Christmas of 2009. One of the gifts that I received was a gift card to the local Hasting’s store. This was back when the shop was in a larger location, and featured more books than they do now at their smaller, mall-front location now. And, as you may have guessed, I spent a good majority of that gift card on this massive anthology of zombie tales compiled by splaterpunk author John Skipp.
The thing that differentiates this collection from other standard short story horror collections is, this thing is massive. Not just in physical stature, but also in scope. John Skipp put much effort into compiling this, breaking the stories down into two categories: Zombies of the Old School, and Post Emancipation. The stories under the Zombies of the Old School heading feature stories of zombies that are the dead brought back by magic, science, or…magical science, where the dead don’t want to eat human flesh (mostly) and they have some cognitive reasoning going on. The Post Emancipation section features the zombies most are familiar with, the mindless flesh eating variety that George A. Romero gave us back in 1968, and had been the popular go-to zombie type since.
The authors represented in this collection have selections from the usual suspects I know and love: Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Neil Gaiman, Robert R. McCammon, Max Brooks, and Jack Ketchum, as well as a couple of stories I remember reading in previous collections but enjoyed re-reading them again: “On The Far Side of the Cadillac Desert With Dead Folks” by Joe R. Lansdale, and “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” by Poppy Z. Brite.
What makes this collection one to look into, though, wasn’t the familiar faces contained, but the quality of the ones that I wasn’t familiar with. All of the stories contained are of good quality, and not some hastily slapped-together bunch of new fiction scribbled out to cash in on the resurgence of the popularity of zombies in pop culture. The first couple of stories included were written in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and give a good cross-section of the type of stories to be found in horror and Gothic literature; from the old to more modern styles, there’s not a lame one in the bunch. Which is something, considering there are over 30 stories contained in this tome, not counting the introduction by John Skipp, and two essays at the end.
If you were to only get one collection of zombie stories in your lifetime, I would strongly suggest picking up Zombies: Encounters With The Hungry Dead to keep you up at night.