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This is a collection of eighteen scholarly essays, plus a meaty introduction by the editors, that explore the theme of the zombie in books, films, and popular culture. I should clarify at the outset that these essays are not for the literary faint-of-heart: if you are not comfortably steeped in postmodern literary theories, then you might want to reconsider investing in this collection, or at least resign yourself to finding some essays less legible than others.

I found some of the essays to be extremely thought-provoking. “Zombies as Internal Fear or Threat” by the redoubtable Kim Paffenroth was particularly interesting and well put together. Two pieces that explore the early history of the zombie in the American zeitgeist (“White Zombie and the Creole: William Seabrook’s The Magic Island and American Imperialism in Haiti” by Gyllian Phillips and “The Origin of the Zombie in American Radio and Film: B-Horror, U.S. Empire, and the Politics of Disavowal” by Chris Vials) were equally fascinating, but then again I am a historian who studies ideas of empire and imperialism in this particular period in U.S. history. Like most edited collections of essays, some of the essays are a bit more immediately useful or interesting than others. Some of the essays went a bit too far into the deepest depths of literary criticism, even for me. “Rhetoric Goes Boom(er): Agency, Networks, and Zombies at Play” by Scott Reed and “Ztopia: Lessons in Post-Vital Politics in George Romero’s Zombie Films” by Tyson E. Lewis were, I thought, two of the essays that lent themselves least well to ease of comprehension by most readers. Several of the essays were also too loosely connected to the central idea of the zombie to fit neatly into a collection like this. Andrea Austin’s “Cyberpunk and the Living Dead” stretches the definition of “zombie” a bit far for my tastes, and I was surprised to find that two pieces (offered comparisons between the late, great John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and zombies. I must confess that such a comparison would have never occurred to me, so at least these pieces were thought-provoking, if not entirely convincing.

Recommended for those with a literary or scholarly bent and a strong interest in zombie fiction or zombie-esque themes in literature. If you’re a casual fan of zombie films or horror fiction, you’ll find these essays mostly too jargon-laden or tendentious (which isn’t to say that they’re at all uninteresting, just that I don’t assess they will be of interest to typical lay readers).

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Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers