Book Review: Dead North

In her introduction to Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction, editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia proposes that “[t]he undead are the blank slate upon which we project our anxieties. Whether these are fears of technology (medical experiments turning people into monsters), an economic collapse (the zombie apocalypse scenario), a runaway consumerist society (zombie consumption generates more consumption) or simply our fear of death and the corruption of our bodies, the zombie serves as a vessel for our collective dread.” The zombie stories in Dead North invoke many forms of dread—including the dread of living—and present different takes on what a zombie is. Moreno-Garcia has curated a collection that not only presents a diversity of horrors, but also a multitude of cultures existing across a wide Canadian landscape—from the cold of the Yukon, to the grow-ops of BC, to the shores of the Maritimes.

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Several of the stories in the anthology are written about Aboriginal characters, including “Those Beneath the Bog” by Jacques L. Condor or Maka Tai Meh. In this story the zombies are restless dead Cree and Ojibwe people who hunt anything that comes close enough to their bog—including moose and men. According to the introduction, the story was “inspired by the Abenaki and Algonkin legends the author heard in his childhood.” In most of the Aboriginal stories, the zombies are equated with the wendigo, or some version of this legend, though in “The Herd” by Tyler Keevil, it is the cannibalistic protagonist who is the wendigo. Even in a story with walking dead, Keevil reminds us that we also have reason to be afraid of each other.

There are also stories in Dead North inspired by environmental concerns. The zombies in these stories are either vengeful or portrayed as a means of punishment. In E. Catherine Tobler’s “The Sea Half-Held by Night”, a whaling village is attacked by its own drowned dead, while undead whales wait in the depths. In “On the Wings of this Prayer” by Richard Van Camp, the Tar Sands really do spell the end of the world. The zombie apocalypse begins when the remains of one dead man are disturbed in the name of exploiting Canada’s natural resources, and then eventually all hell breaks loose. Literally.

“The Adventure of Dorea Tress” by Rhea Rose is more lighthearted, as far as zombie tales go. The story plays off “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” in a way that’ll make you giggle, even as bunnies are having their heads pulled off and Papa Bear is devouring someone whole. “Waiting for Jenny Rex” by Melissa Yuan-Ines also uses humour, though ultimately the protagonist has his heart broken. Love and loss are explored a lot in Dead North, though this story is the only one to explore a romantic breakup (those human-zombie relationships just aren’t meant to last).

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Zombies come alive at the 2012 Vancouver Zombie Walk. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As you can probably imagine, grief—whether as a result of traditional death or zombification—prevails in many of the stories, as does loneliness. The zombie in “Rat Patrol” by Kevin Cockle is animated by a mysterious “It” bent on breaking strong individuals living in a particular region of Southern Alberta. In the case of the protagonist, Arthur Low, “It” accomplishes this by condemning him to solitude.

Overall Dead North is an excellent Canadian anthology, incorporating stories set across Canada and exploring diverse cultures and themes. It’s also an excellent horror anthology, with some truly disturbing, and yet enticing, tales. The book will be released on October 1, just in time for Halloween month, and can be preordered from Chapters and Amazon.

Are you Team Zombie or Team Vampire? What, for you, makes a good zombie story—horror, satire, social commentary? If you could pick any place in Canada to set a zombie story, where would you choose?

Interested in more from Silvia Moreno-Garcia? Check out our review of her debut short story collection This Strange Way of Dying! Both review copies sent to Paper Droids courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Managing editor of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) and a total comic book geek. Hearts Star Wars, TMNT, the Whedonverse, Canadian writing and My Little Pony.