Friday, April 6, 2012

Kobra Kid Reviews: The Zombie Survival Guide

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead
The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I kind of love my coworkers. Some of them. You make one Zombieland reference in the break room and suddenly you're embroiled in a serious discussion about your plans for the zombie apocalypse and trading weapons tips and book recommendations. Of course, I'd already had this book on my "to read" list for quite a while before it was mentioned at the Round Table of Fearless Zombie Killers, but when one of my brothers-in-arms lent me his battered copy (by way of pitching it at my head while I was on a call with a customer, the little shit, I'm tripping him when the zombies come) I no longer had an excuse not to read it, despite the fact that I was already in the middle of reading about four other books. But really, if the zombie apocalypse were to happen tomorrow, what's going to help me--Two Gentlemen of Verona, or this?

The Zombie Survival Guide is a thorough run-down of the best and worst methods of weathering a zombie-related catastrophe, from a short encounter to a years-long siege. It details the ideal terrain, weather conditions, vehicles, fortifications, and most importantly, weapons. There are sections that discuss not only the most effective ways of avoiding the undead legions, but also of eradicating said legions, as well as long-term survival in the eventuality of a post-apocalyptic Crapsack World where the zombies have won. If a non-sentient species can really be said to win anything, as such, but let's not get into that now. The point is that the amount of thought Brooks put into this--the amount of careful, logical consideration of the subject and all its related aspects--is pretty amazing, and even a little mind-boggling. Clearly, Brooks is nerdlier-than-thou.

So imagine my surprise when I happened to glance at the back of this book and noticed that it's listed as humor. Humor? Really? I didn't find anything particularly funny about it, myself. It may contain a few amusing lines here and there, but honestly, I've read funnier throw-away quips in Stephen King novels, which sure as hell aren't categorized thus. Not that there's anything wrong with humor, of course, don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of it, naturally, but this book? Is not it. And I can't help but feel like, in this case, its being listed as humor is a little demeaning to the idea behind a book like this, because it says, "This is something improbable, therefore it is silly and amusing and not to be taken seriously." But what makes it that much different from any other book whose premise is improbable and outlandish and even, maybe, unscientific? Despite what we're apparently meant to believe, this book is science fiction at least, and speculative fiction at best. And personally, I think it's our best bet for not ending up as snacks for a bunch of dead guys with the munchies.

My only problem with this book is that Brooks based the entire work around his fictional zombie virus Solanum, and therefore focused solely on a single type of zombie. If this had been any other book--like his World War Z, for example--I wouldn't have minded, but I happen to feel that, if you're going to call your book the Zombie Survival Guide, you should offer the reader guidance for surviving whatever type of zombie they may, however improbably, face. I mean, maybe I'm asking too much, and probably I should just let the book be without imposing my own inclinations and desires on it, but regardless, I can't help letting it color my opinion of the book. Hence why I adjusted my initial rating from five stars to four. Sorry, Max.

Other than that, however, I can't find much at all wrong with this book. I even enjoyed the "historical" accounts at the end. At first, I thought that section was extraneous and detracted from the non-fiction reference style of the first quarter of the book, but by the time I finished, I'd changed my mind. I like how each story allows for a more detailed example of the principles laid out in the first part of the book. And I thought it was a nice touch how the apparently increasing frequency of zombie encounters over time lends the work a sense of exigence, like this could happen any time--you could wake up tomorrow and find yourself in the zombie apocalypse--rather than just being something amusing to think about.

All in all, the Zombie Survival Guide is an interesting, insightful, and useful read, which I would recommend to zombie enthusiasts everywhere, as well as anyone who hopes to last more than five minutes if and when the End Times come.

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