Brian Keene's The Rising: Selected Scenes from the End of the World

Published by Delirium Books. $15.95 as a trade paperback. $5.95 as a digital edition. I read the digital edition (digital key unlocked PDF).


Early on in this collection, the foreward or Author's Note or however it is titled, Keene mentions not initially wanting to write this collection. His novels The Rising and City of the Dead, as well as Dead Sea, had gotten his zombie established and done.This collection was meant to be something of a fan service. Fair enough.

The premise is interesting. Each short story (each about the 1000 word mark) will be based on an actual person who submitted information to Keene, and each will describe a portion of a day in the Rising, the time in which the Earth is overwhelmed by the Siqqusim, a demon-like horde that inhabits the newly dead and creates quasi-zombie like beings that ravage and kill the living. I originally felt the format would be more of a "filling in the blanks" style collection, basically for those fans who want just a few more pieces of the puzzle. It actually surprised me by including some of the best moments from the entire Siqqusim continuum. Maybe it's because the scenes are kept short, or maybe it is because of the established universe, but Keene weaves these series of vignettes masterfully, filling in various reactions to a world gone awry. There are children hiding out, recluses enjoying catching up on their reading, thrash metal fans getting attacked in mosh pits, spelunkers hiding down in caverns, desperate husbands trying to find medicine, and a couple loving couples just glad to still be together, for however fleeting a time it might be.

In some ways, it is a form of cheating that so many stories cut out about the time the "real" horror hits, or start after the blackest moments, but that is something that short-short stories can do, and they can make it work. Keene makes it work, here.

As mentioned, these are not standard Romero zombies. They do not shamble, can talk, can use tools (including things like driving vehicles and shooting guns). This is a much more hopeless scenario than even the usual hope deprived zombie apocalypse. Nothing ends well for anyone, as anyone who had read the earlier two novels knows. With that being said, some zombie fans will be put off by both the ubërbleak tone and the changes to the genre. Shooting them in the head still works, and they are still dead flesh that will eat the living, but that's about it.

The stories run a gambit from insta-tragedy, to survivalist plannings, to black comedy, to critquies on fellow humans, to isolation fantasies. A little bit for everyone and a quick read. I did read the two primary novels, first, so I have no way of saying for sure whether you have to read them first or not. I think it helps, because a few of the "happier" endings are tainted by the facts known from the ending of those. It makes the whole collection somewhat bittersweet, and the few victories contained are much more about keeping a personal humanity alive beyond the flesh.

For those who did read the other novels, you get some bonsuses. Extended scenes involving characters from the novel, and provide some background, as well as glimpses at how the rest of the world is handling things. For those who have read some of Keene's other, recent, short story collections, the Siqqusim-using stories "The Siqqusim Who Stole Christmas" and "The Ressurection and the Life" are not present. This collection seems to be entirely unique in its content, so it is doubtful you can skip it and pick up a few stories later on down the road.

The one possible real detraction is towards the end. As the nature of the evil changes (trying to not spoil too much) from zombies to something more omnipresent, Keene delights in describing new terrors. However, to my mind, the gas mileage here simply did not truck as far. It almost played out more as a "AHA! GOTCHA" moment just as things were wrapping up. A single story from that time probably would have worked, but the two or three that are there are almost overkill. However, after this lull, the last two stories again pick up and paint the stories in a cosmic light which does work. I personally think that the "new evil" stories could have been stronger, and Keene admits to enjoying writing them, but need more room to breathe rather than being shoehorned as a segue between zombies and cosmic destruction.

I cannot complain about the $5.95 price, but keep in mind that PDF has some fairly strong pros and cons as a format. Still, you have permission to print out pages if you need (at least one printing) so if you cannot take the written word electronically, there is that option.

This is a good collection with a lot of pluses against its few minuses. It is actually the best new written zombie work I have picked up in awhile (most of my readings lately have either been more classic zombie works from the 80s, graphical works, or less than stellar updates to the genre). I am going to give it a Great because the two or three stories that did not sit well with me can be considered bonus outtakes for the price I paid. If I had paid the "full" price, I might be a little less forgiving, but even then Keene has a way of bringing such a personal earnestness to his works that some faults are easy to overlook.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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