01/03/2012. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Bantam Press. 195 page illustrated small enlarged hardback. Price: GBP 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-593-06787-1).
check out website: www.rbooks.co.uk
The zombies as popular as ever, but Steven C. Schlozman has tried to present a fresh new spin on the genre by presenting his story in an epistolary form. Instead of simply telling the story from first to last, ‘The Zombie Autopsies' lets the reader piece together the background through excerpts from relevant documents, primarily the diary of a researcher, Stanley Blum, working at a disease control facility. There's an obvious parallel here with the classic of horror fiction, 'Dracula', but rather than a series of letters between different individuals, each of which witnesses part of the story, ‘The Zombie Autopsies' is very largely concerned with the viewpoint of Blum alone, though footnotes, appendices and memoranda give clues to other parts of the story as well.
The structure of the book is complex. It's put forward as a compilation of documents being presented to an anti-zombie agency working for the United Nations. An introductory memorandum makes it clear that things look very grave, with only a third of humanity uninfected. The key document in the collection is Blum's diary, which has been removed from the island facility where Blum was working. It is quickly made apparent that Blum and all his colleagues have all succumbed to the zombie plague or else been killed. The reader of the book is therefore in the privileged position of knowing not only what Blum knew but also other facts as well and the way the book is put together helps to draw the reader into becoming a participant in the zombie plague rather than a mere observer. That's a neat twist on the usual voyeuristic way zombie films work.
Overall, the book works very well and fans of the zombie genre are bound to enjoy themselves. Even though the virus-caused zombie plague idea is far from original, because the author is an actual medical doctor there's a degree of plausibility to the way it's used and described. As the title suggests, much of the book is made up of Blum's notes on his analysis and dissection of the zombies he is studying. But as well as a medically-trained eye, there's the novelist's attention to details such as character development and moral ambiguity. The accessory documents add further depth, covering such issues as the legal status of zombies and how supranational organisations can deal with a plague that threatens to wipe out all of humanity.
It's apocalyptic stuff to be sure and, if the book has a flaw at all, it's the lack of an obvious ending. After all, the Blum-part of the book is the only section with any real narrative and it only takes up the first two-thirds of the book. So once that's done, the reader is pretty much left high and dry. By definition, the diaries of a dead man can't tell you what happens afterwards! The documents that follow on from the Blum section are interesting in their way, but they don't really advance the plot. That may well be Schlozman's intention here, so what we have is a book without a happy ending and it's left to the reader to decide whether the clues Blum reveals are sufficient for humanity to find a cure for the zombie plague. But some readers, including this reviewer, may find that unsatisfying.
Other pluses or minuses? On the plus side, the drawings of the zombie dissection are delightfully gruesome and the imaginative references listed in the academic parts of the book add some fun frippery to the mix. On the debit side, though, the book is essentially a quick read with a fairly steep cover price and the 'handwriting' font used for the Blum section of the book is somewhat less easy to read than the usual serif fonts seen in novels. In short, an entertaining book, if not an entirely satisfying novel.
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