It didn’t take me long to decide what should be my first review here on Shock Totem, I was sold from the moment I saw the capsule description. “Horror and Erotica. Zombies and Romance. Rigor Amortis.”
After reading this I literally had to sit for a few moments and simply absorb the idea. Writers are supposed to be giant idea factories and if you read a lot of genre material it is easy to feel that there are no really new ideas. There are new twists on old ideas, new ways of looking at old ideas, but it’s easy to get used to pigeonholing; Space Opera, Epic Fantasy, Zombie Apocalypse. Yawn. But Zombie Erotica. I mean, Zombie, the gruesome, rotting dead; and Erotica…the explicit and often graphic depiction of sex.
We’re talking about Zombie Porn and it most certainly is both graphic and explicit, but also so much more. This short-story anthology is packed full of some of the most heartbreaking romance and vicious revenge stories I have read in quite some time. The book is split into four sections, dividing up the stories by theme. The broad themes are romance, revenge, risk and raunch—though this is quite a subjective division as many, or most, of the stories contain more than a single one of these elements. Certainly the best ones in the collection do.
My favorite story in this collection is “Obligate Cannibal,” by Kay T. Holt. It is drawn from the “Risk” category, probably unsurprising in that it downplays the more gruesome aspects of Zombies to provide what is, at its heart, a strange science-fiction romance between the Obligate Cannibal of the title and a partial cyborg. Sounds strange but it honestly works and made for what was the most entertaining story in the collection, eschewing the shock approach that is the heart of some of the other stories.
“Swallow it All,” by Jennifer Brozek, was another notable story, this one in the “Revenge” section. This one was quite short but it managed to provide a truly unlikeable antagonist who has had his wife raised as a zombie. It isn’t made explicit but seems likely that she died after he murdered her. Just enough details are provided about their situation that I couldn’t help but approve when he meets his deserved, and messy, end.
I will mention two other stories now, not because they were necessarily the best in the collection, but because both of them flipped the standard idea on its head somewhat. The first was “Forbidden Feast at the Armageddon Café,” by John Nakamura Remy, in the “Risk” section. This strange story focuses on two zombies eating dinner in the apocalypse café, as one of them wrestles with his conscience as he slips further into temptation, drawn along by his illicit lover. The story focuses on combining the main protagonists internal conflict along with detailed, and inventive, descriptions of each course, whose climax is a bound and struggling human, grabbed while having sex so that his brain is flavoured by both sexual stimulation and fear chemicals.
The other, “Urbanites,” by Pete “Patch” Alberti, in the “Raunch” section, was not among my favorite stories in the collection, but it deserves a mention for two special points. First, I found the concept itself quite interesting. A group of Zombies, acting like young urban professionals, head out clubbing (to an orgy) and plan to swing by “Survivortown” for a quick bite to eat on the way home. It’s light and somewhat self-parodying. The other reason it deserves a mention is for having the funniest first line of any story in the book; of any short story I’ve read in quite some time in fact. “I can’t find my penis,” Mike said. “How am I supposed to go to a fucking orgy if I can’t find my penis?”
I went into this collection looking for something different, something surprising, something I’d never read before. I got it, in spades, and it’s worth a look for the pure novelty of it if nothing else. There are some good and some not-so-good stories, as you expect from any anthology, the writing is solid throughout and every story, with one exception, had at least an interesting idea backing it.
The exception, in this case, was “Second Sunday in September,” by Steven James Scearce, a story about a society girl planning to go ahead with her marriage despite the fact that her fiancé has risen as a zombie. I suspect it was supposed to be witty and perhaps satirical or biting, and it did manage to drum up the atmosphere of a Jane Austinesque setting; however, I found the idea and the execution both somewhat inane.
I recommend this book to lovers of the grotesque and anyone who wants their horrific spiced with something different from the “usual.” A word of warning, however, this is not a book for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. I am neither, yet after reading the sum of this collection I was visited by some very unpleasant dreams drawing on the graphic depictions within this book. You have been warned.