Editor Otto Penzler has followed up his 2009 vampire anthology with another outstanding collection that is perfect for the Halloween season. Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! brings together over 50 stories from “the broad spectrum and significant history of zombie literature.”
In his introduction, Penzler explains how the creatures have changed over the years from W.B. Seabrook’s stories about re-animated Haitians brought back to life by voodoo in The Magic Island (1929). There appears a bit of contradiction though, as Penzler gives credit to George Romero’s 1968 classic horror film Night of the Living Dead for introducing the concept of the zombies having a “taste for human flesh” but in Arthur Leo Zagat’s “Crawling Madness” (1935), the opening teaser reveals (in all caps) there are “crawling horrors that slithered up from the grey moonlight to feed on human flesh!” But no matter who first invented the creatures’ appetite, Zombies! is filled with marvelous stories.
The book begins in Haiti with Seabrook’s narrator trying to make sense of the “Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields” and ends there in Theodore Roscoe’s “Z is for Zombie” (1937). The order of the stories isn’t in chronological order as demonstrated by the second one being David Riley’s “After Nightfall” (1970), well selected as one of that year’s best horror stories by editor Richard Davis for its creepy nature as it tells of a man making the mistake of dealing with a community’s nighttime visitors.
Not surprisingly, a number of well-known authors grace the pages of this collection. Edgar Allan Poe details “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845) as the narrator attempts to hypnotize a man at the moment of his death. H. P. Lovecraft gets three entries: the “Herbert West – Reanimator” (1922) series that appeared monthly in Grewsome Tales, followed by “Pickman’s Model” (1927), and “The Outsider” (1926) towards the end of the book. Robert Bloch’s “Maternal Instinct,” an interesting choice for a title from the man who created one of the most famous mothers in Psycho, was published posthumously in 2006 and is an amusing tale about the President dealing with a zombie epidemic. Theodore Sturgeon’s “It” (1940) is a plant-based creature whose zombie designation may be questionable but the pleasure the story delivers is not. Robert E. Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell” (1951) is “one of the finest horror stories of [the 20th] century” according to Stephen King, whose “Home Delivery (1989) is included.
There are a few stories written by pairs of authors. “The Song the Zombie Sang” (1970) is a joint venture between Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg about a zombie pianist at the Los Angeles Music Center who wishes to escape from his forced performances. Wife-and-husband team Edith and Ejler Jacobson reveal “Corpses on Parade” (1938) in New York City. Father-and-son team of Richard and Christian Matheson’s “When There’s a Will” (1980) could be set anywhere as the protagonist begins the story in a grave.
Zombies aren’t restricted to horror stories. Michael Marshall Smith’s “Later” (1993) and Guy de Maupassant’s “Was It a Dream?” (1910) are both touching love stories about people unable to let go of a lover. Dale Bailey’s “Death and Sufferage” (2002), for which he won an International Horror Guild Award, is a fantastic piece that plays off the idea of the dead voting, something both political parties in the U.S. accuse each other of doing.
Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! is ideal for horror fans and lovers of good writing. It’s great reading for Halloween and every other day of the year, particularly at night while under the covers.