Zombies are among us! They're out to eat our brains... or follow guilty people around... or to be filmed... or influencing elections... or they're just mentioned in passing. There's quite a diversity of the undead in The Living Dead, an anthology of tales about and takes on the walking dead.

There are plenty of stories here about the dead trying to eat the living, be it a survivor wondering if he's the last living person on the planet ("Almost the Last Story by Almost the Last Man") or a porn magazine producer on an island with his undead models ("In Beauty, Like the Night.") These stories are usually good, with each author's personal take on the attacks (such as Stephen King's tale as much about Maine as about the undead), but it's the unexpected versions of zombies that are the most memorable here.

Some of the zombies are part of everyday life, from those used as cheap labor ("Meathouse Man") to ones that walk around people as a sign of guilt ("Followed"). In "Calcutta, Lord of Nerves" Poppy Z. Brite has the zombies as just another part of the Indian cities. "Dead Like Me" is a creepy look at how a human survivor can pretend to be a zombie, while the only zombies in "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead" are those acting in Night of the Living Dead. There are homages-parodies to-of Our Town ("How the Day Runs Down") and Less Than Zero ("Less Than Zombie"). And I'm still trying to figure out what to make of Neil Gaiman's "Bitter Herbs."

This variety makes The Living Dead a cut above the standard zombie fare. There are plenty of chases and killings here, but the original takes on these creatures elevate the stories from variations on a theme to unique creations. The Living Dead is a fascinating look at what authors can do from the seemingly simple starting point that is the zombie.

Overall grade: B+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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