What Will Come After

I love zombies. I guess I always have. Long before the current craze of mashing up mindless shamblers with the literary classics, I was remixing zombies with “Romeo and Juliet,” “Our Town,” and other famous fictional worlds. And when I realized I’d published eight zombie stories over a twenty-year period, I decided it was time to collect them in a single volume. Luckily, Pete Crowther of PS Publishing agreed—and commissioned me to write a ninth tale, original to the book.

And so What Will Come After, which launched at the 2010 World Horror Convention in Brighton, gathered together my complete zombie fiction to date. (Well, with one exception.)

I hope this book will prove that the undead can be more than just rampaging braineaters—though you’ll find plenty of gory gorging in these pages as well—but also a lens through which we can see that the living and the living dead are not so very different after all.

In the Stoker Award finalist “A Plague on Both Your Houses,” you’ll visit a post-apocalyptic Manhattan that reads like a fever dream created by George Romero collaborating with William Shakespeare, in which the living son of the mayor of New York City falls in love with the daughter of the zombie king.

In “Almost the Last Stories by Almost the Last Man,” another Stoker nominee, you’ll lock yourself in a library as a writer struggles to keep his sanity by making sense of the zombie uprising the only way he knows how.

And in “What Will Come After,” original to this volume, you’ll learn what happens to ME when I face my own inevitable end.

But enough from me. What about the critics?

Well … how about the fact that What Will Come After is currently a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award?

Also, Tim Pratt’s review in the April 2010 issue of Locus, which occupied a column and a half of real estate, began with:

What Will Come After is “the complete zombie stories” of Scott Edelman, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more literary and literate collection of tales about the living dead.

And ended with:

In the hands of a lesser writer, a book of nothing but zombie stories could risk becoming repetitive, but Edelman’s audacity regarding style and form, along with his brilliant unpacking of the themes inherent in zombie fiction, make this instead a compendium of singular treasures.

And between that first and last sentence were such phrases as:

… a heartbreaking and beautiful literary tour-de-force …

… it’s heartwrenching and not a bit tongue in cheek …

… audacious blend of science fiction and supernatural zombie fiction …

Seregil of Rhiminee had this to say over at Rising Shadow:

What Will Come After: The Complete Zombie Stories of Scott Edelman is a fascinating short story collection. I’ve always liked zombie stories, so I was very interested in this collection. …

The first story, “What Will Come After,” is a surprisingly tender, but shocking story about love, life, death and life after death as a zombie. It’s a fine example of what a good writer [can] do with words. The other stories are also well written, but I especially liked the Bram Stoker Award nominated stories (“Almost the Last Story by Almost the Last Man” and “A Plague on Both Your Houses”). They’re perfect zombie stories for zombie fans.

I can recommend What Will Come After: The Complete Zombie Stories of Scott Edelman to all horror readers, because it’s worth reading. If you like good zombie stories, these stories will charm you.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

And at Mass Movement, Jim Dodge, Jr. wrote:

The stories collected here are sad. They’re full of tragedy and despair. Though these tales are chock-full of survivors they still manage to be really, completely … well … sad. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed anything zombie-related as much as Scott Edelman’s newest PS Publishing release but I will say I needed to make sure I got some sunshine when I was finished. He really pulled the old heartstrings with this book and I loved every minute of it!

And finally, here’s what Adam-Troy Castro wrote in the June 2010 issue of SCI FI magazine, giving the book a grade of A:

Zombies are not renowned for their individuality. Once transformed, they become part of the same vast shambling horde, with little in the way of an agenda beyond chowing down on any living people in their vicinity.

But authors of zombie stories are of course a different matter entirely, and so the subgenre that sometimes seems unable to offer much more than endless variations on the trope of intrepid zombie-killers finding a way to put one in the brain, proves richer and deeper and even more emotionally effective in the hands of storytellers who take the trope’s seeming limitations as a personal challenge. Witness Scott Edelman, who here seems to say, “Okay. They shamble. They eat flesh. They’re not too pleasant to the nose. That’s a given, and that’s frankly old news. Want to see what else I’ve got?”

In case you’re wondering, this is what else he’s got. Three of the stories are splendid literary mash-ups. “Live People Don’t Understand” is a riff on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, in which the deceased Emily learns terrible things about her husband George and rises from her grave to confront him. “Tell Me Like You Done Before” offers similar treatment to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men, following the ending where Lenny dies at George’s hands; George wanders the ranches of Salinas, evading the unliving embodiment of guilt for his terrible crime.

The most unlikely tour-de-force, and also possibly the best story in the collection, is a feat few horror authors could even attempt far less pull off: an actual, complete Shakespearean play, the Stoker nominee “A Plague On Both Your Houses,” which puckishly applies the approximate plot of Romeo and Juliet to a star-crossed romance between a living boy and zombie girl. That one’s worth the cover price all by itself.

Beyond that, Edelman also offers “The Man He Had Before,” a coming-of-age story about a teen who has grown up during the zombie apocalypse and rebels against the harsh survival lessons he’s been taught by his remote and abusive father. Some of the kid’s coping mechanisms establish that life in a world overrun by the living dead is not exactly a tonic for mental health. “The Human Race” is the powerful tale of a deeply depressed woman whose father and sister have just been killed in a London suicide bombing; her own despair and yearning for death take on an entirely new meaning when the zombie uprising suddenly changes the definitions of life and death. Then there’s “The Last Supper,” a fantasia on just what future the zombies face, when all the humans are dead and there’s nobody left to eat; it’s deeper and richer and more cosmically tragic than you would expect any story about bereft ghouls to be.

By comparison, “Goobers” is a slapstick romp. It’s the tale of a theatre projectionist whose auditorium offers a nonstop diet of zombie movies—his lonely tale of survival enters the realm of metafiction as the zombies prove an eager if somewhat unruly audience. The Stoker nominee “Almost the Last Story by Almost the Last Man,” is almost as different from that one as another story can be: it’s a dense reflection on the art of storytelling: a writer barricaded in a library deals with the last days by penning zombie tales as dark as his own predicament.

And finally, there’s “What Will Come After,” original to this volume, which functions as Scott Edelman’s zombie self-portrait. Transformed into one of the undead, he shuffles across the state of West Virginia, inexorably drawn to the Maryland home where his wife has gone into hiding. Edelman doesn’t shy away from an encounter with his actual son, or from what happens when he and his wife finally meet face-to-rotting-face. This is also more than most writers would have dared, and it functions not just as a elegiac horror story but also—in a deeply perverse manner—as his testament to the strength of the bond between the author and his family.

What Will Come After will not be an easy volume to find. Its small print run and premium cover price will leave it beyond the reach of casual readers. But those moved to seek it out will find a deeply worthwhile collection by one of dark fiction’s most versatile authors.

If you want to prove Adam wrong, you can order your print copy of What Will Come After here or electronic copy here.