Featuring J Tanner, Sarina Dorie, Gitte Christensen, Mark Charke, Kurt Bachard, EM MacCullum, Karissa B Sluss, Marilag Angway, Matthew D Johnson, Brian Rosenberger, Jonathan Templar, Dawn Lyons, Matthew Smallwood, Aurelio Rico Lopez III, and Julie Dawson; horror (2012)
Bards And Sages Publishing, $2.99, ISBN N/A
I bet nobody can tell from the title that Return Of The Dead Men (And Women) Walking is a follow-up to Dead Men (And Women) Walking. This is an anthology featuring horror and fantasy tales that involve dead people that come back to life for some reason or another. Zombies aren't the only walking dead here - there are some vampires and other... things... here and there too. While some stories doesn't shy away from violent or disturbing moments, on the whole the gore level here isn't too extreme.
J Tanner starts the show with Bring Me The Head Of Pepe Cortez!, which tells the story of a young fellow during the cowboy days who finds himself escorting a gunslinger on a quest to recover the head of an infamous outlaw, which is now pickled in urine in a jar. Since this story is in this anthology, it's not hard to guess what will happen once these two have the head, heh. This is a readable story for the most part, but it's done too quickly for me to start caring for it.
Sarina Dorie presents Putting The Romance Back In Necromancy, a tale in which two college kids find themselves the only people around that can stop a zombie hoard from running wild. It's set in an alternate world where necromancy is normal. This one is mildly amusing, but I find that the closure of the story is somewhat off. Since this story doesn't have much room for world building, I can only judge the bad guy's antics by the standard of the real world, and there is a disquieting disconnect in how The bad guy gets off way too easily for what he tried to do here.
Gitte Christensen's The Snowy River Feral could have been grand. It's the story of how, in the 1930s, Australia is overrun by vampires and our hero, Bruce McMahon, is a Nightman - a vampire slayer of sorts. He and his entourage (his wife and his two nieces) square off against a bunch of vampires, and things look like they are getting really good... and then the story ends and I'm left feeling high and dry.
Mark Charke's When The Rain Stops is heartbreaking to read. In the world of this story, people have the option of transforming the dying into zombies or vampires once the dying's time is up. Marty, a young boy, is dying. His family can't afford the vampire serum, so it's zombie all the way for him. And we're talking about the traditional version of zombies - those unfeeling sorts that are usually charged by their owners to perform manual labor. He doesn't want to become a zombie, but the choice isn't his to make... or is it? This one is a brutally heartwrenching read, although a part of me wonders why anyone would even think it's a "loving" gesture to turn anyone into a vampire or a zombie. The pretty blatant pro-euthanasia message here may put some people off, but me, the last stories have been pretty forgettable so I welcome one that makes me feel something.
Kurt Bachard's Duppy features zombies typically associated with voodoo instead of George Romero, and it has a charming exploitative feel of B-grade movies of yore, as a zombie, "duppy", falls in lust with a girl and decides to have her despite the fact that he's, you know, dead and decaying. Still, I end up feeling that this story presents a disproportionate sense of retribution on a girl whose only crime is to be greedy enough to want a man wealthy enough to lift her out of her dead end life. For that, does she deserve her fate in this story? The author seems to think so, and ends the story with a brutal scene of cruelty on a hunchbacked and ugly man. Perhaps the author is aiming for "people are monsters" angle, but the message I get is, instead, "he'd have avoided his fate if he had let that bitch die". How cheerful.
EM MacCallum goes all out on the horror route with Tainted, a tale of a young lady captured by a vampire. This one is the first story in the collection so far that makes me go, "Hey, this is pretty good." Too bad it ends too soon.
Karissa B Sluss is next with Deadest In Show. This one makes me sit up and go, "Hey, I want to read more!" A story of in-fighting among necromancers jostling for power during the Annual Southeastern Necromancer's Invitational, this one has necromancers using musical instruments and such to control corpses and make these corpses pound the crap out of one another. There are some very intriguing ideas here, and I'd be in line to get a copy should the author release a follow-up story.
Marilag Angway's The Body In The Water, a creepy tale of zombies and murder in a ship in the middle of nowhere, has some solid atmosphere and tension, but the climatic moment ends too soon and abruptly. File this one under "Is that it? I was hoping to feel it more..."
Matthew D Johnson's For All Your Carpeting Needs gets my vote as the most macabre comedy in this collection, not that there is any other macabre comedy story here to provide any decent competition. A couple in a suburban area buy a carpet one day and discover that the carpet comes with a "free" corpse. What they do with it leads to some dark comedic moments. I really like this one. It is solid all around and ends on the perfect note.
Brian Rosenberger's The Baby combines every "people are monsters" and "priests are all crackpot deviant cult leaders" cliché associated with religious nutcases and set them in a post-zombie apocalypse setting. The result is pretty predictable but still readable, but like many stories in this anthology, it ends prematurely, without making much of an impact.
Jonathan Templar is responsible for most of the gore in this anthology - his Fixing Nancy is gorgeously disgusting and I love every minute of it. Mad scientists, desperate victims, and a steampunk setting come together to make this a brilliant bloody tale.
In Sacrifices, Dawn Lyons tells the story of a tour guide of Hollywood Boulevard and a group of soldiers who just came back from Afghanistan to see the sights. Only, these "tourists" are dead, and they want one day of fun before they are shipped out for cremation. This one is a comedy, but it's more light-hearted and less macabre than Matthew D Johnson's story. This is a fun tale, and the author ends the story very nicely on a more bittersweet note that adds considerable poignancy to the anti-war message of the story.
Matthew Smallwood's The Heart Of The Storm starts out like a typical date story between two young people, only to transform into a darker tale of the hungry dead. The transition is very well done and this is easily one of the better stories in this anthology.
Aurelio Rico Lopez III serves up Three Strikes, and I can't describe this story without spoiling it. All I can say is that, I guess, it would make more impact if I hadn't seen similar scenes in way too many zombie movies.
Finally, Julie Ann Dawson closes the anthology with The Horror In The Attic. The story is exactly what it says in the title. Like too many stories that came before it, this one quickly hits its stride, but ends just when things are really getting good. Oh well, I'm used to such disappointment by now.
All things considered, while there are no true duds here, the phrase "over too soon" describes way too many of the stories. There are many interesting ideas here, but not enough meat, which only adds to the disappointment.
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