Zombie Apocalypse! – a review

December 18, 2010

Anthologies, even themed ones, are usually a mixed bag. This one  created by Stephen Jones is no different.

Zombie Apocalypse! is a definite tip of the hat to H.P. Lovecraft, who is explicitly mentioned in the credits section. The book is basically a continuation of Lovecraft’s – and Bram Stoker in Dracula, for example – fake-documentary, first person style (see The Whisperer in Darkness for a prime Lovecraft example). There are letters, police and doctor reports, Twitter, IM, and SMS logs, blogs and so on. They detail the eponymous zombie apocalypse that starts off in the UK and before long spreads across the world. Sounds great this far, doesn’t it?

I’ll be very blunt with this next comment: a fair few of the 19 authors in this book aren’t very good writers. As always in anthologies, there are some gems in there, a lot of OK stuff, some that are a bit “meh” and then some that are a bit rubbish. Where a lot of these stories fail is subtlety. Whereas Lovecraft and Stoker manage to tell just enough to leave room for the imagination of the reader, many writers in ZA! fail in this respect. I mean that instead of ending, say, a logged phone call with “ummn..are you ok?” they instead end it with “oh my god, you’re really not ok! You’re a zombie! Oh my god, and now you’re taking chunks out of my arm! There’s blood everywhere! Now I understand, this is the way the plague spreads, through bites! Arrrrgh, I’m losing gallons of blood and my intestines are on the floor, and yet I keep on talking on this phone, I don’t even know why! Please, oh god no!” Catch my drift? The same flaw can be seen in another way as well, as the writers often pretty heavy handedly insert plot elements into stories which should be very realistic in style, such as police or medical reports. This greatly detracts from the whole suspension of disbelief thing. Why would a police officer write in his report that a church has a “strange aura” or that it “feels Gothic” or suddenly describe his female police partner as a “glamorous […] tall, striking blonde”? Sorry, but that’s just plain poor writing. Sometimes less is indeed more.

There’s another major problem. Basically, while the book tells a chronologically pretty coherent story, at times it doesn’t know whether it is a bird or a fish. At times its Dawn of the Dead, at times Return of the Living Dead, before becoming 28 Days Later and segueing to Army of Darkness. Sounds like a very wide spread of different styles, and it is. The book also becomes a bit repetitive at times, as it’s basically “now I’m writing, now I’m depressed, now I’ve been bitten/scratched, now I’m turning into a zombie/committing suicide” over and over again, told through various media sources.

Despite those flaws, the book is mostly a very entertaining read, and I found it difficult to put down quite a few times. A lot of the stories are very short (often thankfully so), and some of them are really rather good, so even at over 500 pages it doesn’t grow wearisome. It could just be the zombie enthusiast in me, but I’ll definitely give this another read, although I might skip a few of the B-grade stories. There’s a fair bit of humour in there as well, with some being hit and miss but others downright hilarious.

Overall verdict: Make no mistake, this is no World War Z 2. The stories vary a lot in quality, and at times the book’s styles and themes are all over the place. It’s still a good way to spend a few evenings or quite a few bus rides, if you’re into zombie apocalypse and the fake-documentary style. I just wish they’d all read their Lovecraft.

As usual, I got my copy from the Book Depository, where the book retails for €7.54.


  1. Sounds dodgy Mikko.

    You seem to be happy enough with the book overall, in that it seemed to keep your interest despite the dross, but those parts are so fruitily described that I am coming away with an urge to avoid the book. Your description of the phone call exposition made me laugh out loud, as did your police officers journal noting a feeling of gothic-ness 😀

    As I seem to be one of the few people who find Lovecraft to be turgid and unreadable, maybe I am not the target demographic, even though its called “Zombie Apocalypse!”. I read a fair few shitty books because they are about pulp sci-fi or zombies or whatever, but I think that I will skip this one.

    Back to Day By Day Armageddon Pt2 for me then 😉


    • Hahah, that really did make it sound a bit bad, didn’t it…anyway, as said, there are plenty of authors, and most of them deliver perfectly passable stuff. Maybe that’s what makes some of the sub-par stuff stick out. Then again, it’s also very much about how you position yourself in relation to the book. If you go in expecting a “realistic” account, it’s like going to see Return while expecting Dawn.

      A bit surprised at the Lovecraft bit. The stories do vary a lot in quality, and his English often does sound a bit like that of your average Finnish RPGamer. You know, where such paragraphs of opinionated text such as this particular one are drawn into the myriad realms of the eldritch and archaic, often confoundingly resulting in a form of expression as difficult to decipher as the passage of aeons…or something like that. Still, HPL is a true classic in my opinion, so I’ll just file this in the folder labeled “Paul’s quaint preferences”, right next to the Predator dislike 😀


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