The Zombie Survival Guide

Since the millennial fever leading up to the year 2000, there have been many catastrophic scenarios played out in the media, from movies about alien invasions and meteorite impacts to novels that sensationalize the Rapture and documentaries about global warming. There’s a lot of talk about a clash of civilizations, avian flu, dwindling natural resources, and the fact that there are tens of thousands of nuclear weapons floating around Russia secured with no more than a padlock and a piece of scrap paper that says “Do not touch—spasiba!” in felt-tip marker.

But the real threat isn’t the hole in the ozone layer, or the irrational politicians, or even the terrorists. It’s zombies.

I’ve been trying to warn people about the zombie menace for years. Many people dismiss zombies as the featured villains in a few disproportionately popular low-budget horror flicks, but I’m here to tell you there is a clear and present danger from the living dead. I’ve never seen a zombie personally, but if you do the right searches on Google News and read between the lines, it’s easy to see just how real and imminent the threat of a zombie armageddon is. With the current ease and speed of international travel and the tendency of major governments to dismiss and ignore zombie outbreaks, the world is no more than a week away from a near-total conversion to a planet of the living dead.

While the politicians and the military aren’t doing much to protect you (and probably won’t be much help when the crisis begins, if world history is any indication), you don’t have to simply sit and wait for you and your loved ones to be overwhelmed by rotting flesh and gnashing teeth. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks provides everything you need to know to prepare for an onslaught of the undead.

The first section, “The Undead: Myths and Realities,” outlines the origins of the zombie menace and its spread by the Solanum virus. It provides useful information about the physical symptoms of infection and the steps that must be taken to prevent infection (which more or less amount to “Don’t get bitten by a zombie”).

(On a side note, DG, who’s working on a Ph.D in biochemistry at Brandeis, has a friend who works on Solanum at UCLA. They’re trying to develop a vaccine. Fingers crossed that it happens before a Class 3 outbreak.)

Brooks also describes the nature of zombie biology and behavior, as well as their deficiencies (for example, zombies can’t climb ladders or trees, though they can survive underwater indefinitely). And of course, Brooks emphasizes that the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain.

One particularly intriguing paragraph discusses the zombie preference for human flesh:

Recent evidence has once and for all discounted the theory that human flesh is the fuel for the undead. A zombie’s digestive tract is completely dormant. The complex system that processes food, extracts nutrition, and excretes waste does not factor into a zombie’s physiology. Autopsies conducted on neutralized undead have shown that their “food” lies in its original, undigested state at all sections of the tract. This partially chewed, slowly rotting matter will continue to accumulate, as the zombie devours more victims, until it is forced through the anus, or literally bursts through the stomach or intestinal lining. While this more dramatic example of non-digestion is rare, hundreds of eyewitness reports have confirmed undead to have distended bellies. One captured and dissected specimen was found to contain 211 pounds of flesh within its system! Even rarer accounts have confirmed that zombies continue to feed long after their digestive tracts have exploded from within.

“Weapons and combat techniques” examines various methods for dispatching ghouls, with detailed analyses of hand weapons, rifles, and explosives. (Here’s a hint: a rifle and a machete, as depicted on the book’s cover, are the ideal combination.) Some movie myths, such as the exalted status of the shotgun as the pre-eminent zombie-slaying tool, are deflated; the wide shot dispersal makes the weapon worthless except at close range, and if there’s anything you should take away from The Zombie Survival Guide, it’s that you should avoid close-range combat with zombies at all costs. The infamous chainsaw is similarly dismissed as too heavy and limited by its fuel consumption.

The following sections, “On the Defense,” “On the Run,” and “On the Attack,” outline strategies for how to deal with a zombie outbreak once it has begun. Included are lists of items to stock up on, bunker-style; examinations of various types of regions and terrain and their relative safety from zombie infestation (hint: stay far away from cities); and techniques for slaughtering large numbers of zombies when escape is not an option. Much of these sections is standard emergency-survival book fare, but it’s a good wake-up call for those who can’t imagine a world without cell phones, pizza delivery and cable television.

The most chilling chapter is “Living in an Undead World,” which imagines a Class 3 outbreak, a worst-case scenario in which the majority of humanity has been turned into living dead. Though the zombie life-span is usually no more than three to five years, that’s more than enough time for humanity to crumble to extinction if at least a few people don’t learn to survive. Eventually the zombies will die out and humanity can start anew; but, unless a vaccine is developed for Solanum, the threat of another catastrophic zombie outbreak will always loom on the horizon.

The final section, “Recorded Attacks” provides the most engaging reading. It traces the history of zombie outbreaks from ancient history to the present day. Particularly sobering are the many instances where inadequate containment and post-crisis clean-up allowed one or two zombies to escape, only to instigate another outbreak days or months later. Even more disturbing is an alleged account of Japanese attempts to employ zombies as a combination of conventional, biological and psychological warfare during World War II (thankfully, all these attempts appear to have been failures).

Like Dr. Henry Armitage’s seminal Guarding the Gate, The Zombie Survival Guide is an essential volume for anyone able to grasp the very real threat of zombie armageddon. Whether you live in a comfy First World suburb or the worst Third World ghetto, no one is safe from the living dead. Be prepared.

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