[Book Review] 21st Century Dead Lurches into Bookstores

Christopher Golden is on a roll. The editor of 2010’s much-beloved zombie anthology The New Dead––as well as last year‘s The Monster’s Corner––is doubling-down on zombie action with 21st Century Dead, one of the most highly anticipated horror collections of the year. Golden has compiled an impressive cast list of authors for this one, including John Skipp, Brian Keene, Caitlin Kittredge, and even a couple of folks from the television industry, like Amber Benson from Buffy, and Kurt Sutter, the creator of Sons of Anarchy. These 19 never-before-published zombie stories are penned by a fascinatingly diverse array of top-shelf talent not commonly seen in today’s horror anthologies. 21st Century Dead hit American bookstores yesterday. Read on for the full review.

When 21st Century Dead first arrived in the mail, my eyes bulged at the eclectic list of authors on the cover. Chelsea Cain! If you haven’t read Heartsick, you should. It fucking rocks, and FX just picked up the rights as a TV series. Hey look, there’s Orson Scott Card! I haven’t dug his recent stuff, but he wrote Ender’s Game, so he gets a lifetime pass, I guess. Hey, didn’t Kurt Sutter created Sons of Anarchy? And he contributed a story? Fuckin’ A….And oh my God, it’s Dan Chaon, currently my favorite writer on the entire planet. He dabbles in zombie stories?

And on and on. It really is an amazing line-up of writers, and I don’t know how Golden manages to work this kind of magic. 21st Century Dead ranks as one of the strongest anthologies in recent memory, a literary smorgasbord of rotting, undead excellence.

Despite the multitude of stand-out tales included, I managed to settle on a few favorites.

Biters, by Mark Morris

Morris’ wry little number concerns a research facility that places zombie infants with teen girls in an attempt to collect enough information to develop a cure. (It’s sort of like a new pregnant mother practicing with one of those RealCare Baby dolls, except the undead infant is arguably less creepy.) What starts as a morbidly interesting depiction of questionable research practices slowly evolves into a touching story of redemption. Undead redemption, that is.

Reality Bites, by S.G. Brown

After the zombie apocalypse, television studios are on the hunt for new zombie reality programming. Zombie Fear Factor and Dancing With the Undead just aren’t cutting it anymore. As the studio execs grow weary of endless retreads and reboots, one man believes he’s got his hands on the next big thing. Easily the funniest story of the lot, Brown’s scathing satire of reality television would make you laugh out loud if it weren’t so frighteningly plausible. “They don’t want clever and smart,” says one studio exec. “That’s why shows like Arrested Zombie Development get canceled.”

All The Comforts of Home: A Beacon Story, by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow

You all know John Skipp as the granddaddy of splatterpunk, and if you don’t know Cody Goodfellow….well, you should. The frequent co-writers again combine superpowers for this effort, about a man struggling to protect his family after the zombie apocalypse. Set in a military-secured hotel in San Francisco, the tasty narrative has the lingering smoky notes of Romero’s Land of the Dead, but Skipp and Goodfellow give the story a flavor all its own.

How We Escaped Our Certain Fate, by Dan Chaon

Dan Chaon is the author of the recent anthology Stay Awake, which I considered reviewing for B-D, but ultimately didn’t. Why? Because––despite the fact that a few of the tales rank among the most haunting I’ve ever read––Stay Awake can’t really be classified as horror. Still, Chaon manages to combine emotions such as despair, melancholy, and foreboding in a way that is genuinely creepy and utterly relatable. This story is no exception, as a single father copes with the repeated return of his undead wife, and attempts to hide her visits from his teenage son. It’s a tale steeped in the sadness of inevitability.

Official Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Skulls

Front Cover, 21st Century Dead

  • BabyJaneHudson

    Great to hear that even after the glut of zombie content in the last few years that there is still enough fresh, quality content to put together such an anthology. I look forward to finding myself a copy of this.

  • ThaRealSkratte

    Ryan……Dan Chaon

  • Ryan Daley

    Dammit….thanks for the heads up, Skratte.