Dr Dale’s Zombie Dictionary by Dr Dale Seslick

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Title: Dr Dale’s Zombie Dictionary: The A-Z Guide to Staying Alive

Author: Ben Muir

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It is not full-force odd, but this is Zombie Week, dammit, so my criteria for what is unspeakably strange will be a bit more flexible this week.

Availability: Published by Allison & Busby in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: So, Zombie Week begins! And a merry and quite disgusting time will hopefully be had by all, but before we begin, let me get the business out of the way. You see, this time I am doing things a little bit differently. I am still giving out a free copy of every book I will discuss, but this time, there will be only one winner. That’s right! One lucky winner will get all five books. Here are the details about the contest:

–You enter by leaving a comment on any of the Zombie Week discussions.
–You can enter up to five times by leaving a comment on all five of the Zombie Week entries.
–Only one comment per entry will count. So if you comment 50 times in one entry, you’ve only entered once.
–Alternately, you can leave one comment on all five entries at any time you want, as long as you make all comments by 9:00 pm CST on Friday, 4/1/11.

Hopefully that’s clear: One comment per day equals one entry to win, with a max of five entries. But I hope this doesn’t limit people from commenting often because zombies are not my bailiwick and I wanna know what y’all think about these books or zombies in general.

Okay, so I have read a few zombie books in my time and appreciated them in so much as zombies go. I was not a reader who sought out zombie books – I read them mainly because an author I liked was dabbling in zombies or a book I selected in my typical haphazard manner ended up being about zombies. I never “got into” zombies until last fall, when Mr. Oddbooks was all hepped up about a new series on AMC, the television adaptation of The Walking Dead. Not really expecting much, I tuned in with him and found myself thrilled.

I guess I had expected it to be sort of like the zombie equivalent of True Blood, wherein a bunch of unspeakably attractive people and supernatural creatures lead unseemly lives, do lots of stupid things, wander around in a plot that verges on dadaism and then have sex with each other. I really was thrilled watching The Walking Dead. I remember the same, “Holy shit, this is gooood!” feeling I had when I first read Stephen King’s The Stand back when I was but a wee girl. I suspect part of it was the apocalypse, because, of course, most zombie stories are stories about the of the end of the world. But I suspected that there might have been more to it than that.

Zombies are hip right now, and I feel sort of ashamed talking about them here, but at the same time, I had access to some interesting and unlikely books about zombies, so why not? Why not find out if the thrill from watching a television show would translate into books? Also 2009 and 2010 were some really craptacular years for us here at IROB and part of me wondered if maybe the show fed into my latent desire to see the world just crumble into a state wherein I might, potentially, find myself with a shotgun, picking off the shambling corpses of those who so richly deserved it, you know, should the zombie apocalypse happen. I needed to decide if it was the zombies or my nihilistic and borderline psychotic urge to wallow in the end of the world, and maybe it could be both. Who knows?

So I did it. I read five zombie books (well, six, but one was so short that I did not have enough to discuss after reading it) and I was lucky enough to have read Dr Dale’s Zombie Dictionary first because it gave me the grounding to understand zombie canon, because all supernatural monsters have a canon, the thing by which all purists measure the genre, and which must be subverted eventually if the genre is going to survive. But before you can subvert you have to know what entails subversion and this book is an excellent place to get a purist’s look at what zombies are and how a person should respond to them.

Overall, this is a book meant mainly to be a humorous look at how to live through the coming zombie apocalypse. There are moments of outright hilarity but I do have to admit that there are moments of what I call “Dad Humor.” Dad Humor is a benign Family Guy episode, or a Mel Brooks film as interpreted by Jim Carey. Sometimes the jokes go on a bit long and weren’t that funny to begin with and it happens enough to notice but not enough to be a deal killer. Here’s an example of what I mean:

You will not be able to appeal to their better nature or their human side because they will not have one. They will have forgotten it. They will have no memory. But (and it’s a big but) BUT (sorry, there we go. That’s a big but – the other but was just a regular sized but – maybe I should make my point more clearly) BUT (now that’s a big but – and we like big buts, I cannot lie…) even though a zombie may not retain its human memories, it may have subliminal memories of certain aspects of its human existence.

See? Dad Humor. Not egregious, and I dare say some of you may find that sort of thing amusing, but at times, I found it distracting, especially in this passage wherein an important part of zombie canon was discussed – the fact that zombies retain a sort of muscle memory of things they did when alive, but when you see them wandering around the mall, it’s important to remember that they have no idea why they are doing what they are doing and that if your mom becomes a zombie, she may sort of recall your face but will have no idea why that recollection is important and will attack you anyway.

And since a large chunk of my readership is American, you may do some Googling to get some of the references. Not many, and luckily, I saw a Yakult commercial just before I had to find out what word referred to, but there may be handful. Like this reference in the entry for “Parasitic Zombie”:

Can affect both the living and the previously dead as the parasite is only operating the body like a puppet – like Rod Hull used Emu – although Emu didn’t try and kill you… much.

Hint to Americans: Picture Shari Lewis and Lambchop, only Lampchop cannot talk and is completely demented and occasionally attacks people. Hope this helps. I enjoy things like this, finding out the vast differences between The United States and England. We speak the same language, more or less, but they have curry shops and we have Taco Bell. They have demented emu puppets and we have Sesame Street. The cultural variations are staggering.

This book was pretty instructive, Dad Humor and intrusive cultural references notwithstanding, in teaching me some essential canonical facts about zombies. Among them:
–Zombies really aren’t interested in brains, contrary to popular opinion.
–There is no cure if a zombie bites you. There is no cure for existing zombies. This is a point that bore much repeating.
–Zombies are monsters and their weapons are their mouths, which is such a manifestly obvious statement that I had to wonder why it seemed so revelatory when I read it.
–One has to have died in order to have become a zombie, which also is a pretty obvious statement and explains why people refused to accept 28 Days Later as a zombie movie. (I still think it’s a zombie movie but I’m also not vested enough to be a purist.)
–The only way a zombie can be killed is to destroy its brain. Which, in my opinion, may have given rise to the idea that zombies somehow need brains in order to survive.

If all of that is obvious to you, chances are you are far more advanced in your study of the genre than I am but as the week progresses, I will be discussing fare that is not so obvious and books that outright subvert the genre, but you gotta walk before you can run.

Overall, this was an amusing, interesting book. Given that it is literally a dictionary of all you need to know about zombies and what you will need to do to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse, there’s really not much I can discuss outside of just quoting the parts that I found amusing or informative.

Take this snippet from the entry for “Bacteria”:

Should you, however, discover a way in which to destroy all bacteria I implore you – DON’T – Bacteria is also our greatest natural asset in the war against zombies. It is bacteria that makes them rot.

Although this may seem like a rather time-consuming way to defeat the undead, bear in mind that given the right conditions (hotter climate) and with the help of insects, a human body can rot away to just bone in anywhere between 50 and 365 days.

Again, I guess I was operating under the assumption that zombies, when resurrected from their corpse-like repose, sort of get frozen in time and they don’t rot further. Is this rot factor addressed in movies? I’ve mostly only seen a handful of Romero films, but in those it doesn’t seem like the rot-over-time factor is an issue. But then again, I may not have been paying attention. But it is good to know that equatorial Africa and Austin, Texas are the best places to be if one just wants to passively wait out the apocalypse.

But then there are loony sections, wherein we learn which sorts of dancers will be of the most help when the zombies come. Pro tip: Tap dancers are likely going to create too much noise unless they take off their shoes and use them as weapons or are so fleet and nimble that they can tap along and just kick the zombies in the head. Line dancers will be of no use at all.

But in among all the silliness, there are some interesting gems that transcend the sort of Monty Python tone the book sometimes assumes. I, for one, though a zombie tyro, would never have considered the use of drugs in the war against zombies:

There is also the very interesting possibility of using psychotropic drugs as weapons against zombies. Drugs like LSD, Cannabis and Ecstasy are all mind-altering substances which affect the brain. As the brain is the only operating organ in a zombie, would these drugs be useful? Depending on the dosage, it probably wouldn’t kill a zombie but it may disorientate them for a while, giving you a chance to escape (this could be particularly useful when faced with large crowds of the undead).

Dr Dale goes on to discuss the difficulty in administering drugs to the zombies, but it is a tantalizing idea. (And, because I evidently am all that stands between sanity and vocabulary chaos, is “disorientate” really common usage? Is this another quaint difference between the UK and the US? Because part of my intestinal tract dies when I read or hear “conversate” or “disorientate” instead of the plainer but far nicer “converse” and “disorient.” I mean, my opinion on “alright” is well known but it’s in the OED so maybe I should just stop getting my panties in a wad, no?)

One more point, and I realize that this is a strange thing for me to focus on, but for those of you who are deeply into zombies, you may appreciate how this book addresses the meta of the zombie experience. One of the best examples is “Nazi Zombies” and this is gonna be a long quote, but it’s worth it:

…the thought of zombies is quite grim. However, despite this fact, there are still media executives sitting in shiny offices worldwide trying to find ways to make zombies more frightening.

‘Hey,’ one of these executives might say at these meetings. ‘We’ve got a new movie coming out but we need to find a way to make these zombies a bit more terrifying than your average zombies.’

‘How about making them into clowns?’ another executive might suggest.

‘Been done in Zombieland and Left 4 Dead 2,’ someone else would point out. Then they’d all look thoughtful for a moment until one of them bangs his fist on the desk.

‘Got it!’

‘Hey! Bob’s got an idea!’

‘Well – and run with me on this – what’s a really scary thing? You know, totally scarier than anything else you ever thought of?’

‘Your wife first thing in the morning?’ They would then all guffaw and punch each other on the arm and make manly bonding sounds and nudge-wink faces. Once this has subsided the conversation would continue.

‘Go on, Bob, we’re listening.’

‘Nazis!’

‘Nazis?’

‘Zombie Nazis!’

‘Wow, Bob – I think you may have just come up with a winner!’

‘Let’s put it to a focus group!’

‘To hell with a focus group – let’s do it!’

‘Jeez, I feel good – let’s go grab a steak and kill a hooker!’

‘High five!”

This is obviously only an estimation of how the conversation may go and I, of course, have no definitive proof that media executives either eat steak or kill hookers – but my point is (and I do have one): is there any need to make zombies any scarier than they already are?

The fact is that Nazis weren’t really nice people – what with their xenophobia and silly moustaches and all. But if you turn one into a zombie they’re not going to be any different than any other zombie – they are still going to want to kill and bite everyone they see. The only difference between a Nazi zombie and any other zombie is that the Nazi zombie would be wearing a Nazi uniform…

See, I may not know much about zombies, and given this, feel free to snert at me, but this made me very happy because it confirmed my initial “Oh lord!” reaction I had when people in the LiveJournal community ontdcreepy were talking up the movie Dead Snow. It’s actually got pretty good ratings on Amazon and maybe it’s a clever inversion or subversion of the genre but I mostly got Dr Dale’s vibe that it really makes no difference if zombies were Nazis because zombies really can’t spring from the grave and continue as they were when they were alive unless the genre rules are bent. And for all I know, the movie is satire but it was nice to see that even as a novice, some of my initial impulses were backed by an expert.

I think that for a n00b like me, this is an excellent reference. The humor is a little hit or miss for me but mostly it was a hit, the information is expansive and it’s a good way to find out zombie rules before you move on to fare that breaks the rules. I also think that collectors, those who must have all that is zombie-related, should have a copy of this book on their shelves. Frankly, it was also just a fun read because while I comment on the Dad Humor and similar, that’s a pretty damn small criticism, rendered as much in jest as a real problem with the book. So people who just enjoy fun books would like reading this, I think.

And don’t forget, you can potentially win a copy of this book and all the others I discuss this week. Just leave me a comment to this entry and you’re entered to win all five copies. Up your chances to win by leaving a comment to every Zombie Week discussion, with a max of five chances to win. And talk amongst yourselves, please. I want to know what my readers have to think about this genre. You’re a smart, entertaining, twisted bunch of people and I can’t wait to read what you have to say.

Come back tomorrow, because I am following the book that helped me establish the rules with a book that breaks every one of them. Good times!

49 thoughts on “Dr Dale’s Zombie Dictionary by Dr Dale Seslick

  1. I happen to be a huge fan of the undead. After reading your review of this book, I am dying to read it! It seems very entertaining, while informative! By the way, I also enjoyed The Walking Dead on AMC!

    1. The Walking Dead really was a revelation for me. Mr Oddbooks followed the graphic novels the show is based on but for some reason, that the series existed at all passed me by completely. I can’t believe I almost didn’t watch it.

  2. While the explosion of zombie reference guides/dictionaries do little for me personally. I do think everyone in the world should own at least one. =)

    1. After I received this one in the mail, I began to notice all the other zombie references out there. They all seem to have ads on Cracked. I wonder if there are enough novices like me to justify them all.

  3. I read a lot of zombie books so I’m usually on the lookout for new ones. I’ve never heard of this one. It sounds like a lesser version of the Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks.

    1. I think I will eventually read all the Max Brooks books. I deliberately avoided them for Zombie Week because when I mentioned zombies to anyone, the Brooks books were the first ones people talked about and since I discuss “odd” books, I wondered if they would be too mainstream. But at the same time, I really want to read World War Z sooner rather than later

      1. I really think World War Z was one of the best books put out during the first decade of this century. I really do. There’s something magnificently hypnotic about it, about how the writing itself manages to capture the flavor and feel of more visual mediums without sacrificing itself. It also felt like I was a kid, watching Headline News when something momentous occurred and the entire world held its breath.

        Also, there are a handful of pieces of fanfiction written for WWZ that are screamingly funny and poignant, mostly for the Yuletide fic exchange.

        1. Fan fiction, you say. Why am I feeling the urge to run screaming into the street. As a wee lass of 33 I was almost ruined when I read some fan fiction. True story.

          WWZ is totally on my list now.

  4. As far as Dead Snow, I think it did make a difference that the zombies were Nazis, because the zombies had residual greed for their ill-gotten gold left over from their evil human lives… but moreover, they looked evil and cool in their rotting uniforms…

    Anyway, I have a new zombie book (The FIrst Days) up next on my TBR, but I could always use some more, so here’s hoping I win!

    1. Ahh, so it does subvert the zombie paradigm. Interesting. When I first saw the trailer, I thought it had to be satire but I admit I tend to recoil when I see Nazis where one would not expect to see them. I fear one day there will be Nazis on Ice.

      Be sure to leave comments on the other four Zombie Week entries to increase your chances to win! Good luck and thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. I’m pretty sure that the whole zombies eat brains thing came about because of the Return of the Living Dead series. Mostly just commenting to enter the contest though.

    1. Ha! That is a point made in one of the Zombie Week books I will discuss. I had forgotten that until you mentioned it. But that’s right, isn’t it? That’s the first time a zombie actually said “Brains” and the first time they went after brain-filled skulls rather than the soft underbelly.

      No shame in the comment-only-to-win comment. Be sure to leave more comments throughout the week to increase your chances to win and thanks for reading!

  6. I read a lot of zombie books also and I agree with the person above about it sounding like Brooks survival guide. Sounds like it would be worth the read. There are also some good books that break the mold of some of the things listed above. Like the morningstar books the zombies are not dead in the beginning they are infected- so they have to be killed twice! I’m looking forward to the vegan book review.

    1. Vegan Revolution with zombies was awesome. I really look forward to discussing it.

      I had not heard of the Morningstar strain books. I will be sure to add them to my wish list. Thanks so much for recommending them!

      1. The Morningstar Strain books are good. The first two are out, but the author had a rather untimely death and the family has enlisted someone to finish the third. I believe it is set to be realeased this coming fall. They are kind of cliff hanger endings so I would recommend waiting for the third since you haven’t read them yet. I know I am going to have to go back for a re-read before I tackle the third! lol!

          1. I know, right? It’s always so sad to begin a book and realize the author is dead. I felt that way about the Stieg Larsson books.

  7. *flails*

    I’ve been waiting for this week since you first mentioned it!
    Fingers crossed that I’m the lucky winner.

    1. Yay for zombies! Be sure to leave comments on other entries throughout the week so you increase your chances to win! Good luck and thanks so much for reading!

  8. If you like the television series of The Walking Dead, you should give the comic book series a try. I read them when they’re collected into graphic novels because you get an entire story arc in one setting.

    Robert Kirkman, the author, isn’t really interested in the zombies. It’s the characters — especially Rick’s character — that interests him. There was one story arc within a collection where Rick’s group had a high body count but not one of them died by zombie hands.

    For Kirkman, the zombies are not the worst monsters out there. Not terribly odd, but very good reading when you’re yearning for something more mainstream.

    –Greg

    1. Mr Oddbooks has all of the Walking Dead graphic novels and I may venture into his office and have a look. I think books or any medium that approaches the question of “who’s the real monster” has to approach it with a deft hand lest it venture too far into a Twilight Zone switcheroo or annoying morality, but it sounds like this series may do a good job. Thanks for the info, Greg.

  9. I really need to watch the rest of The Walking Dead. I caught the first few episodes and was surprised at how good it was.

    Also, Picture Shari Lewis and Lambchop, only Lampchop cannot talk and is completely demented and occasionally attacks people.

    Bahahahahaha. Nightmare fodder.

    1. I loved it, Heidi! Loved it. And I ended up with an unlikely crush on the redneck brother who wasn’t left on the roof, a reference you will get if you watch more. I am very troubled by my psyche at times.

      As bad as the image of Lambchop is, don’t look for the real Emu online. OMG, that will mess you up.

  10. I found a link to your site from Goodreads, and now I’m just astounded I’ve never found it before! I love odd books! The odder the better and how wonderful I’m discovering your site through Zombie Week!

    Zombie books are the best excuse for random growling and moaning instead of talking …it’s just setting the mood.

    I’ve never heard of any of the zombie novels on your list, and I’m looking forward to reading more about them!

    1. I have had a lot of people come over here via Goodreads. I should send someone a thank you note. I’m so pleased I found some titles that are new for other readers. Thanks so much for reading.

    1. Add it to your list and I will add you to the drawing for a free copy. Fingers crossed and thanks for reading!

  11. You write that “Zombies are hip right now,” and I would agree with you. The question is why right now. These Zombie stories don’t take place in rural Haiti, as much as in a contemporary America – not in the land of Voodoo, but in a postmodern United States.

    What is significant about Zombies is that there are so many of them. They advance in crowds. They come upon you in multitudes. Every zombie has friends and then some. There are masses and masses of the brain dead – mindless beings that have a particular fondness for shopping malls.

    What is alone is the reader.

    1. So are you thinking love of zombies comes from a sort of shared fear of the crowd? Because I can sort of see that. I am not a complete misanthrope but I am definitely a hermit. When I have to go shopping, I always remember Tobe Hooper’s inspiration for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – he was in a busy department store and mused that a chainsaw would be a great way to get out of there.

      Or are you thinking that the sort of herd-like mentality of some people have caused them to embrace the zombie hoards?

      I also wonder if the recent explosion of zombie appreciation may come from the crappy economy, the continuing horrible wars in the Middle East, the nihilistic sense that large sections of the USA are doomed to a live of unthinking, zombie-like drudgery. Because I know my appreciation for The Walking Dead stemmed from imagining the man who single-handedly destroyed the publishing company I worked for and nearly cost us our home as he made millions as a shambling mess as I put a bullet in his head.

      1. Anita, do you need me to send you some ammo?

        Yes, I see the popularity of Zombie fiction as a sort of unconscious reaction to the increasing pressures of conformity in mass culture. It is not so much as fear of the crowd as fear of having to fit-in. If nothing else, zombies are rather single-minded about their need to consume the flesh of the living. What is frightening is not being eaten, but becoming one of them.

        Now, what caliber do you need?

        1. I never know the caliber. All I know is point and shoot.

          But you know, the gun store and firing range that is literally a half mile from my house may get some business soon if I keep reading these damn zombie books.

  12. I’ve got to address the subject of Zombie Nazis.

    Shock Waves justifies them by explaining that Nazis wanted to create zombies so that they could engage in submarine warfare without supplying the crew with efficiency-draining luxuries like shore leave and oxygen. You’ll note that its wikipedia entry also includes links to a number of other zombie Nazi films (although it doesn’t mention King of the Zombies.)

    Since I’m in full-blown pedantry mode, I’d like to point you to Clairvius Narcisse, allegedly a real-life zombie.

    I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but my understanding is that zombie stories started in Haiti, with witch doctors turning people into zombies by using drugs to rob the living of their autonomy.

    Then, George Romero popularized them with “Night of the Living Dead,” and it was off to the races from there.

    1. It’s nice I’m not the only pedant here today.

      I will be doing some Googling when I get a few minutes to spare.

      Oh, oh, I knew about poor Clarvius! I read The Serpent and the Rainbow many years ago. How on earth did I forget about that book? And why do the depths of human depravity still shock me? Ugh!

      Nice to see you around these parts!

  13. I’ve always loved zombie movies so last summer I decided to try a zombie book not really knowing what to expect. I started with JL Bourne’s Day by Day Armegeddon and then Brian Keene’s The Rising and City of the Dead followed by Dead Sea which is one of my favs. Snowballed from there. I’m thinking around 20 books since last July.

    I can’t talk about my love of zombie books without mentioning Rhiannon Frater’s As the World Dies trilogy. Her zombie survival story scared the shit out of me and made me cry. Crying from reading a zombie book? How’s that for odd? Read the first page…I promise it’ll hook you there.

    Thanks for giving us zombie week!

    1. Awesome. Added JL Bourne to my wish lost so I won’t forget. Same with Rhiannon Frater. There may well be thousands of zombie authors I had never heard of. Thanks for the recommendations!

      I had wanted to discuss The Rising on Thursday but used a more recent book of Brian Keene’s because his older works are caught up in a mess with his previous publisher where he is being screwed and wouldn’t get a cent even if I bought new copies. Otherwise I would be flogging that book instead. I agree – his zombie novels are excellent.

      1. I’ve read the first rhiannon frater book and enjoyed it. But I love The rising. That was my first zombie book. I found this site from Keene’s site. I really enjoyed the leisure horror book club before all the trouble started. Hope all the authors get their rights back.

    1. I think I am going to get the Max Brooks book and compare. I’ve noticed a bunch of zombie dictionaries out there the moment I got finished reading this one.

  14. It sounds like a fun little scamper through zombie lore … but, YEESH, is the writing ever bad. Though I guess it could be the selections were perfectly suited in the rest of their environs and seem painful only when looked at individually.

    As to disorientate? Certainly not.

    1. As whole, the occasional preciousness of the prose fits well but believe me, I felt it when I read it. But I am also jaded and bitter so I can see how a normal person would not respond to the jokes and silliness the way I did.

      Thank god I am not the only one who does not “ate” certain verbs. Please, let us all just orient, disorient, and converse!

    1. Awesome! Thanks for reading and you’re entered to win the books – maybe you’ll be checking it out sooner than later. 🙂

  15. I’m really glad you posted about Zombie Week on Goodreads. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all your reviews as much (or may) than I may enjoy the books!

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