Friday, December 23, 2011
The Dead That Walk (2009)
Somewhat surprisingly, this was the first time I read several of the better known authors. I had never read anything by Richard Matheson, Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, and Harlan Ellison®, but had seen material from each developed into feature films. I hadn't read any Stephen King since Night Shift (1978) and Skeleton Crew (1985) were passed around at Boy Scouts camping trips; I do think I read over half of each as a means of killing time. Similarly, I had not read any Robert E. Howard since 1990, and that was just the first two Conan stories. I ended up reading this book because I was curious how Stephen Woodworth would handle something outside his Violets series (discussed here). Unfortunately, Woodworth's ambitious tale of Nixon coming back from the dead feels both rushed and without a proper set-up. While not the worst piece in the collection, it certainly will never be considered a "classic" example of genre writing.
® writes what is essentially a short bit suitable for The Twilight Zone (1959-64; 1985-89; 2002-03) or The Outer Limits (1963-65; 1995-2002) with "Sensible City", but it is all set-up and clever twist with no meat in the middle to make it worthwhile. But there is no explanation as to why there are flesh-hungry monsters in that story, which doesn't work in so brief a format; there shouldn't be more questions from the reveal than the set-up. Ellison® takes a rather light tone, and his comedy works better than Nancy Holder's in "Zombonia". The latter feels like a very brief waste of time.
Most of the stories take place well away from the lights and safety of civilization, bringing the classic feel of horror in the remoteness and lack of ability to appeal for help of any kind. While I am sure that part of what led Romero to place Night of the Living Dead (1968) in a farmhouse was budgetary concerns, there has not been much in the way – that I have seen or read – depicting the zombie uprising in the heart of the city. The urban tales in The Dead that Walk take place during the shooting of a zombie movie (Joe Hill's "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead") or in the strange, alien atmosphere of late Cold War Moscow under siege by the walking dead (Kim Newman's "Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue").
Given how much literature and (arguably) quality non-fiction I have stacked up waiting to be read, it may have been a little irresponsible of me to take a week to read the 24 short stories in The Dead that Walk. Sure there were some I could have done without. H.P. Lovecraft's "Cool Air" feels so antiquated that I found it chore to work my way through it (it also does feel like it is a copy of a much more famous story, regardless of where Lovecraft claims to have gained his inspiration). Brian Keene's "Midnight at the Body Farm" seems to be missing connective sentences, making the extraordinarily short story disjointed in its flow. Gary McMahon's "Dead to the World" lacks the sense of desperation and loss that would give it the tone the author is clearly trying to set, and it ends up feeling like a zombified take on Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006) without any of the prose, pacing, or examination of humanity. The worst in the book is Scott Edelman's "Tell Me Like You Done Before", it being an unfortunate appropriation of characters created by a much better author (in a story that is somewhat beloved).
If I were really into zombies, I would probably consider picking up this book. I'm sure dedicated fans wouldn't mind putting out $14.95 (or much less now). For me, it allowed me to sample several different authors. Though probably not the best material from any of them, it does explore the genre and the form of the short story. I'd say it was worth reading, but I doubt I would actively encourage people to seek it out.
Complete List of Stories: (Recommended reading is highlighted)
▸ “Where There’s a Will” by Richard Matheson & Richard Christian Matheson (1980)
▸ “For the Good of All” by Yvonne Navarro (2009)
▸ “The Things He Said” by Michael Marshall Smith (2007)
▸ “The Last Resort” by Mark Samuels (2009)
▸ “Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead” by Joe Hill (2005)
▸ “The Crossing of Aldo Ray” by Weston Ochse (2009)
▸ “Obsequy” by David J. Schow ((2006)
▸ “Zombonia” by Nancy Holder (2009)
▸ “Cool Air” by H.P. Lovecraft (1928)
▸ “Call First” by Ramsey Campbell (1975)
▸ “Joe and Abel in the Field of Rest” by Lisa Morton (2009)
▸ “Midnight at the Body Farm” by Brian Keene (2007)
▸ “Dead to the World” by Gary McMahon (2009)
▸ “The Long Dead Day” by Joe R. Lansdale (2007)
▸ “A Call to Temple” by Kelly Dunn (2009)
▸ “Haeckel’s Tale” by Clive Barker (2005)
▸ “The Rulebook” by Christopher Fowler (2009)
▸ “Black Canaan” by Robert E. Howard (1936)
▸ “The Silent Majority” by Stephen Woodworth (2009)
▸ “Sensible City” by Harlan Ellison® (1994)
▸ “Granny’s Grinning” by Robert Shearman (2009)
▸ “Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue or: Children of Marx and Coca Cola” by Kim Newman (1999)
▸ “Tell Me Like You Done Before” by Scott Edelman (2009)
▸ “Home Delivery” by Stephen King (1989)