Zombies vs. Unicorns
Edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black
Simon and Schuster
This collection of short stories came to me through Around The World Arc Tours. Thanks!
Holly Black (Team Unicorn) and Justine Larbalestier (Team Zombie) have put together a compilation of twelve stories extolling the virtues (or lack thereof) of their chosen creature. I think you can guess which two creatures by the title.
Black and Larbalestier have a great banter going back in forth, first introducing the compilation, then introducing each story. For a few of the stories, the prefacing material by the editors was the best part. For others…well, there were a few stories in the collection that just blew me away. Unicorn and zombie.
I was nicely prepped for this collection at Dragon*Con this summer, when I went to a panel hosted by the YA lit track titled, well, Zombies vs. Unicorns. It was a highly entertaining panel, and one of the contributing authors, Kathleen Duey, was a panelist there. It was the best kind of audience participation panel, and as I read the stories collected here, I kept finding myself going back to the “zombies are better because…” and “unicorns pwn zombies because…” arguements.
Based on my overall reaction to the stories here, I have to say I fall on the side of Team Zombie. I was just impressed by more of the zombie stories. I loved the play of narrative voice and structure in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Iza’s forced embrace of hard practicality in “Bougainvillea,” by Carrie Ryan, and I laughed so hard I cried at Maureen Johnson’s clever “Children of the Revolution.” After reading “Children of the Revolution” I’ll probably never watch TMZ the same way again.
I guess just happening to sit on the Team Zombie side of the room during that Dragon*Con panel in September was telling, eh? And here I started reading the book firmly on Team Unicorn.
I don’t want to shortchange the unicorn stories, though. Naomi Novik’s “Purity Test” has wonderful snark, which had me cracking up, and I loved seeing the wit I enjoy reading in her Temeraire series on display in a modern setting. Meg Cabot wrote a unicorn–Princess Prettypants (the unicorn’s name, and the title of the story) that literally farts rainbows and the scent of night-blooming jasmine. Both are a great send-up of the typical Lisa Frank-style unicorn. Cabot and Diana Peterfreund both offer compelling ways for the seemingly extinct unicorn to exist in the modern world. Too, I liked Peterfreund’s predatory take on the mythic symbol in “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn”.
The two closing stories affected me the most, though. Black and Larbalestier really saved the best for last. Kathleen Duey’s “The Third Virgin” (Team Unicorn) and Libba Bray’s “The Prom” (Team Zombie) both touched me, where the other stories all just entertained me. “The Third Virigin” explores the cost of the great powers of healing attributed to the unicorn, and explores addiction, need, and loneliness in a powerful way. I might have cried. “The Prom” brought to my mind episodes of that television show, The Tribe, in which all the adults are wiped out by a disease–in this case they succumb to the zombie virus before the children–and the kids are left to fend for themselves. Less cheesy than The Tribe, not as insane or disturbing as The Lord of the Flies, “The Prom” is nonetheless moving. The kids left behind here do a remarkable job of keeping things together even though mom and dad are gone, even though some of them had to put mom and dad down themselves.
I thoroughly enjoyed this compilation, both in concept and execution. In fact, by the time I got it on the ARC tour, it had already been released in stores, so as soon as I dropped it in the mail last week to send back to the tour, I went out and bought my own copy. I have the feeling I’ll be coming back to a few of these stories again and again.