Thoroughly enjoyable new takes on an old story.
While its title may be Rotten Bodies, Steve Jenkins’ collection of zombie-themed horror stories is anything but past its use-by date.
Zombie fiction has undergone a renaissance in recent years since the release of Max Brooks’ World War Z. The resulting movie, along with others such as Resident Evil and Zombieland, have introduced us to new concepts such as the ‘fast zombie’ and have brought the slightly silly trope championed by George Romero into the world of science, with disease vectors and immunology often of vital importance to these stories.
With such a wealth of fiction already written on the subject, it would be easy to assume that any new fiction might simply pick up and run with the tropes both new and old. It is true that in Rotten Bodies Jenkins does use those aspects of the zombie story we are familiar with, but only to start with.
The opening story, I Am Dead, introduces us (in Jenkins’ seemingly signature first-person style) to the first of several unfortunate souls. In this case, a man has woken up as a zombie. It’s where he has awoken that is the problem.
Room 503 allows us to see into the disruption caused by the zombie apocalypse on a mild-mannered accountant, who ends up trapped with his mistress in a hotel room whilst on a dirty weekend.
At this stage a sense of familiarity may creep over the reader. The characters in both stories are well-drawn, but there is nothing amiss here (zombies excepted). Everything is happening as we’ve seen happen many times before. But you needn’t worry, things are about to take a turn for the imaginative.
The third story, Run, is told from the point of view of a fitness instructor literally running for her life. Surprised by a fast zombie while venturing out for food, she pits her speed and training against the zombie’s stamina, with the entire story being told on the run, as it were. This is a delightfully novel concept and Jenkins explores it well.
Nothing in the book refers to any of the stories being linked, although they could well be. The Pit takes us back to the dim, dark days of 1989 and we find ourselves in the head of a Welsh coalminer, at the initial point of contagion. The miner is a devoutly religious man, and once the infection is discovered in his coal mine, he comes to the conclusion that they dug too deep and disturbed Satan himself, and the virus is his retribution. We follow the miner in his quest to return to the surface as he plays a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the dead walkers in the darkness.
Rounding out the collection is the rather more light-hearted Simon Dunn: Former Zombie. This tale looks at the social consequences of curing a zombie – particularly one that has eaten people.
In total, the anthology manages to look at the history of a zombie apocalypse from all the relevant angles – from the initial contagion and containment, to its breakout and consequences, until finally its cure is found. The stories are not presented in chronological order which leaves this for the reader to deduce.
Rotten Bodies had the potential to be just another run-of-the-mill horror thriller. Instead, it proved that there is life in even the most well-worn genres.
Reviewed by D C White