort of way, “Where the Heart Was” is dark and funny—and everyone gets what is coming to them.

Good People,” by David Wellington, returns us to the classic George Romero zombie tale: a group of disparate people holding out against the zombie horde. Told through the viewpoint of a young mother and her daughter, “Good People” revolves around what people will do to save themselves…and each other.

Cowboys and zombie dinosaurs abound in Brian Keene’s “Lost Canyon of the Dead,” another pulpy and fun combination sure to make the inner geek in all of us squeal in barely suppressed glee. While not of great substance, the story is enjoyable, and as the writer himself says, it is a ‘palate cleanser’ in the midst of all the dark, emotional angst found in the rest of the anthology.

And it leads right into Amelia Beamer’s “Pirates vs. Zombies,” which starts out as a humorous take on surviving the end-of-the-world by stealing a yacht and then rapidly descends into a dark and macabre study of ‘us’ versus ‘them’…all the while dealing with quite possibly the worst third-wheel situation ever.

Steven Popkes’ “The Crocodiles” is perhaps the most repugnant story in the collection—but in the best way possible. Taking place in Nazi Germany, the story is told from the point of view of a German scientist working on a tote manner project throughout the rise of the Nazi Party and World War II. The story has scenes from the lab, where the most horrific experiments are explained in painstaking detail, intercut with scenes from his home, where he is a loving husband and father. It is compelling…and completely possible. What lengths would any government go to, for the perfect weapon? And who are the scientists who would work on such projects? “The Crocodiles” attempts to answer the first…and answers the second with a simple: we are.

The Skull-Faced City” is a sequel to David Barr Kirtley’s “The Skull-Faced Boy.” It’s the first story in the anthology that has the zombies as the protagonists…and the antagonists. The living are, at best, background characters. For those Zombie purists who feel zombies shouldn’t run, much less talk and critically think, Kirtley has those kind of zombies for you too. “The Skull-Faced City” is a character-driven redemption story where zombie-ism is a fact of life, not something to be fought or feared.

Brenna Yovanoff follows a band of former military professionals on their search for a cure for zombie-ism in “Obedience,” where a soldier’s morality is put to the test and she struggles to decide if there is a room for a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in a world turned upside down.

Max Brooks, best known for his World War Z novel, returns to that world in “Steve and Fred,” a story about the hero we think we’re going to be if the apocalypse ever comes…and the actual situation we’ll probably find ourselves in. With humorous touches, Max Brooks gives us a hero we wouldn’t want to be…but probably would end up as.

In the next story, Charles Coleman Finlay’s “The Rapeworm,” a mysterious rain, infested with worms, falls across the United States. Disturbing on many levels, Finlay’s short story boils down to families…and what we would do to protect them.

Mira Grant’s “Everglades” is a bleak, unsettling look at defeat, and asks the reader: when is it nobler to stop fighting, and accept the end?

We Now Pause for Station Identification” by Gary A. Braunbeck is told entirely in the tone of a radio host talking to his—he hopes—audience as the world around him ends. Desperate and dismal, Braunbeck captures the slow unraveling of a man left alone to witness the end of all he knows.

Steampunk and zombies collide in Cherie Priest’s “Reluctance,” which returns to Priest’s “Boneshaker” world. A young pilot, veteran of the ongoing Civil War, relies on his wits and skills learned on the battlefield to survive a few hours with the undead.

Arlene Schabowski of the Undead,” by Mark McLaughlin and Kyra M. Schon, follows Arlene Schabowski, who played a little zombie girl in a movie years ago, and now has to deal with the deadly consequences. Zombie fans will note that Kyra M. Schon played the little zombie girl with the trowel in Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead.

Zombie Gigolo,” by S.G. Browne was originally written for the “Gross Out Contest” at the 2008 World Horror Convention and readers should know it placed third…and we probably don’t want to know what was first. The story centers around a zombie gigolo, and his equally undead clients. Well told and funny, but still. Ew.

Bret Hammond deals with zombies and the Amish in his story, “Rural Dead.” Told in an interview style, “Rural Dead” is compelling as it details the choices a man made to defend his own.

In “The Summer Place” Bob Fingerman uses Fire Island as his setting to describe the incredible isolation felt by the one survivor on the island…and the lengths he goes to assuage the terrible loneliness. By turns haunting and funny, “The Summer Place” is a glimpse into one lonely man’s mind as he slowly loses it.

Kelly Link’s “The Wrong Grave” is loosely based on the story of how Dante Gabriel Rosetti once buried a few of his poems with the body of a lover…and then dug them up. So does Link’s character, Miles Sperry, but when he goes to dig them up, he finds an undead women there to meet him. Odd, but with lively dialogue and an intriguing tone.

In “The Human Race,” Scott Edelman writes of Paula Gaines, a young women, bereft over the death of her family, about to commit suicide…right as the dead begin to rise. Cheated of the quiet rest of death, Paula attempts to find some sort of peace in a world gone crazy. Severe and gloomy, “The Human Race” compellingly surveys the landscape of both pre-and post apocalypse with equal disdain.

David Moody puts a new spin on the zombie revolution in “Who We Used to Be,” where everyone on the planet dies in a single instant…and then re-animates. There’s no hungry slavering over brains, though, just a stubborn refusal to believe that life as we know it is over. Disturbing because people could believably react in just this way, “Who We Used to Be” ends with the undead destroying humanity…by refusing to believe in their own mortality.

Written entirely as a transcript of a counseling session, Rory Harper’s “Therapeutic Intervention” deals with a zombie going through addiction therapy…for his hunger for human brains. Alternately funny and touching, Harper’s therapist handles the subject matter with just the right combination of empathy and sternness.

Those of you familiar with Simon R. Green’s other works (the Tales from the Nightside and the Deathstalker series) are aware that Green often has a man’s man character as his hero, a super-soldier, super-sleuth with super-powers, etc. In “He Said, Laughing,” Green’s hero meets Joseph Conrad’s/Coppola’s anti-hero from Apocalypse Now with mixed results, but fans of Simon R. Green will enjoy the uber-manliness of the main character.

The next story in the anthology is from Kelley Armstrong, of the Otherworld series. In “Last Stand,” Armstrong deals with the last band of survivors attempting to merely get by in a world that wants them dead. With echoes of romance (this is Kelley Armstrong, after all), “Last Stand” is an enjoyable read that fans of Kelly Armstrong will welcome.

Paul McAuley’s “The Thought War” takes the war on zombies to the next level: what if, eventually, they look just like us? What if the only way to tell the difference would be to effectively torture them? What would that world be like? McAuley paints a world that is gripping and desolate, with characters and dialogue to match.

In “Dating in a Dead World,” Joe McKinney has his characters go on the worst first date, ever. Funny, grim, and action-packed, “Dating in a Dead World” is an explosive, fun ride about what one man on a motorcycle will, in fact, do for love.

Flotsam and Jetsam,” by Carrie Ryan, has two characters stuck in a life raft…alone with each other, with zombies, zombies everywhere. When you are the last two men on earth, how far would you go to stay together? Even if you can’t stand each other?

Kim Paffenroth, R.J. Sevin and Julia Sevin teamed up to write “Thin Them Out,” where the people inside are more problematic then the zombies outside. An interpersonal melodrama, with occasional plot lapses, “Thin Them Out” is still a solid zombie read.

In “Zombie Season,” Catherine MacLeod spins a tale about the best zombie catcher in the business…who has his own secrets. Short and devilish with a great twist ending.

In a second zombies-meet-ninja’s story in the collection, Steven Gould’s “Tameshigiri” is about modern day ninjas-in-training, who go out to search for one of their own, fighting zombies and learning the art of Iaido (a Japanese sword technique). As with the first ninja/zombie story, it’s a little heavy on the terminology of Iaido, but it’s still a fast-paced, fun story.

Jim Maberry returns to the world of Patient Zero with his story “Zero Tolerance.” It’s Bourne meets Romero, really, and as always Mayberry spins out a fast-paced, action-packed story that has all the hallmarks of male wish-fulfillment: fighting men, lots of guns, and super-gadgets. Oh, and zombies.

And the Next, And the Next,” by Genevieve Valentine writes about a women who must pretend to be something she is not in order to survive…which doesn’t always end well. Told with a quiet desperation, Valentine’s main character suffers the ultimate peer pressure…with death as the penalty.

John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow lovingly describe a post-zombie-apocalypse San Francisco, one of the last surviving cities, and the only city to keep its lights on (as a native San Franciscan I have to admit the story had me from that point on), and the heroes who saved San Francisco: bike-messengers and pot-heads. The war against the zombies is now being fought by computer game wizards, who control ‘tame’ zombies and send them out as strike teams (fans of MMOs will get a kick out of the detail given to the gamers). Skipp and Goodfellow deftly weave three or four different stories into one tight, exciting tale about what it would take to keep the lights on.

The last story “Are You Trying to Tell Me This is Heaven?” by Sarah Langan, follows a father in search of his adult, convict daughter…who might be the savior or destroyer of humanity. Infected, knowing his time is limited, knowing his daughter was never…good, nonetheless he keeps going, desperate to find her, help her. This final story is haunting, and with searing flashbacks and bleak foreshadowing expresses the same premise almost all of the stories in this collection have touched on: when society begins to crumple, who do we fight for, who do we struggle to protect?

The Living Dead 2 is a rare sequel, in that it is just as good (if not better) than its predecessor. Funny, with action and sadness and grief, the anthology contains all the reasons people are not zombies, and all the reasons we fight against the hordes.

[Editor's Note: We have been advised by the collection's editor, John Joseph Adams, that a 44th story was added after the Advance Reading Copies were sent to reviewers. This reprint story is titled "The Days of Flaming Motorcycles" by Catherynne M. Valente.]

The Living Dead 2

Edited by John Joseph Adams

Night Shade Books, September 2010

Tpb, $15.99