It all started with a young adult writer’s blog post in February 2007. After a comment and a contradicting blog post by another author, the subject sparked a huge debate in the YA lit world, then ignited into one of the greatest geek war of all time: which is made for better fiction, zombies or unicorns?
In an attempt to bring an end to this epic literary bloodsport, authors Holly Black (of the Spiderwick Chronicles fame) and Justine Larbalestier (of the Magic and Madness trilogy) compiled stories that defend both camps—amazing tales thrown into the arena by internationally renowned YA authors. Black and Larbalestier serve these in a silver platter that is the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology and let the readers decide which team should be declared the winner.
Like all other short story collections, ZvU is a mixed bag. There are a few duds, but popping it open is such a fun experience. In this anthology I saw plot twists that most novels could barely pull off, characters that I love instantly by just the tone of their voice and small actions, places that fascinated me immediately unlike the lackluster settings in tomes that took me twenty chapters before I can appreciate them.
Here is a list of the stories in the collection (just click on the titles and you’ll be redirected to the reviews of each story):
- The Highest Justice by Garth Nix*
- Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson*
- Purity Test by Naomi Novik
- Bougainvillea by Carrie Ryan*
- A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan
- The Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson*
- The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund*
- Innoculata by Scott Westerfeld*
- Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot
- Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare*
- The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey
- Prom Night by Libba Bray*
Now tell me that’s not a star-studded roster. My favorite zombie story is “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” which I loved unreservedly because I’m such a sucker for fictions with rock music and poetry references (Joy Division and Robert Frost? You gotta love the author!). The story is sickeningly charming and awesome too, though this won’t be much of a keeper for anyone uncomfortable with too many f-bombs in a single page. My favorite unicorn story is “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn,” because the story kicks butt and it has a one of a kind three-dimensional heroine. Also, I love the idea of King David’s descendants becoming the most likely trainers for unicorns.
I commend the authors who submitted stories that included an expansion on the sexuality of their choice of protagonists; it’s nice to think that the YA world is slowly being more accepting of LGBTQ themes. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Prom Night” both have gay characters while “Inoculata” has lesbian heroines. It would be inappropriate to say that there is a homosexual utopia in a crumbling, zombie-ridden apocalyptic world, but that’s what it seems to me (or maybe it’s just no one really cares about your sexuality in a world where there are more important and dangerous things to worry about). It’s wonderful how different authors came up with a little common denominator.
Hands down, this is definitely one of my favorite anthologies. Admittedly I like novels more than short stories, with all the obvious reasons: a novel gives you ticket for a longer stay in an amazing setting and more time to spend with the characters involved. You grow and love everything in the paper-bounded world in your hands one page at a time. With short stories, this is rarely achieved—ten pages are often not enough to arrest the full attention of a reader. But being a senior college student who wishes there are more than 24 hours in a day, an anthology is some kind of a blessing, as they contain miniature worlds that I can finish traveling in just a few hours. And if the anthology in your hand has a caliber tantamount to that of Zombies vs. Unicorns, I assure you that all the time you spent reading it will not be wasted.
The winner for me? Not team zombie or team unicorn.
The winner is the reader.
* indicates stories that I enjoyed.