The New Dead Offers 20+ Variations On An Undead Theme

Even if you think the living dead are overexposed, Christopher Golden's short story anthology The New Dead delivers so many iterations of the undead trope that even the most jaded zombie naysayer will be impressed. Can you say "Twitter zombies?"

In the last decade, zombies have overrun Hollywood, the comic book industry, and even Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And for all their libertine, brain-eating proclivities, the portrayal of zombies in pop culture has been oddly conservative. More often than not we're saddled with the shambling, shambolic hordes of George Romero, the diseased sprinters of the 28 Days Later variety, or some combination of the two (see: Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead). The zombies of the 21st century zeitgeist are an egalitarian (if totally undiscerning) lot - they'll swarm your home, eat your children, take five, and do the exact same thing to the neighbors.

The New Dead is both a product of this undead fascination and a response to our culture's monolithic take on the zombie story. The authors serve up an array of reasons for postmortem resurrection (outbreak, voodoo, divine intervention, military meddling), and the characteristics of the zombies change from tale to tale. We get sentient zombies, brainless zombies, rotting zombies, indestructible zombies, hungry zombies, sated zombies, and - in David Liss' "What Maisie Knew" - fuckable zombies.

Indeed, the book's main appeal is this cornucopia of fetid literary tropes, and The New Dead contains some fantastic experiments in worldbuilding. Jonathan Maberry's "Family Business" hilariously details the job market post-zombie apocalypse (the crummiest gig is "Fence Tester"), and Mike Carey of Lucifer fame describes an undead Gordon Gekko type who preserves his body so he can work the global economy 24/7. What's even more astounding is that Carey's tale manages to be touching, despite the fact that it's about a stockbroking zombie who lives in a freezer to prevent putrefaction.

Although the anthology delivers an awesome cultural anthropology of zombies, it lacks instances of truly spooky undead horror. This won't be a problem for some readers (indeed, this reviewer didn't mind). As far as outright scares go, the standout tale is Joe Hill's "Twittering From The Circus Of The Dead" - using Twitter as a storytelling medium may seem gimmicky at first, but Hill delivers some awesomely perverse scares resonant of Rob Zombie meets early Stephen King. Like a decaying zombie, The New Dead is a marvelously durable anthology - even its damaged bits don't prevent it from standing on its own two legs.

The New Dead is available from St. Martin's Press.