A collection of short stories focusing on zombies through the ages, from cave men to the Middle Ages to the Wild West to the invention of the light bulb, zombies seem to have been present through some of the greatest moments in the history of mankind. With contributions from such authors as Johnathon Maberry, David Dunwoody, Jenny Ashford, and James Roy Daley.
Ah, the wonders of the undead throughout time, eating early colonists, destroying the hopes of ancient alchemists to acquire the secrets of immortality, and even bringing the tyranny of Thomas Edison to a crashing halt. Oh come on, like you didn’t know one of histories’ greatest inventors was also one of histories’ most vicious and power hungry animals.
History is Dead is a great collection of short stories based on the history of the ever inventive human race in their constant struggle against the undead, but it has one major downfall: several of the authors didn’t bother to do enough research on the time periods they were writing about. There are quite a few historical inconsistencies in too many of the stories and, for a history buff like myself (what, I‘ve been a member of the living dead for a long, long time, like 10 years), they’re just too numerous for me to ignore. Some of them are minor, true enough, and I think that most people will probably be able to look the other way, so, at least for this complaint, I’m going to have to leave it up to the reader to decide if it’s worth their time, but there was one historical accuracy that was subtle and present in nearly every story…the word “Zombie” itself.
Zombie is actually a fairly new term, well new within the last hundred and fifty years or so; it actually from a bastardization of the word Zombi, which itself is another name for the ancient African god Iwa Damballah Wedo, a sort of snake god responsible for life and death. The term was next used with the invention of Voodoo (originally pronounced Vodun after the age old African religion), a combination of African beliefs and Catholicism that flourished in Haiti. In Voodoo (a thing that was investigated extensively between the early 1920’s and late 1980’s by those interested in the what they mistakenly believed was the newest religious craze), a Zombi (correct spelling) is one who has been resurrected from the dead to be the slave of a Bokor, or a warlock. The first real zombie story (in this humble reviewer’s opinion) is H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator, though not the very first of the zombie story, it was definitely a huge step forward in zombie mythology. This is followed by a few more stories and a few good zombie movies (most notably would of course be Bella Lugosi’s White Zombie), but it will not be until the 1960’s when the zombie story really gets its push along the path to greatness with the release of one of the genre’s most influential movies Night of the Living Dead (originally entitled Night of the Flesh Eaters). It’s here that zombies as we know them (flesh eating dead people devouring the world as they go along instead of mindless slaves fit only for plantation duty) truly begins. So what does this absolutely unnecessary and completely self-indulgent history lesson have to do with this book? Simple, you really won’t find the term zombie in this collection; most of them come up with their own unique names for the undead if not just calling the walking corpses.
Okay, historical mistakes aside; the short stories aren’t at all bad. In fact, some of them are quite enjoyable and extremely creative. They’re not all great, and a few are just awful. The worst being the story Summer of 1816 by James Roy Daley, a play on the story of the night Mary Shelly dreamed up the idea for Frankenstein. It had great potential but falls far short of it creative goals, and seems to be a disservice on the real story of how she came up with the idea after a bet between a few prominent writers of the time. I’d still probably have to say that there are way more good stories than there are bad.
I’ll give you a little smattering of some of the better contributions to the wide ranging universe that is the zombie genre. The Traveling Show by Douglas Hutcheson is about a sinister carnival and the punishment visited upon a religious community when they decide to strike out against something they consider evil. The Loaned Ranger by John Peel is a play on the story of The Lone Ranger, only this time around the mysterious masked cowboy happens to be a member of the living dead thanks to some ancient Native American magic. The Third Option by Derek Gun ponders the question of what if zombies decided that they had the same rights as every other American. My personal favorite, a story that kept me in stitches the entire time I was reading it was Pegleg and Paddy Save the World by Johnathan Maberry. In it, our two main characters, Pegleg and Paddy (a couple of bootleggers with a drinking problem), must deal with a glowing green rock that has the power to reanimate the dead.
All in all, I’d say this book is probably a lot better than it is worse. Yes, I have some major problems with the lack of period research, but I still enjoyed reading a majority of the stories. If you’re looking for a good set of zombie short stories and you can’t find anything you like, than I would definitely check this one out, but if misplaced historical facts are going to bug you more than a free America bothers Dick Cheney, than I wouldn’t come close to this one. We don’t need another book burning session anytime soon.
The Undead Review
Published By: Permuted Press
Edited By: Kim Paffenroth