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?