Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Zombie Survival Guide- Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks

Author of the "World War Z" books Max Brooks brings fans of his novels what they wanted- graphic retellings of all known Zombie attacks in recorded history (and some even before history was recorded, considering that the first attack in the book occurs in 60,000 BC).

Several attacks are only known because of a cave painting, archaeological find, or records of the Roman Empire, while others happen close to the modern day.

The Book Begins with an attack in 60,000 BC, and immortalized in a cave painting. Primitive Humans face off the Zombie armed only with rocks, fire-hardened spears, and rock axes. Then, in 3000 BC, we find a single zombie interred in a grave and scratched at the walls for years trying to escape before truly dying.

The Next is in Scotland in 121 AD. When the undead attack and infect a group of Caledonians, the only surviving witness to the attack is a Roman Merchant, who manages to warn the local Legion. The commander there comes up with a strategy to kill the zombies with the least loss of troops, beheading them near two great pits filled with pitch, dumping the heads in them and burning the remains. He also beheads his own bitten troops for good measure, but warns the rest of the Roman Empire of the way to defeat the Zombies, and it becomes part of the Law of the Legions.

Next, Francis Drake discovered an Island full of Zombies that were used by the local islanders to get rid of their dead, dying and infirm. However, he was so shocked by what he saw there, he only recorded it in a secret journal that remained hidden until after his death.

The, a group of Cossacks who became separated from the rest of their army, turned to Cannibalism in a small Siberian village when they had eaten through the village's food stores. When the people ran out, they went to the burial ground, looking for recent corpses to exhume and eat. They only found 1 fresh corpse, and the woman came "alive" when she was thawed and attacked the Cossacks. One was bitten, and the rest save for one chopped her up and ate her. The zombie flesh killed the humans, and the bitten man turned into a Zombie. The lone survivor fled, and the zombie chased him until it froze solid.

A letter from a Portuguese trader in Japan reveals the existence of a group of ninja-like Zombie slayers whose final test before joining the order was to spend the night in a chamber filled with the severed Zombie heads, still "alive". Then we have an outbreak on a slave ship that was sunk by another ship who discovered the vessel. And an outbreak in St. Lucia that was fled by the white slavemasters and defeated by the black slaves and freedmen- who were put down for a supposed "slave rebellion" and killed when the regular army came to the island.

In more modern times, Brooks tells the story of a zombie siege of an outpost of French Legionnaires, for which they lasted three years before finding a way to imprison the zombies and rejoin their comrades- only to be branded as deserters and sent to French Guiana. Then, during the second World War, the Japanese tried to raise an amy of Zombies to use... with disastrous results. The Russians found notes of their research, and tried for the same, with similar disastrous results. And finally, the source of the modern outbreak in Joshua Tree state park, where two men were turned, and a woman turned and killed.

This is an interesting look at the supposed Zombie History of World War Z, when Zombies devastated life on earth. But in the end, it's a bit unsatisfying. Yes, the zombie attacks are shown in tremendous detail and with considerable brutality and gore. But Brooks has to come up with increasingly credible reasons as to why nobody in the world seems to know about zombies before the first attack- or how zombies, who in the past couldn't even figure out how to open closed doors, can suddenly be driving a car in the modern day without a strong sense of disconnect.

Zombies are fairly mindless, as this book shows, creatures of hunger. So how can they suddenly remember to drive a car? Is it because the story needs them to? The other thing that bothered me about this book is that we never learn where the zombie virus came from. How did it evolve? Did it just suddenly appear? Why does it hopscotch from place to place around the globe, appearing here and there without warning? We're never told, and I'm guessing that maybe this appears in the World War Z book. But since people might not have read that one, it makes the tales told here somewhat shallow-looking.

The end result is that the story is okay in execution, but the overall book comes off as unsatisfying, at least to me. The reasons why humans apparently don't know about Zombies gets increasingly frail the closer we get to recorded history, and several of the accounts make it seem that some people do know, they just don't want to face the truth- such as the siege of the French Legionnaires- why does no help arrive? Why is their story never investigated, even after they are sent to French Guiana? You would think someone would want to re-occupy the fort, if they had soldiers there in the first place? For failing to answer those questions, among the others, I wouldn't recommend this book unless you just like reading about and seeing Zombies attack humans- there is plenty of that. Explanations, not so much.

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