Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

I feel like most Canadian fiction would do better if it wasn't so relentlessly marketed as such. Every time I listen to the yearly edition of Canada Reads on CBC, so much attention seems to be drawn to the fact that the author is Canadian that being Canadian becomes a gimmick. Latched onto like a lamprey with a Napoleon complex, this kind of marketing strategy often ends up neglecting the more important factors, like whether or not the content of the story is actually enjoyable. Dead North, a collection of zombie short stories by exclusively Canadian authors, is the first of its kind that I've seen to buck this trend, using the diverse cultural mythology of the Great White North to put a number of unique spins on an otherwise over-saturated genre.

Within its pages, you'll find everything from traditional Romero zombies, undead whales, and risen corpses of the demonically possessed variety, to Wendigos, and even a twisted retelling of a much beloved Grimm fairy tale. Of course, with over 20 different authors contributing to the volume, the quality does vary (“Waiting for Jenny Rex”, in particular, is an exercise in shameless gimmick-whoring), but the vast majority were well-written enough so as to keep my curiosity peaked.

Besides its inclusion of 99 different flavours of rotted flesh for the zombie connoisseur, the characters and structure of the various tales are in and of themselves so diverse that they never get monotonous. While some are the typical tales of horror, betrayal, and shambling hordes that we've come to know and love, others simply use the zombie apocalypse as a frame within which to tell a number of intriguing, personal stories. Dead North quite literally travels from coast-to-coast, from a Vancouver weed grow-op run by a fanatical, religious hippie, to the frozen tundra (where the “dead-heads” make for good eating; if you know how to suss out the sickness), and even the fishing villages of Nova Scotia.

It becomes clear through reading this volume that the zombie genre has quite a bit more value for the ambitious author to excavate before we salt their bones, burn the remains, and otherwise lay this cultural obsession to rest. Those looking for a novel twist on their beloved cannibalistic horrors should set aside some time to check this one out; it's a lot of fun.

Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Gueh. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek over at The Rogue's Gallery.   

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