Sunday, December 28, 2008

#1--History is Dead, edited by Kim Paffenroth

My interest in small and micro presses grew slowly. After all, I started out buying all of my books at the annual Friends of the Library Sale (back when paperbacks were $0.10, hardbacks were $0.25, and magazines only $0.05). I graduated up to occasionally getting to splurge at a used bookstore. I think the turning point was when I started working full time and discovered that I passed the largest local independent bookstore on the way home. I had my own money and temptation right along my path!

Add in a little guilt over knowing that the authors don't make a cent off of used books (and as I started attending more and more conventions, I started meeting more and more of the people behind the books I was reading), and I moved to almost always buying every book new.

And finally, thanks to those conventions, I started meeting some of the people behind some small and micro presses that don't usually make their way into the big box stores.

It can be a bitch and a half to really break into the big presses, and there are so many people scrambling at the doors that it's no surprise that some amazing work never makes it through the slush pile. Likewise, there's a lot of good stuff out there that the big publishing houses won't touch--the reasons are myriad, and some of them are a real shame.

Luckily, you've got places like Permuted Press to find the gems and let them out into the world. And with places like Amazon, you can even find them without having to hope they'll turn up at a convention or lurking on the shelves of an indie bookseller.

Which brings me to my first entry: History is Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Kim Paffenroth. The premise is simple enough: the living dead have been among humans since the beginning of time. The stories are presented more or less in chronological order, and many of them touch on zombies somehow touching on human history, directly or indirectly.

Like any anthology, it can be a little hit and miss. This came out strong with the first story, "This Reluctant Prometheus," by David Dunwoody. This brief tale of zombie cavemen was surprisingly satisfying, and was even more so after I took the title into account and ran over the mythological exploits of Prometheus.

I likewise very much enjoyed "The Barrow Maid," by Christine Morgan. I love a story with a strong female lead, and what's more, I really appreciate it when an author manages to take into account the time and place when making said female lead--a strong character in the ancient world cannot get away with the same behaviors as one in the modern world, just like you would not expect someone in feudal Japan to behave the same as someone in Renaissance France.

The stories touched on prehistory, ancient Japan, the Vikings, the Black Death, Victorian England, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the American West, and more. How the dead came to walk varied in every story--from mysterious origins to pathogens to curses and magic and more. Zombies met with Mary Shelley, Monet, Jack the Ripper, and even Thomas Edison. Some were good, some were great, and a few made me roll my eyes.

"Pegleg and Paddy Save the World," by Johnathan Maberry, touching on the great Chicago fire, made me laugh, as did "Theatre is Dead," by Raoul Wainscoting. How could you not enjoy a story with an insufferable Shakespeare on the opening night of his new play, specially designed to help educate the populace on how best to deal with the "postvitals" popping up in the streets? The leading man dying on stage (before his cue, the bastard) was only the beginning of the fun.

"The Moribund Room," by Carole Lanham and "Junebug" by Rebecca Brock both left me with chills. Even the weaker stories didn't feel like a waste of my time. All in all, History is Dead proved to be a worthwhile and enjoyable read, and it's definitely going to be filed on my 'why I'm glad I buy from indie presses' shelf.

Up next: World War Z.

The Cannonball Read

I've decided to throw my hat in the ring, and joining up right at the end of the year seems like as good a time as any.

After the disaster that was NaNoWriMo this year (I finished with exactly 50,000 words, but every single one of them was worthless this time), I'm more than ready to kick back and enjoy the work of others instead of cranking out more of my own.

And what better way to detox than with zombie fiction?