Looking over a new horror anthology that's out today

Metro Detroit editor Gerald Dean Rice has put together an anthology of horror stories by some of his favorite writers. It’s called Anything But Zombies, and it comes out today. We asked our favorite horror fan, intern Jay Lonski, to take a look at it and tell us what he thought. Here’s his “review.”

In the old days, nerdy fans of sci-fi, superheroes, and horror could at least rest assured that their niche interests were all their own. These days, for better or for worse, the mainstream has been on a co-opting spree. That means it’s up to those niche fans to restore and purify the heavily commercialized genres they love.

That task is best approached via a return to pure, nascent forms, or so argues the editor of Anything But Zombies: A Short Story Anthology, one that asks several authors to reinterpret the B-horror genre. And as appealing as the idea driving this book is, the short stories in Anything But Zombies suffer from the pitfalls you’d expect, though the sheer exuberance of the authors and an infusion of campy energy help keep the reading more engaging than most literature that genuflects to a genre so openly.

This book is clearly for fans of B-horror. It won’t be easy for readers to fill in many of the stories’ narrative gaps without a solid foundation in shlocky scarefests. Too often, these tales lose their coherence, victims of the authors’ overflowing enthusiasm. Jeff Strand’s “The Sentient Cherry Cola That Tried to Destroy the World” demonstrates both extremes: For the initiated, Strand’s playful perversion of tropes will be an adroit send-up of classic monster movies. For the other nine out of 10 readers, the strongly referential humor and broad thematic strokes will fail to register, potentially leaving them with the impression that the story simply isn’t fleshed out enough.

The anthology’s editor, Gerald Dean Rice, makes it clear in the foreword that the stories are presented for that first group, the one steeped in the conventions of horror, so perhaps the challenges many readers will face is a function of the collection’s narrowly selected audience. The high level of fan service is hard to ignore, though. Gory details and scenarios are revealed frequently and abruptly, lacking the gravity that less desensitized readers expect from their acts of violence but absolutely in line with the inflated expectations of horror fanatics.

Of course, there are more than a few moments of truly visceral fan-joy here: Nothing splats quite as satisfyingly as an unambiguous monster. But not every rediscovery of the genre’s past is quite as joyous as that. Horror stories (and especially slasher films) have had a bad habit of espousing fairly juvenile views of sexuality, particularly where female sexuality is concerned. That attitude crops up in a few places in this collection, though it’s difficult to determine exactly what context it’s being referenced in; its casual inclusion could be, as is the case with the treatment of violence, an outgrowth of perceived generic constraints.

Tim Curran’s “Night of the Living Dolls” is one of the few stories in the collection that manages to subvert these expectations instead of holding to them; in his story, the sexual objects themselves metastasize into the primary danger for the protagonists. His absurd, exaggerated approach to the theme of sexuality might not be as nuanced as that of horror classics like Frankenstein (Curran probably didn’t have a legacy like Mary Wollstonecraft’s to lean on), but it’s a nice reminder of the critical potential of the genre.

Ultimately, any given reader’s experience with the book will depend heavily on their personal experience with horror, in all its forms. The anthology is correct in its claim that the stories within contain anything but the popular portrayals of zombies. It is not, however, the anti-zombie manifesto that some potential readers will interpret it as: Fully appreciating Anything but Zombies requires too much time spent indulging in zombies to ever really be that.
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