Shivers and Sighs Week: Review: Rigor Amortis

By Harry Markov

Rigor AmortisGates, Jaym and Holt, Erika, eds. Rigor Amortis. Absolute XPress (September 10, 2010). 134 pp. USD $14.95. ISBN-10: 1894817834.

Love is eternal. Love gives life a meaning so profound. Love conquers all, including death. The lovechild of editors Jaym Gates and Erika Holt, Rigor Amortis takes that last bit a notch further and explores what follows when love does conquer death, claws its way back from the grave and shambles back into being. Marketed as a flash fiction collection of ‘zombie erotica’, this anthology promises to peek inside the love dressed in stockings, the love that sways hips, the love that bumps and grinds.

Sex and death are the foundations of humanity. They have followed us from the establishment of culture, but are contrary to each other in most cases. Bloated corpses, shredded flesh and exposed bone are hardly enticing. On the contrary, they wake revulsion and remind us of our mortality. Sex, on the other hand, is the naughty warmth of arousal that confirms our existence. It’s a challenge to represent zombies – the modern face of death – as erotic. A different challenge, altogether, is to do so tastefully. Otherwise, Rigor Amortis could easily become an exercise in necrophilia. It’s a daring subject.

Rigor Amortis is a thing of beauty. Robert Nixon provides a simple, yet arousing and fitting cover, which sets the tone for the anthology. Galen Dara and Miranda Jean ensure the booklet, if I may call Rigor Amortis that for its 134 pages, has sufficient interior illustrations. Those I found most spectacular grace the four alliterative sections: Romance, Revenge, Risk, and the kinky Raunch. The creators aim for consistency in tone and establishing a forbidden sort of sensuality.

Yet, the anthology does not deliver. Everything from the cover to the illustrations, and then the genre, suggests that all the writers will examine human sexuality through the prism of a taboo as old as the world, namely, sex with the dead. Yet, while there are stories focusing exactly on this – with dead on dead and living on dead with reversed roles, scenarios, undertones and even sexual orientation – Rigor Amortis is not as hot as its promotion promised it to be.

When Rigor Amortis hits the bull’s eye and balances the gruesome with the erotic, it stuns and shines. Kaolin Imago Fire’s “Til Death Do Our Parts” is an exemplary illustration of what I expected from the anthology as a whole. Fire introduces the reader to a couple’s parting sex, after they’ve risen as zombies. He doesn’t withhold his punches. His prose explores the alien, and now-revolting, dimensions of sex, but at the same time, imbues the scene with enough love for the reader to look past the rot. Kaolin Imago Fire made advanced state of decomposition sexy. Impressive, considering the length.

Wendy Wagner’s “Head”, about post-guillotine fellatio, will make you blush, clear your throat for spying on such an act, and then probably feel shame for indulging yourself in the decadent act. While speaking of fellatio, Jennifer Brozek’s “Swallow It All” is guaranteed to arouse you and you will relish the satisfaction of revenge well-deserved. “Sublimation” by Don Pizarro pushes all the right buttons in a lust-filled story about human cruelty and zombies used as sex toys.

At the same time, “Cloudy with a Chance of Zombie Orgasm” by Annette Dupree boldly goes where no sex or zombie has gone, delivering one of the most hilarious zombie apocalypses, along with one of the most decadent and bizarre orgies in print. Carrie Cuinn does something unconventional in “Mitch’s Girl”, which just proves how diverse sex can be after death, ’cause humans certainly are ingenious in their lust.

With the above stories, the eroticism ends. At least, the erotic stories that did something for me. I’m perhaps unfair to gloss over so many stories, but I hope to be excused, because the table of contents features 34 pieces and I can’t discuss all of them. Rigor Amortis fails as zombie erotica, but it succeeds as an examiner of the human heart and the human libido after death.

“Returned” by J.R. Campbell resonated deeply within me, as it’s one of the most tender shorts I’ve read. The zombie here is not a representation of hunger and the act of physical devouring is missing. Instead, the un-dead husband returning to his still-living wife is a representation of how still an emotional connection can be. “Traveling a Corpse over a Thousand Li” takes on a more historical and dramatic approach, viewing the narrator’s sacrifice to her lover, now one of the undead, as a token of how deep her love runs.

Then the anthology explores the human darkness in “I Fall to Pieces” by Edward Morris [a story about freaks and murder and haunting] and “Erzuli’s Chosen Few” by Lucia Starkley [a story about voodoo and domestic abuse]. “Forbidden Feast at the Armageddon CafĂ©” by John Nakamura Remy strikes me as the most inventive and disturbing story in the lot, with a ghastly menu that will probably cause nausea.

Of course, not every story is dark and gritty. Readers will have the chance to enjoy some tame, and even humorous, stories. “Last Cigarette” by Armand Phillips brought a good chuckle for its sitcom representation of marriage post-mortem between old spouses. Sarah Goslee’s “My Summer Romance”, on the other hand, treats new infatuation and the dating prospects of the life-impaired.

It’s official: Rigor Amortis isn’t the sexy anthology that will ignite your hunger for taboo. However, it’s a lot more. It’s an anthology based on how the amorous interactions between people shift and evolve in hypothetical worlds, where the dead walk the Earth. Mind you, this is a lot to achieve for 34 flash fiction pieces, which are the result of a joke on Twitter.

You can find Rigor Amortis on Amazon.

Bio: Harry Markov: Priest of the Elder Gods of Weirdness, bookaholic, novelist, and freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter at @harrymarkov.