Wednesday, May 6, 2009

History Is Dead edited by Kim Paffenroth (zombie historical fiction)

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form in the Spring 2008 issue of Dead Reckonings. Copyright 2008.

Kim Paffenroth is a theologian and a zombie aficionado whose work also includes Gospel of the Living Dead (which won the Bram Stoker Award for nonfiction) and two novels, Dying to Live and its sequel. Wearing the editor's hat this time around, Paffenroth combines the living dead with an entirely different academic discipline to compile a consistently impressive parade of the undead throughout time. Presented in chronological order, the 20 tales in History Is Dead provide individual historical snapshots spanning from prehistory to the close of the 19th century.

Though largely written by up-and-comers (with three authors published for the first time), the quality of the stories in History Is Dead is remarkably high, especially for a micropress anthology. None are truly awful; the worst are merely ineffective. For example, Derek Gunn’s and Joe McKinney’s stories stop just when they get interesting.

The best entries work by combining the expected elements of horror with humor and heart. Among the highlights is the debut of Raoul Wainscoting, as a scourge of "postvitals" invades opening day at the Globe Theatre. Also worth singling out is Jenny Ashford’s story about a vengeful father and a son with his own idea of duty, from which both Rembrandt and posterity benefit.

Leila Eadie deposits an outbreak of the "sickness" into Regency society and juxtaposes the priorities of the time with the actions necessary for survival: to wit, the heroine’s father’s lament that her firearm skills leave her little chance of finding a husband. Rebecca Brock employs well-worn Southern-fiction tropes in a moving story of another woman and her father during Restoration. John Peel cleverly twists the myths surrounding the Lone Ranger with genuine wit, and his story is the most purely fun.

But all of the stories possess considerable intelligence and commendable detail, with their respective periods presented with authenticity. With its fascinating "what if" scenarios that allow for a wide range of speculation, History Is Dead offers a highly coherent anthology-reading experience ... and a cover disturbing enough to be brought out when houseguests overstay their welcome.

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