First published back in September of 2003, New York based Max Brooks released his debut ‘novel’ (if indeed you can class it as such) entitled ‘The Zombie Survival Guide’. This unique, original and wholly insightful homage to the zombie subgenre created massive waves of appreciation, firstly amongst the hardcore zombie fans and later across an entire spectrum of readers. The book was to become a staple read for the many fans of the undead around the world.
The book’s meticulous eye for detail on each and every aspect of the guide lures the reader in time and again into a truly believable zombie reality. Beginning with a thorough physiology of the reanimated undead, Brooks dissects the common understanding of what makes a ‘zombie’ and lays down an entirely believable case for the existence of this time old enemy. Brooks not once shies away from portraying account after account of undead ‘facts’, totally submerging the reader into the premise that this is indeed an entirely real scenario.
Brooks details the scientific principles of the virus that lies behind the reanimation of corpses. The virus, which was dubbed ‘Solanum’ by a D Jan Vanderhaven in 1913, is elaborately examined by Brooks, detailing a carefully fabricated back history as well as an analysis of the virus in comparison to that of a voodoo zombie. Surprisingly Brooks disassociates ‘his’ zombies from the Romero-style modern day zombies by declaring that fire has absolutely no bearing towards the undead (other than the use of fire to kill or dispose of the zombies). This goes against the popular notion of zombies having an inherent fear of fire that was initially set down by Romero when he first established this new breed of zombies in his film ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968).
Next Brooks dives straight in with the veritable pros and cons of different weaponry that could be employed against these flesh-eating walking corpses. Weighing up a whole range of weapons, Brooks gives a unique view point on each, analysing them entirely from the practical stance of their use against zombies.
The book goes on to examine potential defensive positions and more importantly how best to secure a location. Brooks breaks down the different types of locations, weighing up their merits against the drawbacks. The idea of demolishing the stairway in an ordinary household, allowing for a good defensive position on the second floor of the house, is a stroke of well thought out zombie survival genius.
A full chapter detailing the best survival techniques for being on the run is next up. An array of different terrain types are discussed for the first time, bringing the elements of the environment fully into the equation of your survival. Like with the passages on weaponry, Brooks is writing from the point of view of being in the US, so many of the vehicles types discussed are US vehicles. However, the discussion points and principles brought up in each case can clearly be transposed on to vehicles from all continents.
Brooks heats up the pace of the ‘survival guide’ with his next chapter delivering the best principles behind going on the attack against the undead. The author’s thorough approach is maintained throughout this chapter, staying away from the temptation to go over-board an ‘attack attack attack' approach.
The final chapter on survival techniques is one on living in an undead world. This post-apocalyptically set chapter delivers a well thought out analysis on how humanity could survive, with entirely thought provoking points raised throughout. Once again, Brooks’ constant level-headed analysis never strays from the ‘factual’ face of the book.
As way of further corroborating the notion of the living-dead being more than just a fictional phenomenon, Brooks’ final section of the book details a whole fictional list of documented zombie encounters together with an overview of each, including the author’s thoughts on the supposed truth behind many of them. Spanning from 60,000 BC in Katanda, Central Africa, all of the way to 2002 in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Brooks fabricates an entire history for Solanum and its recorded effects on the human population.
The book concludes with an appendix in the form of an ‘Outbreak Journal’ for the reader to record any potential signs of zombie outbreaks. This clever little addition further airs the notion of a ‘real life’ threat in the undead.
The book as a whole is utterly unique, with so much time and effort gone into the analysis of each and every situation of a zombie outbreak. The book comes across as entirely believable on so many occasions, without a whisper of the satirical tongue-in-cheek nature that is lurking behind it.
Even with its technical delivery throughout, Brooks manages to successfully set down a thoroughly enjoyable read that actively engages the reader into the survival frame of mind from the outset. Although the book is written in a point-by-point fashion, the chapters still run in a fashion that is best suited to be read in a normal cover-to-cover way. This is an absolute must for all fans of zombie or indeed post-apocalyptic literature.
The contents of the book are broken down as follows:
The Undead: Myths and Realities
- Solanum: The Virus (Source, symptoms, transference, cross-species infection, treatment, reanimating the already deceased)
- Zombie Attributes (Physical abilities, behavioural patterns)
- The Voodoo Zombie
- The Hollywood Zombie
- Outbreaks (Classes 1-4)
Weapons and Combat Techniques
- General Rules (Obey the law, train constantly, care for your tools, beware display items, develop the first weapon)
- Close Combat (bludgeons, edged weapons, miscellaneous hand weapons, power tools)
- Slings and Arrows (Sling, slingshot, blowgun, shuriken, throwing knives, long or compact bow, crossbow hand bow)
- Firearms (Heavy machine gun, submachine gun, assault rifle, bolt-/lever-action rifle, semiautomatic rifle, shotgun, pistol, 22-caliber rimfire weapons, accessories)
- Fire (Molotov cocktails, dousing, blowtourch, flamethrower)
- Other Weapons (Acid, poison, biological warfare, zoological warfare, electrocution, radiation, genetic warfare, nanotherapy)
- Armour (Plate mail, chain mail, shark suit, helmets, bulletproof vests, Kevlar covers, tight clothes and short hair)
On the Defence
- The Private Residence [Defending Your Home] (Preparation Part I: The Home, Preparation Part II: Supplies, surviving an attack, immediate defence)
- Public Spaces (Office buildings, schools, hospitals, police stations, retail stores, supermarkets, shopping malls, churches, warehouses, piers and docks, shipyards, banks, cemeteries, capitols and city halls)
- General Rules
- The Fortress (Military complexes, prisons, offshore oil rigs)
On the Run
- General Rules (One goal, establish a destination, gather intelligence and plan your journey, get in shape, avoid large groups, train your group, remain mobile, remain invisible, look and listen, sleep, refrain from overt signals, avoid urban areas)
- Vehicles (Sedan, SUV, truck, bus, armoured car, motorcycle, additional motor vehicle equipment, alternate road transportation)
- Terrain Types (Forest – temperate/tropical, plains, fields, hills, swamp, tundra, desert, urban)
- Alternate Means of Transportation (By air, by water)
- General Rules (Know your waterway, stay in deep water, don’t skimp on supplies, watch your anchor line)
On the Attack
- General Rules (Collective response, keep discipline, be alert, use guides, have a base, have support, use daylight, plan your escape, let them come to you, knock, be thorough, maintain communication, kill and listen, dispose of all bodies, incendiary control, never go off alone)
- Weapons and Gear
- Terrain Types (Forest, plains, fields, tundra, hills, desert, urban, jungle, swamp)
- Strategies (Lure and destroy, barricade, tower, mobile tower, cage, tank, stampede, motorized sweep, airborne sweep, firestorm, underwater battles)
Living in an Undead World
- The Undead World
- Starting Over
- General Rules (Assemble a group, study, wean yourself off luxury items, remain vigilant, to the ends of the earth, know your location, become an expert, plan your route, Plan B-C-D-E, list your gear, be ready to shop, construct defences, plan an escape route, be on guard, remain concealed, remain isolated)
- Terrain Types (Desert, mountains, jungle, temperate forests, tundra, polar, islands, living by sea)
- Then What?
Recorded Attacks (61 records over 65 pages)
Appendix: Outbreak Journal
The book runs for a total of 254 pages.
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