If you’re a zombie fan and you’ve ever been bothered by the inconsistency and implausibility of undead lore, there’s a book for that. The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Steven Schlozman, MD, attempts to legitimize zombie lore by throwing it through the ringer of science. While what comes out the other side doesn’t stand alone as a bastion of zombie canon, it certainly adds support to an otherwise fragmented and rapidly decaying mythology.
Could zombies really exist? I, of course, am unliving proof of it. But before the real zombie apocalypse struck, zombie enthusiasts everywhere were plagued by the sneaking suspicion that the canonical “rules” of zombiism were not just implausible – they were downright dumb.
How can a zombie keep on trucking, despite missing entire body parts that are crucial to body functioning (arms, chests, blood … everything below the waist…)? Why are zombies ravenously hungry all the time? Why can’t they ever push back from the brain buffet and call it a night? Why do they crave human flesh? Why is destroying the brain the only way to destroy them?
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The Zombie Autopsies does a clever thing: it attempts to answer these nagging questions by presenting a realicious rubber-gloves-and-scrubs autopsy scenario in which a doctor dissects numerous zombies and reports, in often dizzyingly gruesome detail, what makes the undead tick. And because a straight-up autopsy report would be all kinds of dull, the book wraps that in an outer layer of fiction, in which the author scaffolds his own zombie universe. For those of you keeping score, that’s horror fiction wrapped inside science fiction wrapped inside more horror fiction, making the Zombie Autopsies a heaping helping of tasty horror/sci-fi turducken.
Zombie purists may be interested in the fictional world the author has constructed; indeed, not since vampires started twinkling has a horror genre suffered such an identity crisis through the fragmentation of its fictional “rules”. The Zombie Autopsies sticks to familiar territory, holding mainly to the groundwork laid by George Romero (who endorses the book on the back cover). These zombies are walkers, not runners, but they’ll lurch if they get close. They’re not super-strong, but they are tenacious, and rabidly hungry. Zombiism is caused by a virus (not the full moon, radiation or toxic gas), and they’re only technically “undead” by a twist of human reasoning – the book’s “humanoids” are essentially human beings who have succumbed to a virulent sickness, a la 28 Days Later.
It’s Not All Withered Roses
While Schlozman creates a compelling doomsday scenario, his book presents a few frustrations. One of the main characters makes some sort of scientific breakthrough in studying ANSD (the virus that causes zombiism), but the reader is never let in on the secret. We’re left instead to flip back through the pages, hunting for clues and drawing connections to solve a mystery that i’m not certain even the author has worked out.
The illustrations struck me as somewhat amateurish. i was hoping for something that looked more authentically “medical”, like you would find in a very thick, very dull text book, but instead found doodles by what appeared to be an aspiring comic book artist. A cruise through illustrator Andrea Sparacio’s portofolio turns up vaguely Crumb-like art that may please some readers, but i didn’t care for it. Finally, the book is a very quick read. Laid out in a handwriting-style font with plenty of breathing room in the margins, it rockets by more like an overlong short story than a proper novel.
“Hold still – you may feel a little pinch … ”
We Shall Overcome (and Eat Your Brains)
Concerning Zombie Rights, the book is deplorable. The author concocts something called the “Ecumenical Treaty of Atlanta” concerning the status of zombified humans, on which much of the book’s moral teeter-tottering relies. The ultimate conclusion is that zombies, lacking the reasoning afforded by functioning frontal lobes, are NLH (“No Longer Human”), and can therefore be dispatched with impunity.
I can assure you, dear reader, that if such a treaty actually existed in this day and age, I would be the first to march (or, rather, lurch) on the capital to growl my disapproval. I mean, of course zombies are not human! But to suggest we no longer care about anyone or anything is simply preposterous. I care very much about eating brains, and I should have the right to eat them where and whenever I so choose. And I should be free from the meddling spatulae of scientists who choose to perform autopsies on zombies while they are still alive. The barbarism is simply galling.
More Prop than Proper Prose
The Zombie Autopsies turned my stomach – not because of the illustrations or the (literally) gory details, but because of the blatant disregard for re-life exhibited by its so-called protagonists. On the plus side, the lovingly-crafted descriptions of pulsating brains made me positively delirious with hunger. (I may have taken a bite out of the book at one point.) I inadvertently learned more about brain, heart, lung and GI functioning than I may have intended to, but nothing that could help me bluff my way through a premed exam.
Due to its length and somewhat frustrating open-endedness, The Zombie Autopsies serves more of a supportive role as fifth business to zombie lore than earning a star turn in the spotlight. It’s worth a (brief) read by any zombie fan who lies awake at night worrying about the scientific implausibility of his favourite novels and films. But if you don’t end up reading the book, allow me to reassure you: we zombies are very real, and I’m happy to pay you a visit in the rotting flesh to prove it.