Thursday, September 23, 2010
A Taste of Zombies vs. Unicorns: "The Highest Justice" and "Inoculata"
As I said in Not The Dead Tossed Waves: pt I I've decided to review some more short stories for you today, in place of TDTW, which never came. Earlier I gave you 2 substitute stories from Carrie Ryan, and for Part II I am giving you 2 more from the anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns: "The Highest Justice" by Garth Nix and "Inoculata" by Scott Westerfeld. (I'm not going to lie, I cherry-picked. I really like these two authors (and Maureen Johnson, whose story I will review for Short Story Saturday), so I read these first. I don't know that I've ever read a short story collection in the order presented. Hmm...)
"The Highest Justice"
I absolutely love Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series, so when I saw he kicked the book off, I was quite pleased. Holly Black, one of the editors (the Team U side), reveals before the story that Nix was supposed to write a zombie-slash-unicorn (but not zombicorn) story, but that he was so overwhelmed by the power of the unicorn that the story took a decided turn. [Points: Team Unicorn]
Though there may not be as much 'zombie' in the story as intended, what resulted was a really interesting mix of the two that saw each acting ... a little out of character in the best ways.
When the queen is poisoned, Princess Jess calls on the help of a mysterious and elusive legendary unicorn (Elibet) to help her. Elibet complies, reviving the Queen so that Jess can complete the task of getting her mother to her father, the philandering King -- before her mother completely decomposes or eats somebody. That's right, folks, a unicorn-created zombie Queen. What more could you ask for?
Alright, now I'm in a really weird position her because this story, in some respects, has some strong similarities to a short story I wrote a couple of years ago. And no, it wasn't about zombies or unicorns. But I feel weird for praising it for choices I made in my own story. So we're just going to set that aside.
The Highest Power is interesting because it's a really great mixture of things. It's an almost epic story on a small scale -- I can fully see this being novel-length, all of the elements are there. Elibet, the unicorn, and the zombie Queen are interesting twists on what we think of for each. Yes, Elibet is beautiful and horse-like, with a massive, blood-tipped horn -- but she is that way in part because that is how Jess chooses to see her. She is also "a fiercer thing, of less familiar shape, made of storm clouds and darkness." She's strong and intelligent, and metes out justice impartially and mercilessly. Yes, the Queen is rotting and flesh-hungry, but she's also in love with her horrible husband and still human somehow. She doesn't moan for brains, she moans for him.*
I don't want to give anything away, but I have to say, I really, really liked this story and what Nix did with his zombie Queen. It gave me a new perspective on the nature of zombie, and new and fresh is hard to come by in the zombie world. If you've been a doubter or a naysayer of either side, I'd say, pick up this story. It's simple yet complex (I know, but really, it is), and dark and beautiful. A great way to kick off the book.
I love Scott Westerfeld. There's just no denying that. I like the way his brain works, I like the characters he creates, and I like the spin he puts on things.o
Inoculata was no different.
In it, Allison lives in a very confined world. She is one of a short list of survivors of the zombie plagued that has swept the earth, and 1 of only 4 young people in her community. Her life consists of hard work, canned food and daily zombie drills. That is until the girl she has a crush on, Kalyn, reveals a secret to her that changes her world forever -- and maybe not just her world, but the world.
I can't go into a ton of detail in this one without giving something crucial away, so I'm going to have to be brief. Within a matter of minutes, Westerfeld pulled me in and made it clear that this wasn't going to be completely typical zombie fare. There are more to his zombies than mindlessness, but the story is open ended, just as their story is. Allison is engaging and relatable, and the storytelling is smooth and humorous. As he did in Peeps, Westerfeld introduces the idea of viruses, germs and plagues in an interesting way. This is something I find fascinating anyway, but applied as he does, it just really works.
"Inoculata" is really just the beginning, something new and unheard of, and I would love, LOVE to see more.
And I'm sorry I can't tell you more than that.
Each of these stories is found in the anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns --->