BY SEAN CLARK
Editors: Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
2010, Margaret K. McElderry
This collection isn’t quite what it sounds like: it’s not a bunch of stories about zombies and unicorns in battle. That would have been awesome. Instead it’s a collection of stories, some about zombies, some about unicorns. Each is preceded by a short dialogue between editors, each of which helms one of the two camps. The whole debate is pretty juvenile, even for a YA book, but that is, of course, to be expected to a degree considering the subjects at hand.
So does it work? Sort of. This collection is what it is. It boasts a number of recognizable young adult authors, and a few stories (such as “Inoculata” by Scott Westerfeld) are fairly good. The rest, not really so much.
As a unified work, this collection feels noticeably lacking. I had the distinct impression that this is the product of the editors calling in favors from their writer friends for stories, then feeling compelled to print them even if they weren’t really worthy. Some of the stories (Carrie Ryan’s “Bougainvillea”) are competent, just not really interesting. Much of the content of this book could have used more vetting, more big picture editing. The most succesful stories, such as “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Unicorn” by Diana Peterfreund, I could see finding print in books not titled Zombies vs Unicorns, but for most that’s not the case.
Oddly enough, coming from my particular preferences, I found the unicorn stories to be, on average, better than the team zombie entries. This was mainly because they felt slightly more original and creative. Peterfreund’s story is the most creative of the collection, telling the story of a girl who surreptitiously raises a unicorn orphan in a world where unicorns are vilified for being murderous wild beasts. This story, while far from perfect, succeeds in creating a unique and interesting mythology in a short space. Many of these stories try to do something different, but fall short of gripping. In addition a consistent theme in a lot of the poorer stories is somewhat mature subject matter handled rather immaturely. For instance (from Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”):
I’ve eaten big jocks and old ladies. I’ve raided funeral parlors (not recommended: formaldehyde is to corpses what the Kraft factory is to Vermont cheddar). I’ve even put an ad online!
Still, this book did provide me with some fun reading. And a distinct advantage to a collection of unlinked stories such as this is bad stories can always be skipped. I imagine those that fit into this book’s true audience (fairly dorky young adult readers, ones closer to young than adult) will probably find a decent amount of entertainment to be had with this. Zombies vs Unicorns is definitely a library pick-up and not a purchase though.
One last thing that can be observed just by grabbing it off the shelf: the cover art is pretty cool. It’s an elaborate doodle that spans both covers depicting an epic battle between the titular factions. Unfortunately, it passively oversells the content in the book.