Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: The Undead: Headshot Quartet

Ed. Christina Bivins & Lane Adamson, Permuted Press, 2008

Headshot Quartet is the fourth in a series of zombie-themed anthologies from Permuted Press, a U.S. small-press publisher specialising in apocalyptic and zombie fiction. With this collection of four novellas, regardless of the change in editorship, Permuted Press continues to offer excellent production values and engaging fiction that approaches the zombie phenomenon from fresh perspectives.

‘Million Dollar Money Shot’, by John Sunseri, revolves around a mobster-on-the-run struggling to survive the zombie apocalypse. Teaming up with a jaded working girl and a rather unorthodox priest, our protagonist soon discovers that the undead menace originates not from outer space or some biolab, but from a well-known aquatic Lovecraftian source. The zombie/Mythos mix doesn’t really gel as well as it could, but some very nice writing and above-average characterization raises this story above such drawbacks.

Ryan C. Thomas’ ‘Enemy Unseen’ is, for me, the absolute stand-out story in this collection. In a tale that renders the old-fashioned Voodoo zombie completely terrifying again, Thomas paints a bleak picture of the walking dead being used as tools of terrorism. In a post-9/11 world, the scenario offered here comes across as unsettlingly plausible.

‘Lost Souls’, by David Dunwoody, again assigns the zombie a more traditional role – that of the avenging demon. Here we have a tale in the vein of Evil Dead, with four young folk heading out to a rental shack in the woods for a weekend and there encountering a violent supernatural force. While the story moves a little too fast to generate many genuine chills, it certainly makes up for this by maintaining an atmosphere of relentless horror.

D. L. Snell’s ‘Mortal Gods’ defies any sort of neat summing up. It’s a beautifully literary piece – as one might expect from the author of Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines – that incorporates elements of George Romero, X-Men, The Butterfly Effect and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and blends them to great effect. A fitting tale to end this collection, as the author questions the very nature of reality, and the role of zombies therein.

All in all, this is a great collection, and one which successfully showcases the talents of some of the best current crop of zombie fictioneers. A must-read for horror and zombie fans.

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