I have never had any trouble understanding the fascination with vampires. Despite the myriad mythologies that have been invented over the past few decades, the thousand permutations created by authors hoping to present a fresh take on the material, the fundamentals have remained the same. Vampires are both beautiful and terrible (and aren't we always strangely attracted to people with both of those attributes). The erotic nature of the vampire seduction is unmistakable - the biting, the bleeding, the penetration. And, of course, they live forever. Though we might think better of it once the consequences have been contemplated, who in the world has not wished for immortality, for the chance to cheat death?
But zombies? Not so much. Eating brains, my friends, is not sexy.
And yet in recent years the zombie story has become more and more popular and has evolved from the days of voodoo rituals into big business. The zombie's presence in modern pop culture can probably be attributed largely to George A. Romero, the filmmaker who brought the world Night of the Living Dead in 1968. An entire genre seemed to be born with that film, spreading through various media, most especially books and video games.
My good friend, the ever erudite Stephen R. Bissette (who graces us with a story in this volume), could give you a far more thorough history than I of the various elements that contributed to the development of the popular zombie story, not least of which is the biblical tale of Lazarus. What fascinates me, however, is the twenty-first-century surge in popularity that zombies have encountered.
We live in odd times. Strange days, indeed. Times of torture and deceit and celebrity and constant exposure to the worst the world has to offer, thanks to a media that never tires of feeding our hunger for the horrible.
My favorite work of zombie fiction ever is the poem 'The March of the Dead' by Robert Service. In a way, it set the tone for this new anthology, though it was published long, long ago. Service wrote of the glorious homecoming of victorious soldiers, celebrated by the townspeople as they paraded through the streets . . . only to be followed by the ravaged, horrible, lumbering dead, the soldiers who did not survive the war.
When I set out to edit this anthology, I sought out a wide variety of perspectives on the modern fascination with zombies. I asked questions. Are we so inured to death that we now find it charming? Or - and this was my suspicion - do we embrace these ideas as an indirect way of processing the horror that we feel at the reality of war and torture and death? The films that have covered the war in Iraq, its foundations and its consequences, have by and large been ignored by audiences, and yet during the height of our horror at the developments there, horror films that dealt with parallel subject matter in a setting and genre divorced from reality were hugely successful.
Something to think about, at any rate.
Now, don't start thinking that what you're going to find within these pages will be war stories or political stories. There are military and political elements to a handful of the tales, but I cast the net much wider than that. What I wanted were, in no uncertain terms, tales of death and resurrection. If, in the process, we were able to examine various facets of pop culture's fascination with zombies, all the better.
That also doesn't mean that there are no traditional zombie stories in here. The beauty of having such a wide variety of contributors is that the tales run the gamut from modern warfare to postapocalyptic futures, from love stories to heartbreaking voodoo horrors, from the Bible to Twitter. Within these pages you will find humor and truly unsettling horror, you will find tales of great brevity, and others of epic sprawl. You will even find one that answers my questions about death and resurrection in a manner different from all of the others, by eschewing the resurrection element altogether. And, interestingly enough, I think that one brings us back full circle to the question, and even back to the vampires.
Why are we fascinated by zombies? Perhaps because nothing is so terrifying as death come calling, in whatever form.
Here, then, Zombie.
May 18, 2009