The Zombie Survival Guide
by Max Brooks
Review by Paul Haggerty
Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780715633182
Date: 27 August 2004 List Price $18.60 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
"When Zombies Attack!" That pretty much sums up the concept behind Max Brooks's The Zombie Survival Guide. Divided into logical sections depending on the severity of the outbreak, the guide is part biology text, part instruction manual; chock full of anecdotes, strategy suggestions, and hundreds of tips and tricks for making it through the assault when the dead just won't stay put. What kind of vehicle should you have, what kind of weapons (and will the law allow you to have them), the guide covers the offense, the defense, and the miscellaneous details of living through zombie incursions both local and global. Duct tape and plastic sheeting will not suffice. A sword and cross-bow are heartily recommended. If you too would like to survive, The Zombie Survival Guide tells you how.
The Guide is broken up into logical sections which can be digested in small chunks. The book begins with a clinical discussion of zombies themselves. Where do they come from? How do they work? How do you stop them? How to avoid becoming one of them? The section is laid out logically and rationally. Even those of us who don't believe in zombies might find strange thoughts creeping through our heads with the occasional "That makes sense" quickly stifled with a bit of embarrassment. This sections ends with classifications for just how bad the outbreak is, and things to look for in the media that might suggest an outbreak has started.
Once you know the basics, the guide moves on to weapons to use against the undead menace and types of armor (and structures) for protecting yourself. Throughout, the guide is practical and realistic, discounting the flashy for the practical. Also important, the guide makes clear what is legal and what is not, although you should always consult your local rules and regulations. After all, it does you no good to procure a heavy machine gun for home defense if the SWAT teams just drop by for a little confiscation and incarceration party. The same goes for defensive systems, and in general the emphasis is placed on the simple. Even if an outbreak only lasts a month, anything that relies on electricity (even batteries) or fuel is going to become unreliable. Since zombies are practically brainless, you don't have to out think them, but you do have to outlast them, and as undead, they can last longer than you can. Make sure you're well supplied, and well hidden. If the zombies can't hear you or see you, they aren't likely to be able to find you.
Once you have your offense and defense planned out, now comes the time for attack and/or retreat. Your hide-out might be safe against a handful of undead, but when the few become hundreds, and supplies are running low, it's time to start thinking about getting out. So what do you bring? How do you travel? Where do you go?
Once you're safe and secure, perhaps it's time for thinking about a little payback. After all, the world won't be safe with all those undead running around. For this, there's a section on hunting zombies. It's a mixture of the other sections, combined with some suggestions on how to be safe when you've already decided to give up on being safe. Cleaning out the neighborhood is one thing, but how do you clean out the nearby woods, or the lake?
The penultimate section is on how to survive when the end of the world occurs. What happens when the outbreak becomes so large that the combined might of the worlds military and security forces are completely overrun? This is the only section that blew my suspension of disbelief. While the suggestions are good, they're less practical than in previous chapters. But I suppose when the end is nigh, flights of fancy are all that's left. This section is the basis for Max Brooks's follow-on novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, "Soon to be a motion picture", the story of a global zombie epidemic set in the near future.
And finally, we end with the reports from the front. From 60,000BC in Central Africa to 2002AD in the Virgin Islands, archaeological evidence, historical archives, and eye-witness reports are detailed in short stories of how the world has been constantly on the edge of disaster, and how only luck, bravery, and until recently, the patchwork nature of human civilization has saved us. But with every desert being cultivated, every steppe and tor being settled, and with airliners ferrying people from every point on earth to every other point on a day to day basis, just how much longer will humanities luck hold out.