Here’s the inherent problem with zombies, from a literary perspective: they’re boring. Mindless, shambling husks devoid of language or reason, they exist as creatures of pure instinct, with only one driving force: chomping on the flesh of the living. Since there are only so many variations on methods of zombie decapitation, immolation, or dismemberment, the literary interest in any zombie story is couched in how the author chooses to treat the material. Not surprisingly, the most successful stories in Dead North are the ones that eschew traditional George A. Romero–inspired survivalist tropes and strike out in new directions.
Notwithstanding editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s brief and rather superficial introduction, the originality in these stories is not, for the most part, contained in their Canadian settings: despite references to the Montreal Biodome and B.C. bud, most of these stories could take place in any number of different locales (Siberia could easily stand in for the Canadian North, for instance). The exceptions are Richard Van Camp’s story “On the Wings of This Prayer,” which cannily locates the origins of its zombie outbreak in the Alberta Tar Sands, and a pair of stories – Jacques L. Condor’s “Those Beneath the Bog” and Linda DeMeulemeester’s “Half Ghost” – that adapt traditional native lore involving the wendigo and the Manitou in interesting ways.
Elsewhere, Claude Lalumière has great fun invoking a herd of zombie cows that lay waste to the island of Montreal, and Melissa Yuan-Innes’s “Waiting for Jenny Rex” manages to be both a tender love story (albeit with one of the lovers having already shuffled off this mortal coil) and a satire on the sanctimony of disease-of-the-moment proselytizers.
But the clear standout here is Gemma Files’s deliciously deranged “Kissing Carrion.” Told in heightened, almost poetic prose, this story about a zombie pressed into service as a kind of animated sex toy in a bizarre fetish show is gleefully over the top; it’s the best Canadian necrophilia story since Barbara Gowdy’s “We So Seldom Look on Love.” A perverse and stylized mix of sex and horror, Files’s bravura tale is worth the price of admission all on its own.