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Appalachian Undead edited by Eugene Johnson and Jason Sizemore

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Appalachian Undead edited by Eugene Johnson and Jason Sizemore (Apex Publications, copyrighted 2012 but not actually released until 2013) as the name should suggest to you is a themed zombie anthology. “When Granny Comes Marchin’ Home Again” by Elizabeth Massie is the souce story for the novel Desper Hollow and explains how the titular Granny came to meet her maker and then decided she’d rather stay with the rest of her family. Because it stops at a preliminary stage, we get all the wit and none of the rather curious view of the afterlife on display in the novel. This is a success. “Sitting Up With the Dead” by Bev Vincent is an unsentimental take on what it would be like when people recently buried in a small mountain community suddenly start heaving themselves out of the ground. Does there come a point when the reanimation of your mother, father or spouse gets too much to bear? “Company’s Coming” by Ronald Kelly pursues the trend of humanising contact with the undead. This time the zombies get caught up in the bad blood between an elderly black woman and the racist white family that lives in the valley. On this occasion, loneliness and sheer cussedness saves the day. “Repent, Jessie Shimmer!” by Lucy A Snyder demonstrates that zombie stories don’t have to be all doom and gloom as a witch and her familiar run into unexpected difficulties in a swamp. This is wonderful.

“Spoiled” by Paul Moore also succeeds but in a rather different way. The line between life and death is supposed to be uncrossable but, for these purposes, we accept the premise that the dead can reanimate. But this is not sentient life as we know it. Rather it’s a poor simulation. Movement is achieved and there’s a desire. It seems no matter how primitive the organism, hunger remains a motivating force. But there’s nothing that we would characterise as intelligent life. A different way of looking at this would be to see an infection, perhaps in the form of a virus, finding a unique way of replicating itself by using human hosts. Of course, there would always be one or two humans who were naturally immune. Although even the immune might have points of vulnerability. “Black Friday” by Karin Fuller is one of the best explanations for the start of the zombie plague I’ve seen in years. This is one for the conspiracy theorists to get their teeth into as the desire for the bargain is repurposed.

“Calling Death” by Jonathan Maberry is different tack produced by fusing a classic ghost story with zombie mytholgy. This is an elegant piece of spinning as the story thread stretches out into the night. You think it must fail or be snapped, but it beautifully suspends disbelief until you believe the story haunting the mountain to be true. “Times is Tough in Musky Holler” by John Skipp and Dori Miller is a pleasing idea as we confront the possibility of revenge and retribution all rolled up into one tasty morsel to snack on. “The Girl and the Guardian” by Simon McCaffrey plays with the idea of rescue. Of course, nothing on Earth can stand against the undead. Not even MONICA who might try to ride to the rescue in her Volkswagen Bug. It would need someone really special. “On Stagger” by G Cameron Fuller is another delightful joke as the school bully’s true nature is revealed and our hero refuses to back down in what is, for him, a rite of passage. Fortunately, at this critical boys-to-man moment, he can call on his grandfather for advice. That’s the strength of families.

“Long Days to Come” by K Allen Wood is a cut-down version of the story which appears in the chapbook, Mountain Dead. This is much closer to the original Night of the Living Dead model and, consequently, less effective in these more sophisticated times. “Hide and Seek” by Tim Waggoner is a science fiction approach to the origin and invests our creatures with an interesting set of abilities. Although the human hunters are pretty formidable, you can’t always keep a good boy down. “Sleeper” by Tim Lebbon offers us a glimpse into the process of despair. You fight to survive, keeping the flame of hope alive. But then come the challenges and the reversals. How can anyone persist when all about them is falling apart. This is the time we might all wish to cease upon the midnight with no pain. “We take Care of Our Own” by John Everson is a classic example of altruism in our highly charged capitalist world: an employer that has nothing but the interests of its staff at heart. It should be an inspiration to us all.

“Miranda Jo’s Girl” by Steve Rasnic Tem is a genuinely tender story, somewhat unusual for the zombie trope. If a mother’s love isn’t strong enough, then the leaders in the community must step forward. It’s obvious something must be done to help the little girl. “Being in the Shadow” by Maurice Broaddus is the story of a cop who screws up. With his reputation shredded, all he can do is go after the perp responsible, even if it means gong down into Shadow Hollow to get his man. “Almost Heaven” by Michael Paul Gonzalez is another story with a nice sense of humour, blending the inevitable fear of the unknown with a chance for a game of cribbage with some new friends. “Twilight at the Zombie Game Preserve” by S Clayton Rhodes is a nice idea but I’m not wholly convinced by the ending. “Hell’s Hollow” by Michael West continues the note of levity with a Weird West Revival story. It’s strange to think how dependent a town might become on tourism, particularly with Hell as part of its name. “Brother Hollis Gives His Final Sermon” by Gary A Brainbeck thinks about how faith can be tested but, if you believe, truly believe, then you can be saved (for a little while, anyway).

I usually shy away from themed anthologies these days. Over the years, I’ve found too many of them are monotonous — even if not individually, then through the sheer accumulation of variations on the theme in question. Zombies are usually very limited so I confess to approaching this anthology with some degree of trepidation only to be ambushed by some outstanding stories. All credit must go to the editors in dragging originality out of the authors — or having the patience to wait until enough really good stories came in before publishing. I’m therefore in what is to me, a relatively unusual position. The jaded old guy is actually recommending a zombie anthology.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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