REVIEW: Tangent Online: “As good (if not better) than its predecessor.”

“In the new anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, The Living Dead 2, a collection of 40-odd short stories (most of them brand-new for this volume) zombie fiction has come back with a vengeance. The Living Dead 2 explores the world after zombies, not in terms of the violent stand-off between living and dead (though that is present) but rather the mental and emotional toll of living post-apocalypse, when survivors no longer fight just for their lives, but also for their humanity. Every story in the collection handles this theme in different ways, some with humor, others so dark that they will haunt you for a while, but all are well worth the time…there’s forty-[four] excellent stories here, each with a unique voice and tone. … The Living Dead 2 is a rare sequel, in that it is just as good (if not better) than its predecessor. Funny, with action and sadness and grief, the anthology contains all the reasons people are not zombies, and all the reasons we fight against the hordes.”

Read the rest at Tangent Online.

INTERVIEW: Steven Popkes, author of “The Crocodiles”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“The Crocodiles” is about zombies in Nazi Germany, how they were deployed and how they were used and how they got out of control.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

It was my son Ben’s idea. Zombies and Nazis are everywhere today. Ben is a big Hellboy fan (hence, the Nazis). One day Ben came up to me and said: Nazi Zombies! How cool is that? Using concentration camp victims as subjects was my original contribution.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

It was. I have this terrible urge to put things in the real world. In this case, it was how to thread the zombies through World War II, when they would have change the nature of the war, when they would have been deployed, etc. Fitting the zombies into Germany realistically was mechanically hard. But it was also metaphorically difficult. The connection of the “living dead” to what Nazi ideology did to its adherents is an obvious one. One problem was not to preach about it and just let the characters speak for themselves.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

It took a while to get a particular “take” on the story. I have worked in an military lab with engineers who designed weapons of violent and miserable destruction. My father worked in such labs much of his life. These were wholesome, interesting people who happened to be instrumental in designing or supporting weapons that would end life on the planet. They were cheerful, good people, nice to their kids, members of the PTA, tutoring poor children. I find this dichotomy very interesting. Most scientists and engineers are not Oppenheimers who agonize about what they do. They are people working towards a goal. Teller was such a person. Von Braun was such a person. My father was such a person. That their goal is building a device of unimaginable destruction is beside the point. That was the personality I was trying to capture.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

The biggest part of the research was getting the details of WWII right. Making sure the dates matched. I had a great deal of help from a friend, William Aldrich, who is much more knowledgeable than I. The physiology of the zombies I worked out on my own though I had a bit of heart burn for some of the scientific devices and when viruses were discovered.

What is the appeal of zombie fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

I don’t know about general appeal. I can only say about my own. I don’t care much for traditional zombie fiction since there are only so many changes one can ring on George Romero’s work–it seems a significant amount of zombie fiction (like vampire fiction) has been “commoditized.” There should be a contents placard on the side of the book: contains 80% of the daily requirement of zombie fiction.

For me, the interesting idea of zombies is their transformation, from living to dead to “living,” when someone you know is changed into someone or some thing you don’t.  The change of the zombies forces an analogous change on the person confronting the zombie. This had been a human being, now it is a thing that merely looks like a human being. This brought it into an area I was interested in. This is your nice German engineer. This is your nice German engineer under Nazism. The German engineer turning concentration camp victims into zombies isn’t so different from your nice German engineer using a dying slave labor force to build V1s and V2s. Calling him evil is just a convenient name to put on him so we don’t have to understand him.

Zombies aren’t interesting. People interacting with zombies are.

What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

In my opinion, the best work on zombies has been in film. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, of course. Zombieland more recently.

But there has been some very interesting short fiction I’ve seen about people who are living dead but outside of the normal label of “zombie.” And, of course, there’s World War Z. As I said, zombies aren’t interesting; people interacting with them are.

I think a lot of the better zombie fiction is playing against type, satirizing or extending the concept. Let’s face it, pretty much everything you can say about the original zombie  concept was explored in Romero’s first zombie movie. Once you have that down, there’s not much more to be said.

The interesting material takes the original idea and responds to it or reconsiders it. Probably one of the better treatments of this was the reimagining of Shadowman, in Acclaim Comics. Shadowman brings zombies back to their voodoo roots and made it interesting.

INTERVIEW: Catherine MacLeod, Author of “Zombie Season”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

It’s about a small-town zombie hunter who understands his prey too well.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I found the guidelines for Bits of the Dead” by accident, and couldn’t pass up a chance to do some flash fiction. I’ll try my hand at any length, but I especially like writing flash. Also, my friend Kevin Cockle dared me.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Keeping it under 500 words was a challenge, but I enjoy editing.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I live in a village with a kind undertaker and well-tended cemeteries. We put perpetual care on our family graves and take good care of our dead. But I guess if they came back there’d be no point in saying, “How could you try to eat us after all we’ve done for you?”

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

Not much, to be honest. I don’t know if embalming fluid actually burns.

What is the appeal of zombie fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

I’d never written it before “Zombie Season.” But Kevin is a huge fan–he’s written a lot of zombie fiction–and he got me hooked. Maybe film-goers like it so much because it’s the ultimate “Us against Them.”

What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

My favorite zombie story is “Death and Suffrage” by Dale Bailey, because he just wrote the hell out of it. I also like Stephen King’s “Home Delivery,” and the novel Night of the Living Dead. I tried to watch the movie, but spent so much time with my hands over my face I can’t honestly say I’ve seen it.

INTERVIEW: Seth Lindberg, author of “Twenty-Three Snapshots of San Francisco”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“23 Snapshots of San Francisco” is a story told after civilization has been destroyed, 23 pictures from a roll of 24 that document one young and perfectly normal man’s experiences watching his world crash around him.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I’d read an article on memory–how we don’t actually remember many full memories, just “snapshots,” enough pertinent details and our mind and imagination logically puts them together.  A part of me wanted to find a way to show that. I took ideas liberally from Bruce Sterling’s “20 Evocations,” and I wanted use that style, but wasn’t sure how, and wanted to use it in a completely different way. A viewing of Hiroshige’s “100 views of Edo” did the rest–I was struck by how fantastic it all was to me, but how most of the people depicted looked like they were going about their normal lives.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

I have pretty bad writer’s block, but this one practically wrote itself. But my first draft had just the 23 snapshots and no frame of reference. I really struggled to find a way to frame it that didn’t seem corny. I still hope I succeeded.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I’ve never gotten much fan mail from anything I’ve written. But this one did. While it was out almost once a week some stranger would email me telling me how the story affected them, often sharing very personal details of their stories and tragedies.  I’m a bit humbled by that. The story means a lot to me for that reason. I may never write or do anything that affects people the way this story did at that time.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

Embarrassingly little, besides what I mentioned above. I guess sometimes you don’t realize you’ve been researching a story until halfway through writing it.

What is the appeal of zombie fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

Aw, what doesn’t appeal about zombie fiction? At our most escapist it’s a romp, blasting away at mindless creatures after our brains, at our most fearful it’s about our entire modern life being turned against us or rendered useless to us. There is something terrifying and awful people we know or just see on the street turning into something that hungers for our death.

In many ways, I think, it’s a commentary on the faceless nature of cities and the people who inhabit them. All those people you see at the bus stop or the train station or walking on the street. You scan their faces to see if you recognize them or if they look like they might recognize you, and you see them watching you and then just looking away.

What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

I have a soft spot for Max Brooks’ World War Z and the Brian Keene’s  The Rising as novels, both for the unusual formats they take and the empathy they have with their characters.  As short stories go, Steve Eller’s “Consumption” and Michael Swanwick’s “The Dead” are way, way up there.

INTERVIEW: Scott Edelman, author of “The Human Race”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

After a young woman’s relatives are killed in a terrorist bombing, she must travel London to deal with the aftermath.  The carnage leaves her so distraught she considers suicide, but once the dead start to coming back to life, her plans change drastically.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I can’t remember when I first heard that a question a writer must ask himself or herself about a story is, “Who hurts?,” but that’s always a question I’ve asked when pulling a tale together and figuring out my viewpoint character.  And so as I approached writing this zombie story, I tried to think, not just of those whose lives would be adversely impacted in general by a zombie uprising, but someone whose life choices would immediately and very specifically change.  So I arrived at–what if someone wanted to commit suicide, but could no longer do so, because she knew she’d immediately return?  She no longer has the option of opting out of life.   What does she do now?  How does she feel about this?  Why did she want to die in the first place?  Everything else grew out of these questions.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

The most challenging aspect of this story was the timing of its creation. Due to a deadline, the first and second drafts were written on my Sidekick II on the way to, at, and on the way back from a Worldcon.  There were times when I sat on a couch in the lounge surrounded by Hugos and fanzines tapping away with my thumbs, knowing I had only a week to pull this one off.  So the challenges of this one weren’t artistic–they were all about staying away from the parties so I had enough brain to complete it. And when completing a zombie story, brain is always important!

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

Even though I agree that all stories are personal, I can’t point at anything specific here, I’m afraid.  The way this story is personal in that Paula is me, as all of my characters are me.  The only way I can bring a character to life is by slipping into his or her skin, letting those parts of me that are the character come out. As the saying goes,  “I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.”

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I lived.

What is the appeal of zombie fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

The zombie is a universal conceit.  It is a trope capable of addressing every facet of human behavior.  There is no metaphor the zombie cannot inhabit, and believe me, I’m not done with them.

What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

My favorite zombie story is Adam-Troy Castro’s “Dead Like Me,” which was published in The Living Dead. In it, a man must pass for one of the walking dead in order to keep living, which means he must sacrifice everything that makes life worth living. A heartbreaking, brilliantly executed story.