Review: “Aftertaste” by John Shirley

3 of 5 stars.

Shirley’s short story, “Isolation Point, California” was one of my favorites in the anthology, After the End: Recent Apocalypses edited by Paula Guran. It was because of Shirley’s inclusion with this short story that I chose to pick up a second Guran anthology, Extreme Zombies. The two shorts are very different.

In this story, the gritty forgotten neighborhoods lost to drugs and prostitution are the breeding grounds for a spreading zombie menace. Through a series of characters, the cycles of addiction, violence and hopelessness are seen to escalate. The zombies take a back seat here; they are a byproduct, a symptom. The authorities do not see the actual zombies any more than they help the living in the areas rife with the drugs and poverty.

Jim stopped in the middle of the room, his gun in his hand, wanting to scream but not having the energy, still sick to his stomach, thinking that all this should feel dreamlike, but it didn’t now, not anymore . . . That was because there was a smooth and ordinary continuity between being strung out, crashing on crack, perceiving himself as human vermin . . . and being here, with the dying and the dead who move around.

A clear metaphor to early in the AIDS crisis seemed clear to me. The victims are the homeless, the addicts, and marginalized and the forgotten. Nobody from the outside is coming to the rescue in this gritty, urban psychological piece. I did like this piece, it just lacked the heart and conviction that I admired greatly in my first encounter with Shirley’s writing.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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