Battle of the Zombie Anthologies

Short stories about zombies/survivors get right to the point, they don’t dally (if it’s written well) and the writer has fewer chances to screw things up.

The Living Dead anthology (1 & 2) are both excellent, and editor John Joseph Adams manages to do what some other anthology editors don’t do: he infuses his anthology with tons of stories written by-get this-WOMEN WRITERS. Women horror writers. Yes, just about every other story is written by a woman in The Living Dead 2 and believe me, yes, it makes a difference to see that my own gender is represented so well in the pages and in the stories themselves. Even though women are usually educated to read and write about white men, and it can be difficult for women writers to crack out of that coffin, when they do, it’s terrific. White men won’t be the only ones surviving disasters (zombie or otherwise). Women are going to be more than sex-fodder, rape-fodder, rescue-fodder, and all the usual crap that women are used as in most literature or genre fiction.

See the cover of The Living Dead 2? It lists Cherie Priest, Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Ryan along with Max Brooks. Inside there’s this list of writers:  Paula R. Stiles, Karina Sumner-Smith, Molly Brown, Jamie Lackey, Amelia Beamer, Brenna Yovanoff, Mira Grant, Cherie Priest, Kelly Link, Krya M. Schon, the little girl from the original George Romero movie Night of the Living Dead, Kelley Armstrong, Carrie Ryan, Kim Paffenroth, R.J. Sevin & Julia Sevin, Catherine MacLeod, Genevieve Valentine, and Sarah Lanagan. No Poppy Z. Brite this time around, but hopefully she’ll be in a third anthology. I really hope there’s going to be a third anthology! More of the stories in this book are original, although there are some reprints. All in all, most of the stories were involving.  18 out of 44 stories had women authors.  That’s 41% of the anthology. Pretty damn good numbers. And most of the stories are pretty high quality, too, making you think as you’re getting grossed out. That goes for all the included short stories.

The biggest disappointment was The Skull-Faced City by David Barr Kirtley. It’s a sequel to a story he wrote for the first anthology, which he explained was written in anger about an ass-faced male friend of his who was abusive to his girlfriend (the friend’s girlfriend, not his own). In the sequel, all the women are rescued, are pregnant, or abused, and have very little agency of their own. That’s par for the course in a lot of horror stories, so nothing new there. Well, except that the protagonist and his sister are both of Asian extraction. I’m not sure how many Asian woman tropes are in there, and if it’s necessarily a good thing that her role is essentially to be rescued after being impregnanted against her will off-screen. And then used as a MacGuffin to get the original woman from the first story to finally act. Yeah. Not sure this one is for the win.

Last Stand by Kelley Armstrong sticks in my mind the most. She explores the concept of the Other explicitly in this story, and you’re left wondering who the zombies are for the first few pages. The zombies aren’t traditional mindless things in this, and they have a woman leader of immense steely strength leading them.

There’s also David Wellington’s Good People. It’s the only story to feature a mother, her child, and a boy who everyone wanted to leave behind because he’s vulnerable in a wheelchair–except that he’s a savant with machinery. Told from the woman’s point of view, it’s hard hitting. She’s nobody’s fool, she’s independent, and she knows herself. She’s fierce, in all the ways that it’s good. And Wellington manages to neatly side-step the woman-as-love-interest in the Horror genre.

The other anthology is The Dead That Walk: Flesh-Eating Stories edited by Stephen Jones. His book has many more Big Names in it: Clive Barker, Harlan Ellison (with a story that made no sense at all to me, but then, Ellison’s shorts rarely make sense to me), Joe Hill, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, etc. No women listed on the cover. Who are the writers inside? Let’s see: Yvonne Navarro, Nancy Holder, Lisa Morton, and Kelly Dunn. That’s out of 24 stories. That’s 4/24, or 16% of the total number of stories. I don’t like distilling an anthology into gender percentages, but it does start to irk when you read story after story after story from a predominately white male point of view–even when the stories like that are written by women writers. Remember when I mentioned that women writers have to break out of that box, making the white male the protag of their stores because that’s the default? — it also doesn’t help when an anthology editor chooses to include white male dominated stories when there are other points of view to include.

I was less impressed with The Dead That Walk overall, heavy-hitter writers or not.  Joe Hill’s contribution is one that I’ve seen before, and doesn’t include actual zombies but does take place on the set of a zombie movie (that’s okay, but this fell flat for me).

For The Good of All by Yvonne Navarro is eerie, reasoned, and frightening. She writes a point of view in a setting that’s not often used; the southwest, and she uses a main character who’s lower working class, a woman, who has very strong opinions and point of view. The other character is Catholic priest. What she does and why makes you think, and horrifies at the same time. Which is the point of most zombie stories isn’t it? It’s the only story that I remember, aside from Tell Me Like You Done Before (an Of Mice&Men riff) by Scott Edelman.

Comparing these two anthologies pops the contrasts of two approaches to editing. I never really thought before of who anthology editors are or what their story criteria is, but it’s fairly evident here that one anthology is more inclusive, while the other one is trying to sell books by using big name male writers while mostly ignoring other viewpoints that are not white male.  While I can appreciate novels and short stories that mostly use white male points of view (The Stand, etc) and are sexist and Old World in their attitude about women’s strengths and weaknesses, I’m much happier reading stories which don’t ignore women, which feature women, don’t have women as helpless pregnant help-meets that help the patriarchy along and renew the old status quo. It’s refreshing to know that others are represented as well.

Anyway, even if you’re not into Zombies, give The Living Dead anthologies a try. The stories are uniformly well-written (if sexist here and there), have a plethora of stories written by women in women’s point of view and have some decent stories written by men in a female point of view. Zombies aren’t just creatures of fear-they’re also creatures of modern statement. Meaning, just like in science fiction, they’re relevant to current American culture (buybuybuy to bouey the economy).

Not all zombies are mindless. Not all humans have souls. Which is worse?

Comments

  1. The Other Patrick says

    Wow, the Living Dead 2 sounds great! I’ll check that out!

    Also, while 4/24 is abysmal, the rate is 1/6, or about 16%, not 6% :)

  2. Anne says

    OH MAN NOW I WANT TO BUY THOSE EVEN MORE. I have been eying (that looks wrong but my spellchecker tells me it’s right. Eyeing? Eh, whatever) those for a long time now. I read Wastelands, which was awesome, but it takes so long for me to read anthologies of short stories that I have been hesitant to get two more even though my favorite things ever are zombie narratives.

    So, you’re my favorite person ever of the day to convince me. :) Thanks for this post!

    • says

      You’re welcome!

      I didn’t used to get much into short stories when I was younger, but now there seems to be a plethora of particularly well-edited anthologies coming out. Dark Delicacies 1 & 2 are very good straight horror anthologies, too. Love the first one especially.

      Here’s another reason to read (these) anthologies: you don’t have to read the books straight through! Take your time! Let the stories that hit you sink in more, then go back for more.

  3. jennygadget says

    Since you are discussing zombie anthologies and percentages of female writers/protagonists, I just have to give a shout out to ZOMBIE VS. UNICORNS! which is a fairly new YA anthology edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier.

    The line up (for the Zombie side) is: JL, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Maureen Johnson, Carrie Ryan, and Scott Westerfeld

    I admit I haven’t read any of it yet *sadface* but I’ve read several works by several of those authors, and they all tend to have well-written female characters. :)

    • says

      I didn’t mention Carrie Ryan’s story in the main review, but it was one of the blandest, unexceptional of the stories in Living Dead 2. I’ve been increasingly disappointed in her post-apocalypse series, and unfortunately, her story, set in the same ‘verse, didn’t do or say anything new. It could have been set in *any* zombie-verse. Very generic. I hope she does better in the anthology you mentioned. I’ll have to look this one up.

  4. says

    I definitely like the sound of The Living Dead 2! I am totally sick of the survivors always being white men. Take “The Walking Dead”: I enjoyed a lot of the pilot, but it drove me crazy – of course we can have characters who are women or POCs, but they must be secondary to the almighty straight white male protagonist. Zzz.

    • Patrick McGraw says

      The Walking Dead is interesting but problematic, just as you said. I haven’t seen any of the show yet, but I was a faithful reader of the comic book until shortly after issue 50 (those of you who’ve read it can probably guess what course of events drove me off).

      The comic does become pretty good about prominent women and POC, but Rick Grimes does remain the straight-white-male protagonist throughout. Which is unfortunate, because he quickly proves to be one of the least interesting characters in the series.

      I don’t know how closely the show will follow the comic. It’s by Robert Kirkman, featured in The Living Dead 2. Is his story TWD-related?

      For that matter is Max Brooks’ story related to World War Z? WWZ is easily the best zombie story I’ve ever read, and probably one of the best novels of the past decade. It’s also chock-full of women an POC viewpoint characters.

      • Anne says

        Hah, we commented at the same time!

        WWZ is to date my favorite zombie narrative. I also like David Wellington’s stories he has serialized online, which also feature many PoC and women, though some of them are problematic–I’d put them as a sort of mix of TWD and WWZ.

        As an adamant lover of zombie apocalypse narratives, it bothers me how much zombie culture focuses on white male protagonists. Even my favs center on the white male viewpoint–Zombieland, 28 Days Later, I love the female and PoC characters in those–why can’t we have THEM be the protagonists? As much as I love Cillian Murphy Jim is not as interesting as his female companions. My main girls of Zombieland were leagues cooler than Mark Zuckerberg and 2012’s token wacko conspiracy theorist.

      • says

        ****For that matter is Max Brooks’ story related to World War Z? WWZ is easily the best zombie story I’ve ever read, and probably one of the best novels of the past decade. It’s also chock-full of women an POC viewpoint characters.****

        Max Brooks’ story in Living Dead 2 is decent. It riffs on what would happen to you *really* during a zombie apocalypse? Would you *really* survive? I thought it was kind of clever how he approached it.

        Brooks also has a story in Dark Delicacies 2–and that story IS definitely set in the WWZ universe, in the same style. It’s like a missing chapter of the book.

    • Anne says

      I had the same issue! And I brought it up in another forum I used to frequent, and the guy who was my reason for leaving got all pedantic and was like “you always say things like that, like how you said Supernatural killed off all the PoC and women. It’s TV. Get over it. I’m a straight white male and I see no problem with it, so stop bitching. Also, I am going to lecture you on film crit and theory and writing even though I know you graduated with two degrees in film (summa cun laude, with distinction…so it’s not like I don’t have the crit cred.).” I pointed out how sexist the protagonist was in that opening scene in the car with his partner, when he says “the difference between men and women” is that women (his wife) insulted him in front of their child, and men would NEVER do that. Shame on all women, because this one was mean (or so says the protagonist–we don’t actually get her side of that story). The guy at the forum told me he;s not sexist because “gay men and women make generalizations like that all the time.”

      I would go back and point out to this guy he’s kind of Missing The Point, and that were the protagonist a woman claiming all men are something bad because my husband is I would be offended as well (but would be so okay with it if it meant actually getting a female protagonist for once…) and that if he were as film-savvy as he thinks he is he’d disagree with me less on the blatant filmic sexism I point out.

      Gah. Whenever I criticize film at that forum, he is ALWAYS there to jump at me and imply that I’m just not knowledgeable enough, and how many screenwriting courses did I take, and how much did my degree focus on narrative writing, and blah blah blah which to me translates to “I know more than you (because I disagree with you and I can’t be wrong) so I am going to undermine your critique by questioning your credentials.”

      Ah! Sorry for the rant. I’ve just REALLY been wanting to discuss Walking Dead with someone from a feminist standpoint, but have no one to do that with.

      *spoilers*

      For example I was irked that the single female character is defined by being a mother to the point that she is prevented from taking the action she wanted to to save a life. The only other female I would consider a “character” is a dead wife/mother. So that’s just…insulting to me. So I have to identify with a sexist moron who alienates me from his world view in his first few lines, and the only women I get are either a mother/wife or a dead mother/wife? GAH!!!! How do white men not see this issue? Men get a multitude of characters to identify with. Actually my anger at the show is building. Maybe I won’t bother to find a way to watch the next episode.

      • Patrick McGraw says

        IF it follows the comic, they will introduce a number of female characters much stronger than Lori. But try not to get attached to anyone. Well, except Rick. Isn’t it “great” that the one character we aren’t at risk of getting attached to is the viewpoint character?

        • Anne says

          The only person I really liked was Lennie James (I think that’s his name, right? Robert Hawkins frm Jericho? He’s one of my favorite actors, I think I should have learned his name by now…). I didn’t care about his son, though. He didn’t have the straight-off-the-bat interesting quality that Robert Hawkins daughter in Jericho had. I much preferred the father-daughter dynamic of that show than the father-son dynamic of this one. In this show he was just a good guy who seemed to have adapted really quick to living amongst the dead–despite grieving for his wife. But thanks for the warning, I’m not too eager to get into a show where I have to root for a guy I already dislike in which all the characters I actually DO like will probably get killed off. Same as LOST, and pretty much an other show in the genres and styles that are my favorites…

          I guess this is why I have absolutely no guilt watching Vampire Diaries and loving it. It’s campy and silly and immature but at least half the cast is strong female characters.

      • The Other Patrick says

        The changes to the second episode weren’t less problematic (compared to the comics). The wife gets to break her marriage vows while at the same time, we see how another survivor falls in love with Rick – who naturally is not in danger of cheating because he’s just more loyal (keep in mind both don’t know whether the other person still lives). That woman, btw., is Andrea, who grows up to become a crack shooter in the comics, and who starts out with a gun here – but she’s useless and hysterical, of course.

        And Rick is the white messiah, barging into a posse of survivors composed of women and poc (and a horrible, horrible caricature of a racist) – all these *survivors* are quickly relegated to the back and Rick saves them despite him being an idiot (if we can go by the first episode at all). Back at camp, the “bad guy” makes the right choice but is not portrayed as such because naturally we must hate this vaguely Latino kind of guy who has sex with the wife of our messiah, and while the men sit at the radio and guard, the women gather mushrooms and cook and get no fucking weapon at all despite this being the zombie apocalypse.

        Seriously, the comic was problematic, at times extremely so, but at least it was tense and tight and seemed to address good survivalist behavior. Instead, it seems the series was changed to give us even more of the White Saviour Rick.

        Seriously, I’ll watch maybe one more episode before I give up, and only because I want to see how they do the reunion: will the wife be the bad guy for the sex? Or not? And how many women will fall in love with Rick? I mean, I don’t think we should hold out for a man falling for him…

        • Anne says

          You’re giving it two episodes more than I am going to. Based on your description I see no need to continue watching! Which is sad. I was really looking forward to a high-end zombie series, and I was hoping since I love Breaking Bad so much AMC would give me another show to sit around for most of the year for. Alas.

          It’s sad when Romero films from the sixties are less insulting.

          I’ll content myself with going and buying these two anthologies and rereading WWZ….

        • Patrick McGraw says

          They had Andrea falling in love with Rick? WTF? Did the producers figure Rick wasn’t sufficiently Alpha Male or something, or that Andrea was too strong and independent.

          Gah. Hate to see what they’re going to do to Tyreese.

      • says

        I ff’d through just about the first 20 minutes of the first show. It was all sexist guy-talk–and then it time-jumped to Rick waking up. That is where, IMO, the story should have started. Hm. I ff’d through a fair amount of the first episode. I have the second one on the DVR but haven’t had a chance to check it out.

      • Stina says

        I am so much with you on TWD. I haven’t read the comics before but only just watched the first episode, and I could literally almost not believe the blatant sexism throughout. Not only do women hardly play any role in it but when they do they seem to need controlling by men as when Lori wants to go and warn people about entering the city. A brave and sensible act, but oh no can’t have that so the good Shane needs to talk some sense into her silly head and remind her of her duties as a mother. And the other woman who is the first at the radio when Rick sends his message and who tries to respond, she is quickly replaced by a man who of course is the one “who is really good with radios.”
        Argh it made me so angry I am seriously considering whether to watch the next episodes or not.

        • Anne says

          Exactly, because it’s so hard to press the button and talk….all he did was talk differently. That means he knows police radio protocol, not that he’s good with radios.

          I am not going to watch more–also partially because I don’t have cable and AMC is awful at being web-user friendly. It’s just not worth the effort.

    • says

      One series that I recommend is R.Frater’s When the World Dies trilogy. It does have problems, however. Without giving anything away, while it features two women, a blond and a Latina, surviving the apocalypse *together* in the first book, they rapidly develop hetero romances, and of course the blond gets a happier ending than the Latina. I only reviewed the first book. That’s here on Hathor. BUT it IS one of the few, the rare, which does feature a female buddy story in this subgenre, or in the horror genre at all. And that’s sad that there aren’t many others.

      • Casey says

        I think I’ll just write a fan-fic about me and my (Latina!) friends surviving the Zombocalypse…also, we’re bi. :P

        God, I’m often SO SUBMERGED in my own original works which are nothing but wacky female buddy adventures that looking out into the real world of the white hetero male media is depressing/startling.

        • The Other Patrick says

          As for sexual orientation, I would refer to prisons and say that sexuality can be very flexible when you and two other people of the same sex might be the last people on earth and you just want closeness and release… you know?

          • Casey says

            Well, we’re already bi IRL, but you make a good point.
            I wish that happened more often to DOOOODZ in fiction though, yanno?

        • Patrick McGraw says

          I know what you mean. My big superhero epic that I’ll start doing as a webcomic once I find an artist? The closest the leads come to the mainstream media ideal are a hetero Ashkenazi Jewish man and a gay white man.

          The screenplay I’m working on right now has one (white hetero) man in it, and he dies in the first act.

          • Anne says

            Hah, looknig back on all the seasons of LOST I wish they’d killed Jack in the first episode like they’d planned…

  5. says

    Thanks for the shoutout for my As The World Dies zombie trilogy. I am still very flattered that you reviewed the first book. The series was picked up by Tor (my originals were self published) and the first one will be released on July 5, 2011. My awesome editor is a feminist and loved the strength of the two lead characters, Jenni and Katie.

    I just want to clarify that the character of Katie Kiel is bisexual, not lesbian, and she states this very clearly. I actually had a chance to speak with actress Kristanna Loken about the character and how Kristanna’s honesty in her interviews helped me understand Katie and shape her character. Because Katie is bisexual, she could have found love with either sex. She does start out mourning her wife and never lets go of that love even when she finally moves on.

    Jenni is Mexi-Irish (and Texan to boot) and as an ethnic woman, I was very proud of her story arc. Her fate was always set in stone from the very beginning and her storyline was my favorite. What happens in her storyline (from the beginning of the book to the end) was hard to write, but fitting for the character. And not because she was half-Latina, but because of what happened to her children and her abusive past. She remains the absolute favorite character of the series and I’m proud of that fact. On the new Tor cover, she stands in front of Katie and that feels fitting.

    I would like to point out that the only lesbian romance in the series, between Bette and Linda (who is being renamed Monica in the Tor versions) was strong and survived a lot of adversity.

    I do still feel to this day that the ultimate “love story” of As The World Dies, is the deep-abiding friendship/sistership between Jenni and Katie.

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