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.
‘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.’
‘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!’
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!