on 7 October 2012
[With apologies to Joe R. Lansdale for stealing, above, the subtitle to his second 'Drive-In' novel!]
First off, I have to admit: I was a little weary when I heard about this sequel - the first one was such a giddy good read that I thought, 'I hope this isn't the publisher pressuring the editor to cash in on a hit.' I needn't have worried. Earlier this year I read an online interview with the editor in which he explained that, back in the beginning when his ambitions for the project were all pie-in-the-sky, he envisioned it as a trilogy. Also, it has been two years since the first instalment; a length of time that reassures the reader that just as much care and attention has been paid to this new instalment as was to the original.
This, then, is the second of what promises to be creator/editor Stephen Jones's crowning achievement in his, so far, almost 25 year career as a book-published editor (his early roots as a magazine editor go back another two decades before that).
And it's not really a sequel as such, in the sense that it picks up where the last one left off. Instead, it almost constitutes another retelling of the entire tale, whilst at the same time laying out in scientific detail how the virus that caused the zombies in the first place is mutating, how they're evolving... becoming organised... becoming vocal...
Humanity, then, is not up against mindless eating machines. And don't forget that great British penchant for irony: who said the book's title refers to humanity's fightback?
It's constructed in such a way that new readers can simply dive in, without having read the first instalment, whilst returning readers will be rewarded with, among many additional details, the fleshing out of the background story on Thomas Moreby, the architect behind the All Hallows church and site of the cause of the Human Reanimation Virus. For the uninitiated, be prepared for a wild ride through what are easily the best looking trade paperback books you'll ever pick up. Told though newspaper articles, emails, handwritten letters, text messages, twitter accounts, official medical, military and government reports, diaries, transcripts of interviews and so on, and with the format of each of those media retained to give a visceral reading pleasure that puts you right there in the moment.
As with the first instalment, this is a group effort with almost two dozen writers and one artist contributing (including Neil Gaiman, Christopher Fowler, Michael Marshall Smith and Sarah Pinborough). Move over George R. R. Martin's 'Wild Cards' series - these are now the best mosaic novels ever written!
The first instalment clocked in at 480 pages. This time it's a whopping 540+ pages.
After some newspaper articles to set the scene, we beginning with REGGIE OLIVER recounting the full, fascinating story of Thomas Moreby, more articles and email accounts then follow from JO FLETCHER and CHRISTOPHER FOWLER, among others, as we investigate the true implications of what Thomas Moreby has unleashed and what New World Pharmaceuticals is up to -
- and then we hit PAUL FINCH's superb police radio transcriptions and we're off and running, with repeat contributors from volume one referencing characters and events from that initial instalment, whilst laying the ground work to show how the Infected are no longer remaining simple George A. Romero-style zombies.
ANNE BILLSON gives a terrific account of a fashion journalist in Paris at the moment when all hell breaks loose.
GUY ADAMS's fantastic 'British Army Field Manual' interspersed with handwritten notes from a father to his son, telling what army life is really like in this new world order.
SARAH PINBOROUGH tells of the British Embassy's rising panic in Russia.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT's scarily brilliant account of what's going on behind the doors of the New World Pharmaceuticals Group.
The delightful contribution of NEIL GAIMAN, with a comic script illustrated by the wonderful LES EDWARDS. (Titled "Down Among the Dead Men" this mini-comic has been semi-animated and narrated by Neil Gaiman himself, to serve as an online promotion for 'Zombie Apocalypse! Fightback'. I urge you to Google it!)
Canadian short story sensation SIMON STRANTZAS gives us a riveting twitter account of a group of young pranksters entangled at the US border control.
PAUL McAULEY returns with more entries from the journal of Dr. Alison McReady.
BRIAN HODGE presents an amazing reimaging of David Fincher's 'Fight Club'.
PAT CADIGAN and PETER CROWTHER return with more fascinating uploaded video accounts and transcripts of telephone conversations detailing the rapid disintegration of the norm as everything spirals out of control.
MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH gives a brief but poignant account of a brother's undying love and determination to go ahead with the family's traditional BBQ get together.
ROZ KAVENEY tells what it means to be a zombie, via a prose poem.
LISA MORTON knocks it out of the park with a stunningly detailed series of military reports and memos - only these reports are from the New Zombie Order Army Southwest in California, not the Human Resistance Movement.
PETER ATKINS relates how a zombie detective responses to a human serial killer.
Quirky short story genius ROBERT SHEARMAN tells of how a minor playwright is press-ganged into writing a play for zombies.
LISA TUTTLE explains how even the remote islands of Scotland and not immune to the crisis gripping the world's major cities.
And finally NANCY HOLDER ends with an address to the nation from the real human president... holed up in his secret underground bunker.
At this year's FantasyCon, run by the British Fantasy Society, Stephen Jones expressed his desire to eventually include every writer he likes and personally knows. To that end here's who I'd like to see in volume three: Ramsey Campbell, Mark Morris, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Gary McMahon, Conrad Williams, Steve Rasnic Tem and Nicholas Royle. Joel Lane's thoughtful, bleak stories also seem a natural fit for a poignant section. John Llewellyn Probert's partner Thana Niveau has appeared in the last two volumes of Stephen Jones's 'The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror'. A contribution from her - or even better, a collaboration with her partner John! - would be ace. Simon Bestwick hasn't yet appeared in Best New Horror, but he has appeared in many other 'best of' anthologies, including placing two stories in this year's volume from Ellen Datlow. Besides he's written, for my money, easily one of the best zombie novels in recent years, `Tide of Souls' (2009). And while we're indulging in pie-in-the-sky speculation, how awesome would be if next time we had David J. Schow, Joe Hill and Joe R. Lansdale? (Caitlin R. Kiernan is also a regular in Best New Horror, though I'm not quite sure how her style would fit, although she is a superb short story writer).
That's 14 writers I've named (15 if Jones uses artist Dave McKean in the same way he used Les Edwards). Add to that AZ! regulars Peter Aikens, Pat Cadigan, Peter Crowther, Paul Finch, Christopher Fowler, Lisa Morton, Paul McAuley, Sarah Pinborough, John Llewellyn Probert, and Michael Marshall Smith and you're talking 25 contributors. 2 more than AZ!#2, which in itself was 5 more than AZ!#1. Plus I haven't counted Jones's fellow editors behind the scenes, who have also made substantial contributions: Jo Fletcher, Amanda Foubister and Mandy Slater. Of course, this is all idle speculation: Jones has been in the game for some 40 years, so he'll know better than anyone who he feels is best suited to bring off each section of these mosaic novels.
Assuming the same time and care it taken with AZ!#3, it probably won't appear for another two years - roll on 2014!