“The Dead” is a 1996 science fiction short story by Michael Swanwick. It is about a company that re-animates dead people – using zombies as a cheap form of labor.
Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:
“The Dead” follows Donald, a man who is being courted by a new company with a simple premise: bring the dead back to life and they can be used as a type of cheap, non-complaining, never-get-sick-or-hurt workforce. Sounds great doesn’t it? Donald has a few reservations, however, so the company sends someone to help him see the light. As he eats out, watches a boxing match and argues with his lady he comes to see the true value of a zombie work force.
Three boy zombies in matching red jackets bused our table, bringing water, lighting candles, brushing away the crumbs between courses. Their eyes were dark, attentive, lifeless; their hands and faces so white as to be faintly luminous in the hushed light. I thought it in bad taste, but “This is Manhattan,” Courtney said. “A certain studied offensiveness is fashionable here.”
The blond brought menus and waited for our order.
We both ordered pheasant. “An excellent choice,” the boy said in a clear, emotionless voice.
My Two Cents:
• The good:
- Michael Swanwick is a talented writer who knows how to write well and keep the reader engaged. This story is no exception.
- “The Dead” really does make you think about the economic ramifications of using zombies as a labor force – a very interesting idea.
- There are some scenes that are just outright funny – like the boxing match!
• The bad:
- There are some revolting ideas in this story – like some of the more “exotic” uses of re-animated corpses. Be careful of that.
- Also watch out for strong language and adult situations.
- While it is a great story, I came away a little bit disgusted and scared at the same time. If you’re looking for a happy ending then “The Dead” is not for you.
• Page Count: 8
• “The Dead” garnered the following awards:
- It was nominated for the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
- “The Dead” placed fourth in the short story category of the 1997 Locus Poll.
- It was nominated for the 1998 Nebula Award for Best Short Story.
Where you can find “The Dead”:
- This short story first appeared in the 1996 anthology Starlight 1.
- “The Dead” is included in Gardner Dozois’s amazing collection The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction. (Read my review of this book.)
- It is also included in Michael Swanwick’s award winning short story collection Tales of Old Earth.
Some Interesting Links:
- Blue Tyson over at Not Free SF Reader has a very short summary of this story – and he gives it his highest rating!
- Infinity Plus has a nice interview with Michael Swanwick and it mentions a little bit about his “dead” characters.
Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Mortimer Gray’s History of Death, about a man’s fascination with death’s role in human history, by Brian Stableford.