Posted on October 12, 2010 by Billzilla
Let’s get this out of the way first thing; zombies scare me. The mindless violence and relentless, insatiable hunger and lack of pain response of the George Romero-style walking dead creep me the heck out. So when Jim Lowder handed me a copy of The Best of All Flesh at GenCon to review for Flames Rising, I admit I approached it with some trepidation.
The Best of All Flesh is just that; the finest tales collected from Eden Studios’ The Book of All Flesh, The Book of More Flesh, and The Book of Final Flesh, all edited by Mr. Lowder. These in turn were inspired by Eden’s All Flesh Must Be Eaten tabletop roleplaying game.
Starting off with a bang, the first story – “What Comes After” by Kris Dykeman – spins a yarn about a small-town deputy rounding up survivors into a guarded, fenced, safe zone after a zombie outbreak. One lone holdout, a retired schoolteacher, refuses to come in, so Deputy Reade must try one last time to convince his former teacher to go to safety. As it turns out, she has a plan of her own that will chill readers to their very souls.
Robin Laws’ “Susan” is a disturbing tale of a jaded man who seeks new thrills to make him feel alive. He has a friend with connections that can help him find the stimulation he’s looking for, but there’s danger involved, not to mention the price he’ll have to pay for his thrills…
“Familiar Eyes” by Barry Hollander is a heartbreaking tale of a man and the wife he lost. She keeps coming back though, and John keeps hoping that the next time she rises, she’ll be herself again. It hasn’t happened yet, but John keeps hoping, and keeps reburying her secretly in the back yard.
“Trinkets” harkens back to the original zombie myths from the Caribbean. Written by Tobias Buckell, Trinkets is about George Petros, who is compelled to seek out a particular man to show him an artifact – compelled by a vengeful zombie master who has him under her control.
Scott Nicholson’s “Murdermouth” is about a zombie caged and on display in a circus sideshow. Murdermouth is the narrator of his own tale, and he loves most of the people he meets – in the same way that a diner loves his surf and turf platter.
“Sitting with the Dead” is a thoughtful tale by Shane Stewart of a quaint custom developed to deal with the zombie threat; a relative or friend is designated to sit with the dead person to make sure they stay dead, and they’re given a hammer and long nail to drive into the deceased’s head to keep them down. Lyle has been chosen to sit with his dead Grandmother at her request, and frankly, he doesn’t like the way she keeps looking at him with hungry eyes.
Jeremy Zoss injects substantial dose of humor with his story “Electric Jesus and the Living Dead.” It’s a story about a 16 year-old named Lawrence Schwarzenbach who, while trapped in his home, starts hearing a voice coming from a lighted plastic Jesus statue. His mom left for the store and never came back, and now the house is surrounded by zombies, trying to break through the boarded-up windows and doors. Lawrence knows it’s only a matter of time before they find a way in, and the electric Jesus – while full of things to say – isn’t being very helpful.
Budding true love can make anyone blind – that’s the lesson from Jim C. Hines wry tale “Brainburgers and Bile Shakes.” A man is smitten by a young woman who works at ZombieLand amusement park. As they chat and steal a few kisses, they are oblivious to the signs all around them that the zombie infection is running loose in the park.
“Homelands” is an intriguing story written by Lucien Soulban set in China during the Victorian era at the turn of the last century. Having fled from the zombie plague affecting their homeland, Americans are existing in the margins everywhere. Cedric Halston, a former Union officer having found employment in Shanghai as a zombie killer, must deal with the zombie threat, now spreading to the rest of the world. Somehow, zombies have apparently learned to turn invisible, making things very interesting…
Ed Greenwood has crafted an excellent tale of vengeance in “One Last, Little Revenge.” An aged, brilliant toy inventor, after losing his company piece by piece to a ruthless bunch of suits, crafts a scheme that will free him of his overseers and drag their names through the mud. Trouble is, his creations have their own ideas about how things will work from here on out.
In a delightful piece of social satire, Christine Morgan’s “Dawn of the Living Impaired” presents a scenario where some groups latch on to zombies as victims of an unfortunate condition, to be trained and rehabilitated rather than reviled and exterminated. On national television, the zombies show just how well this plan could work.
Most anthologies are something of a mixed bag in terms of quality, but having had several dozen stories from which to assemble this collection, The Best of All Flesh is a high-caliber read from cover to cover. The variety and creativity presented here is noteworthy and exceptional. Not every story of the 23 included in this volume is a priceless gem, but there is certain to be something for nearly every horror or zombie aficionado. And my fear of zombies I mentioned at the beginning? Well, THIS anthology sure won’t make it any better…
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Review by Bill Bodden