Introduction — John Joseph Adams

Turns out, zombies really don’t want to die.

When Night Shade Books and I put the first The Living Dead anthology together a couple years ago (which I will refer to hereafter as Volume One), we had the sense that zombies would be big, but I don’t think any of us realized just how big they would become.

When the book actually came out in September of 2008, it seemed like the timing was perfect, that we would be hitting right at the crest of the zombie’s popularity. But now it looks like they’ve only become more popular in the intervening period, spreading throughout an unsuspecting population like zombiism itself.

In the last couple years there have been a slew of new zombie entertainments released, across all media. There have been new movies (Quarantine, REC2, Deadgirl, Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead, Dead Snow, Zombie Strippers, Zombieland); video games (Plants vs. Zombies, Dead Rising 2, Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2); and a veritable horde of books (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and its sequel, books from several of the contributors to this anthology, and even a Star Wars zombie novel called Death Troopers). Plus, a film adaptation is in the works for Max Brooks’s World War Z, and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead is being made into a television series.

And all of that’s just off the top of my head—if I wanted to make an extensive list, I’m sure it could be ten times longer. If you were inclined to have zombies in all of your entertainment, I expect you’d have very little trouble finding things to watch, play, or read, all of them chock-full of zombie mayhem.

But since zombies have continued to dominate the popular consciousness—and Volume One was so popular with readers and critics—it was an easy decision to do a second volume of zombie stories; after all, even at 230,000 words, I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to into the first book!

And while it’s obvious that the public can’t get enough of zombies, well, I guess it’s just as obvious neither can I.

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Let’s talk a bit about this anthology in particular, and how it is similar to and different from Volume One.

Volume One was comprised entirely of reprints (except for one original story, by John Langan), but this volume is mostly original with a mix of selected reprints. Twenty-five of the forty-three stories appear for the first time in this anthology.

With the popularity of zombies infecting the pop culture like it has, more writers than ever have been itching to try their hand at a zombie story, so it was not difficult to find writers eager to participate in the book. I asked some of the top names in zombie fiction—Max Brooks (World War Z), Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), David Wellington (Monster Island), Brian Keene (The Rising), and others—along with some bestsellers and rising stars of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields—to write me original stories. And boy did they deliver.

For Volume One, I chose stories that I felt represented the best of the best and together showcased the range of what zombie fiction was capable of. This time around, because my intent was to include the best new stories, I focused on finding the best material that had never previously appeared in a zombie anthology before. So while eighteen of the stories are reprints, there’s a good chance that—even if you’re a hardcore zombie fan—they’ll be entirely new to you.

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To bring this introduction to a close, let’s bring it back to where it started: Why are zombies so appealing?

Since Volume One came out, that’s one of my most frequently asked questions. (It’s kind of a curious question, as if there’s some reason zombies shouldn’t be popular. Do people ask NFL football players why football is so popular?)

I can’t claim to know exactly why it is that people love zombies so much, but there are a number of common theories about their popularity.

Zombies are:

  • an enemy that used to be us, that we can become at any time;
  • a canvas writers can use to comment on almost anything;
  • a morality-free way to fulfill a world-destruction fantasy;
  • a monster that remains scary and cannot be easily romanticized.

I’m sure that’s all part of it, and we could continue to speculate ad nauseam—I’m sure there are dissertations being written on the subject as we speak. But one thing is clear: Zombies aren’t going to be dying off any time soon, and we’d better learn how to live with them.