Before I start the review, I want to let you know about a new page on my site. Bizarro author Amy M. Vaughn (who you may recall me interviewing here) has compiled a list of bizarro and bizarro-adjacent publishers for this site. Be sure to check it out. She’s done a great job. Now, onto the review!
Cyberpunk Zombie Jihad by Mark Zirbel
Some titles leap out at me and without any context, I have to read them. Cyberpunk Zombie Jihad by Mark Zirbel was such a title. I tend to favor long fiction over short stories, but in Zirbel’s collection, the stories are tied together in one incredible setting, giving the appearance of a single work from many different perspectives.
Welcome to the future, a bizarro cyberpunk dystopia. The United States has become an ultra-religious fascist state, organized into Christianized Zones controlled by the Ministry of Fear. Combating them is the Resistance. While this may sound familiar to other dystopias, Zirbel makes it his own.
I appreciated that this was not a black and white struggle, but an evil fought by a lesser evil. Zirbel shows us a bleak, scary future, but in the current state of the world not implausible. His commentary is neither heavy-handed nor preachy, but rather a stark warning.
He explores elements not normally touched in such stories. The music scene of this future world plays a large part, giving us a glimpse at the potential evolution of music and its role in politics. The “Bureau of Bodily Modification, Mutilation, and Mutation” (or BBM3) is a key player, as well as the drug REM-ED (or remedy). Various fads and trends enrich this world and add to the believability of this bizarre future Zirbel has created.
The collection begins with the titular “Cyberpunk Zombie Jihad,” the story of the re-animated, cybernetic musician Madd0x N1x0n, fleeing the government that brought him back to life. Ultimately, it felt lacking in substance, the weakest of the collection, despite its ridiculously creative concept. If I was a casual reader, I may have dismissed the book then and there, but I am so glad I kept reading.
“Notes on the Propagation of Angels” delivers a series of vignettes centered around the “angels” created by the Ministry of Fear to further their control. Written in a unique, almost note-like style, it is here that we first see Zirbel’s true gift with storytelling.
This is followed by “Down the Stream,” a stream-of-consciousness tale in the 2nd person simulating in disturbing detail the effects of the drug REM-ED. “Slice-and-Grab” comes next, a tale of organ harvesters in a world where companies waylay bystanders to cut out their usable organs and run.
My favorite of the collection was easily “Anarcho-Erotic.” Camille has left her life as part of a criminal performance art group and married a religious government man with a secret, only to be drawn back into that dark, crazy world. The story explodes off the page and carries you with it until the end. I could see this as a novella or novel—one that I would love to read.
Zirbel ends the collection with a chaotic, but beautifully written journal entry of Madd0x N1x0n from before it all started. The author is dedicated to immersing the reader in this world, throwing in Ministry of Fear PSAs as “Commercial Breaks” between stories. It is exciting to follow along and watch as his setting grows richer and richer with each story.
You can find Cyberpunk Zombie Jihad on Amazon here.