A short feature on zombie erotica that originally appeared in Black Static #21:-
TO DIE FOR: ZOMBIE EROTICA
Given the theme I approached RIGOR AMORTIS (Absolute XPress paperback, 138pp, $14.95), an anthology of flash fictions and poetry containing zombie erotica that began life as a joke bouncing about on Twitter, with a degree of trepidation, only to be pleasantly surprised at what I found. Editors Jaym Gates and Erika Holt have assembled a collection that is varied and substantial, while in the main avoiding the pitfalls implicit in the material (e.g. a propensity to rape and gratuitous sexual violence), though I’m not about to admit to being sexually aroused by any of it as you never know who might be reading this.
After her and her introductions by the editors, Lance Schonberg’s poem ‘And Yet
in Death’ sets the tone for much of what follows, with its tasteful celebration of a wife’s beauty lingering on past the end of mortality. The stories and poems that follow are presented in four sections, each headed up with a striking illustration and flag of convenience titles, the first of which is Romance.
Opener ‘Delivery Day’ by Jacob Ruby, has a lesbian protagonist looking to replace her partner with a zombie girlfriend, dealing with the prurience of the delivery man, then having to bond with the newcomer. It’s a subtle, understated story with the zombie performing the role of a sex doll, and yet bubbling away beneath the surface of the matter of fact narrative a feeling of real need, a lonely woman reaching out for contact of some kind, even from a zombie. The delusions of love seem to be central. In Jay Faulkner’s keenly felt ‘Always and Forever’ we get the other side of the coin, with a wife who makes the last sacrifice she can for love, leaving the house and her husband before the change takes hold. There’s a sense almost of nostalgia about Nathan Crowder’s ‘Dancing Tonight: Live Music!’, the story picking up on a theme of Romero, a zombie couple re-enacting the dance hall sexual encounters of their living years. There’s a frantic quality to their fucking and yet an emptiness also, as if they are just machines of rotting flesh and bone following a programme, no purpose to what they do, just a puppet show without an audience, demonstrating the vacuity of sex without love or feeling.
Alex Masterson’s ‘There’s Plenty of Room in My Heart’ is a blackly comic and playful celebration of the narrator’s zombie love, the poem’s title and last line a riff on the old ‘no more room in hell’ adage. In ‘Like Smoke’ by Johann Carlisle we get a whiff of the traditional, with voodoo references and a New Orleans setting, as a man brings back his beloved at a terrible cost, but one which he considers worth it, the story explicit in its descriptions of sex and with an undercurrent that captures the playfulness and dependence of people in love, people who will do anything to have those feelings endure if only for a moment longer. Similar themes appear in Xander Briggs’ story ‘Surrender’, with a woman’s happiness secured when her abusive lover comes back to her, even if he is now a zombie, the story a neat take on female masochism and need. For the couple in ‘Unparted’ by Wendy N. Wagner, the wife becoming a zombie is simply a means for them to continue their marriage post-cancer, the sense of need oozing off the page, but mingled with a genuine, can’t let go kind of love.
The stories in the Revenge section are not quite as substantial, with a greater reliance on twist endings, but still gratifying in the main. ‘Love, Love (and Chains) Will Keep Us Together’ by R. Schuyler Devin is reminiscent of Laymon’s novel Island in the way in which the protagonist uses the zombie plague to be with the girl of his dreams and keeps to himself the knowledge of a cure, giving rise to questions about who the real monster is in this scenario. Voodoo is back in play for ‘Erzuli’s Chosen Few’ by Lucia Starkey in which a woman’s plans to make her rough lover a gentler man go astray, the voodoo gods having
the last laugh. The moral of the story seems to be that happiness eludes those who seek it outside of themselves. M.G. Gillett’s ‘Your Beating Heart’ is one of the weaker offerings, obliquely written and only gradually unveiling its intent, with technique used to cloak the fact that all we really have here is the genre cliché of a man returning from the dead to wreak vengeance on the person responsible.
The title ‘Swallow It All’ pretty much tells you exactly where Jennifer Brozak’s tale is going, but there’s a certain cheesy satisfaction to be gained from this account of an arsehole husband who finds that she’ll bite off more than he bargained for when he brings his wife back to give him a blow job. The perils of giving imprecise instructions have seldom been spelled out so clearly. Another deserving male gets his comeuppance in Renee Bennett’s ‘Danny Boy’, but there’s a bittersweet quality to the revenge, the story’s protagonist taking an ironic comfort in the fact that even as a zombie her former partner still wants her body. We get a different take in ‘Syd’s Turn’ by R.E. VanNewkirk, as two lovers incorporate zombie role play into their sex games, but things go wrong when one of them doesn’t play by the rules, begging the question when is a safe word most definitely the wrong word.
The Risk section opens with one of the highlights of the collection, John Nakamura Remy’s glorious black comedy ‘Forbidden Feast at the Armageddon Cafe’. With some gleeful description and much relish, the prospect of haute cuisine for cannibal gourmets is brought alive on the page, the story a tasty antidote to all those cookery programmes cluttering up the TV schedules. Nigella was never this nasty, but possibly Gordon Ramsay was. In ‘Date Night’ by Pete ‘Patch’ Alberti a woman keeps bringing her dead lover back for sex, but it’s definitely a case of diminishing returns, the story’s end twist delighting as the full scope of what is taking place is revealed. ‘My Summer Romance’ by Sarah Goslee gives a vampire(ish) twist to the zombie trope, as a young girl falls in love with a zombie woman, not realising that she is being exploited, the story enlivened by some nice touches of detail about dating in the post-zombie age (e.g. the Personal ads on craigslist with such terms as ‘Z-curious’ and ‘No maggots please’ as a desiderata rather than ‘Non-smoker with GSOH’). The spectre of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hangs over ‘Second Sunday in September’ by Steven James Scearce, the story of an upper class gal determined to still marry her betrothed even when he becomes a zombie, the idea pitched with a no doubt severed tongue in cheek and showing that there are some contracts you simply can’t get out of. ‘Obligate Cannibal’ by Kay T. Holt has a zombie doctor starting a sexual relationship with her patient, the story a bit longwinded, but with a delicious final twist as payoff for reader perseverance.
Final section Raunch opens with ‘Urbanites’ by Pete ‘Patch’ Alberti (him again – it’s not just the zombies that come back in this anthology), in which a couple continue their swinger lifestyle even after they become zombies, with not much to the story in terms of plot development and themes, but lively writing, plenty of graphic sex and a nice touch or two of humour. A couple of the stories are set in brothels. ‘Mitch’s Girl’ by Carrie Cuinn has a man falling for the zombie he must prep to work in a specialist brothel, an undertone of lost innocence to the tale, while Damon B’s ‘Liberation Den’ comes at it from the other side, with a couple who visit a zombie brothel finding that their feelings about this leisure pursuit differ greatly, causing them to drift apart, but only as a way of coming even closer together in a twist ending that seems so very obvious with the benefit of hindsight. The protagonist of ‘Honey’ by V.R. Roadifer learns that the only way to get a decent fuck in the post-zombie world is to go with a female zombie, only there is a rather nasty sting in this particular tale. Similarly in ‘Sublimation’ by Don Pizarro the bored and neglected wife of an ambitious necromancer gets some zombie satisfaction, the story raunchy and with a neat twist at the end.
The last story in the book, ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Zombie Orgasm’ by Annette
Dupree is the longest and at fourteen pages is not something I’d consider to be flash fiction, but that’s okay as it’s also one of the best, and certainly the sexiest, as gun toting heroine weather girl Poppy Lynn shoots up zombies until she learns that fucking all comers is far more satisfying. Cue lively lesbian sex and zombie men with slug like penises that detach for deeper penetration, in this wild ride come skull fuck which is as much fun as it is borderline incomprehensible, with echoes of Farmer’s Image of the Beast in the text. It’s a fitting end to a collection that shows the possibilities of both flash fiction and zombie erotica, making the reader think and feel, though not so much turning him on, and never mind what it says on the tin (but your mileage may differ). I loved it.
According to the tag line on the front of the ARC I got sent, THE LOVING DEAD
(Nightshade paperback, 256pp, $14.95) by Amelia Beamer is ‘the ultimate zombie love story’. There’s a lot of love in the book, mostly of the unrequited variety, and any number of messy relationships, with that between Kate and Michael, the two viewpoint characters, at the centre of the story. The couple house share in a suburb of Los Angeles, and work together at retail outlet Trader Joe’s. Kate is involved with married man Walter, a sugar daddy in all but name, while Michael is heavily into Kate, only too afraid of rejection to take the chance of telling her how he feels. As with all good love stories, zombie or otherwise, ‘will they or won’t they’ is one of the main narrative planks, and at some point before the final page we get resolution of a kind, though not exactly a happy ending: there is little reason to fear that this book will ever translate to the silver screen as a zomromcom vehicle for Jennifer Aniston, though I’d love to see Hollywood try.
The zombie plague is spread by the exchange of bodily fluids and so there is a fair bit of sex, though not enough to leave you feeling short changed by Rigor Amortis. It all kicks off with Kate deciding to explore her sexuality with belly dance teacher Jamie, who then turns into a zombie. Fortunately for Kate the handcuffs are on by that stage, but that doesn’t prevent other interested parties becoming infected. What follows is a pretty wild roller coaster ride of a story, taking in a trip on a zeppelin, a pitched battle at a supermarket, a hospital overrun, and assorted misfits gathering inside Alcatraz for a last stand, with Beamer riffing madly on the tropes of zombie cinema and giving each one her own unique twist.
Perhaps one of the most distinctive aspects of this book is the matter of fact nature of what is going down. The characters have watched all of the films and they’ve read The Zombie Survival Guide. When the shit hits the fan nobody is especially surprised, nobody denies the reality of what is happening, so indoctrinated have they all become with zombie folklore and myth. The effect is rather like witnessing the actions of one of those sad, misguided people who believe that soap operas are real, who mistake the actors for the characters they play, only here it’s acted out on a greater scale, the zombie apocalypse filed under business as usual. At back of all this there’s an engaging and very dry humour at work, seen most obviously in such things as an incidental homage to the original Haitian voodoo tradition, with the zombies controlled by the crack of a whip, or if you don’t happen to have a whip about your person the Indiana Jones app for iPhone will serve just as well, and in the deadpan conversations Kate has with her family members (is the zombie apocalypse a window of opportunity for her brother to come out as gay to their parents?).
The various relationships are worked out well, with Michael’s infatuation with Kate convincingly developed, his final act borne out of love every bit as much as it reeks of an emotional desperation. He travels for most of the book, and Kate is the destination he has in mind, even if the attraction, like that of a moth to a flame, may ultimately prove his undoing. She is a young woman who likes to experiment and take risks, conflicted in her relationship with Walter, wanting to do the best by everyone in her circle but not quite sure how to accomplish that. Kate’s fallible, she tells lies, she screws up, but there’s no meanness in her, and she will sacrifice herself for others when the circumstances merit. There’s an aura of shop soiled nobility about the character.
With the ending we come almost full circle, Kate finding closure with one of her lovers and starting a new relationship, only the world has changed. In the new world order the living dead can function as useful members of society thanks to drugs which allow them to control their appetites, but all the same they are pariahs, tolerated but not accepted, forced to live in the shadows and able to trust only their own kind. And there’s a subtext for the taking here if anybody cares to pick up on it, with the zombie state as a metaphor for homosexuality, a role that used to belong to vampires before they came over all emo and shiny. It’s a stretch, but not an impossible one, and even if your reach doesn’t extend quite that far this is still a fun book that breathes new life and vitality into an old corpse. Recommended.