Year of the Zombie
Wayne Simmons & David Moody (Eds.)
Back in 2016, publisher Infected Books (set up by author David Moody, writer of many brilliant horror novels, including his latest One Of Us Will Be Dead By Morning) announced that they were going to be undertaking a project called Year of the Zombie. Every month, for a whole year, they would be releasing a zombie-themed novella, each one written by a veteran or rising star in the zombie genre. While I hadn’t come across the work of Mr Moody at the time, when I found reference to the project online, I immediately decided to look at what was being published; the idea of serially publishing novellas to create an eventual anthology of stories sounded like a fantastic idea, and the fact that the first novella to be released was written by Adam Baker (one of my top-three favourite authors) was just the icing on the proverbial cake. I read each novella as they were released throughout 2016, enjoying all of the different takes on the genre that they provided, and some of my earliest book reviews were of some of those titles. I was rather saddened at the end of the year when the project inevitably came to an end, and I eagerly awaited the resulting anthology so that I could have the entire collection together in one book.
Fast forward to early 2018 and the anthology is published in full. Not only does the complete Year of the Zombie have all twelve novellas, it is both available on the Kindle Unlimited programme and priced ridiculously cheaply as an ebook (a mere £2.88 as of this review) for permanent purchase given that it has nearly 500 pages in total. It also has a spiffing new piece of cover art from David Shires which instantly makes it stand out from other titles in the genre: a dark green background, artfully splattered with blood, is partnered with yellow corner edgings and a well-chosen font selection for the title. It’s a professional piece that complements the content of the anthology, and the editing by Simmons and Moody is also top-notch, with no noticeable typos or errors that I could see as I was re-reading it.
Moving onto the stories contained within the collection, the first story (and my personal favourite) is Killchain by Adam Baker. I’m a huge fan of Mr Baker’s work, as I mentioned above, both in terms of the incredibly dark, almost nihilistic approach he takes to the genre, and his very particular style of writing. His writing is of the highest quality, staccato text that mimics the desperate gunfights that punctuate his stories, never wasting a paragraph or even a sentence with extraneous detail. Killchain is no different here, and is also set in the same universe as his other zombie/post-apocalyptic novels. Following a newly-trained CIA agent in war-torn Somalia as she tries to assassinate a rogue scientist, racing against time as the city is swamped by the undead, we’re treated to a fantastically grim and fast-paced story that is worth the price of admission on its own. The second story in the anthology, The Plague Winter by Rich Hawkins, is a wonderfully tense and slow-burning story of a grandfather trying to keep himself and his grandson alive in the aftermath of an undead outbreak; Hawkins is particularly good at using his prose to illustrate just how dead and empty the world would be after such an outbreak, and also does a great job at showing the ever-rising despair that would be felt by survivors picking over the same, small area to try and find food and supplies that would allow them to live. It also has an ending that absolutely tore me to pieces, emotionally.
I also enjoyed Mark Tufo’s offering, Z-Hunt, which is set in the intriguing world where a safari-style reservation has been set up to allow people to hunt the infected that roam the area. There are times when it has a Jurassic Park-air to it, of terrifying creatures safely penned up so that they can be observed (and also hunted, in this case), but Tufo takes it in an entirely different direction – peeling back the layers of how such a park would operate, and the personalities of the people who would operate it, and also those who would actually pay to hunt creatures that, after all, were once exactly like them. And the following story from Gary Slaymaker, Geraint Wyn: Zombie Killer, takes an interesting angle towards the genre that I haven’t really seen before. There has been a zombie outbreak, but after a great deal of fighting it has been relatively well contained, and Slaymaker sets his contribution to the anthology after those battles have been fought. Instead, we follow the titular Geraint (nicknamed Gez) as he and his friends live in a Cardiff that is trying to recover from the outbreak. It’s a fascinating idea, and the author does a fantastic job of envisioning such a universe; it’s the little touches, like the city council turning one of the biggest cemeteries into a public shooting gallery, to raise funds for the city’s defences, that make it such an enjoyable story. Simultaneously, Mr Slaughter also manages to provides some real laughs (not always guaranteed in such a grim and depressing genre) as Gez and his friends are carted off to the countryside in an attempt to go on holiday and get away from the city, which still has issues with the undead.
If you want grim and depressing, however, then Little Monster by James Plumb is able to deliver it in spades, and coming after Geraint Wyn is almost the complete opposite of that story. The story of a family trying to survive through a zombie apocalypse and look after their infected child, it is a heart-breaking and yet deeply engaging story, with Plumb deftly and often subtly drawing out much of the melodrama and emotion that would be involved in such a situation. The decisions that the protagonist, father Gareth, has to make throughout the novella to try and save his family, are often stomach-churning – and yet there were few times when I could find myself (also a father) disagreeing with them. Haunting, and with an ending that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading the story, and the anthology, it is one of the stars of this collection. Moving towards the end of the anthology, Scratch by David Moody is a wonderfully tense and gory tale about a mother and her children trying to survive in an isolated camping area as all hell unfolds and the dead come back to life; doing his usual fantastic work, Mr Moody easily weaves a fast-paced tale of survival against the odds, with a twist in the last few pages that I genuinely wasn’t expecting and yet fits in well with the tone of the novella.
1975 by Sean T. Page is another brilliant story, set in an isolated, claustrophobic bunker in the heart of London, populated by the only known survivors of an outbreak. I haven’t been this disturbed by a piece of fiction in quite some time, particularly Zombie fiction, and I happen to read an awful lot of it. The usual horror in the subgenre comes from the dead themselves – the active horror of being infected and/or eaten, or the passive horror of waiting for the hordes of corpses to breach whatever defences remain. However, without spoiling anything (for this is only a short story) it rapidly becomes clear that the zombies shambling around outside the bunker are the least of the problems for the occupants of the bunker – and indeed they really only make a cameo appearance at the end of the story. Instead, this is an excellent piece of horror that takes a look at the consequences of surviving for a long period of time within an enclosed space, with unreliable colleagues and slowly-dwindling supplies, and how these factors can take their toll on the minds of those within that enclosed space. Mr Page does an excellent job of showing how this process takes place (aided, as the author’s note mysteriously highlights, by his own experiences in living in an underground bunker for a number of days), and the inevitable negative consequences of this isolation.
And finally, fittingly, editors David Moody and Wayne Simmons provide the perfect story to round out the collection; Last Christmas is effectively Die Hard but with zombies, as an office worker tries desperately to survive as the rest of his co-workers at the office Christmas party are turned into zombies. There’s a lot of action, a lot of gore, and often a subtle but wry sense of humour as the novella moves towards its end, and it’s a great way to finish reading the anthology. In conclusion, Year of the Zombie was an impressive and accomplished project by Infected Books, and the anthology that collects together all twelve novellas for the first time is equally impressive. No self-respecting fan of the zombie genre should be without this anthology on their shelves, and I can only hope that we will see a sequel in the not-too distant future.