Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Zombie Autopsies (Book Review)

The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Stephen C. Schlozman, M.D.  (Grand Central Publishing, 2011)

The Zombie Autopsies--an epistolary novel of the apocalypse penned by a learned doctor but a fledgling fiction writer--is a study in paradox.  Its strongest point is also its most glaring weakness.

The book is framed as an assemblage of classified documents meant to brief members attending a critical meeting at a U.N. Outpost bunker in the South Pacific.  Primary among these documents is the recovered notebook of the late Dr. Stanley Blum, who had been performing the eponymous autopsies at a research facility on Bassas da India (a coral atoll located between Madagascar and mainland Africa).  He was part of a desperate effort to analyze the virus that causes Ataxic Neuro-degenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome--or zombieism, in layman's terms.  His ongoing journal--accompanied by medical drawings that would be more at home in Tales from the Crypt than in Gray's Anatomy--is replete with gloriously gory detail (e.g., the volcanic eruption of deliquescent brain matter from a subject's sawed-open skull; the infestation of the abdominal cavity by long, parasitic worms).  The grayed pages filled with Blum's handwritten text, though, are anything but friendly on the reader's eye.

Schlozman aims to lend an air of verisimilitude to zombieism, positing an airborne contagion as the cause and providing neurological and physio-logical  explanations for familiar undead traits such as the staggering walk, decaying flesh, and insatiable appetite.  Still, the (presumably human-engineered) virus that Blum studies is so nefariously efficient as to defy plausibility and compromise the sense that This Could Really Happen.

The main problem with the book's format/approach is that it tends to read like a dry report more than a dramatic narrative.  Despite the fact that Blum's account grows steadily more unreliable (as he succumbs either to the stress of his job or the onset of the disease) and that the autopsy subjects are animate, conscious, and quite hostile, the novel is conspicuously short on character and incident.  Schlozman's zombie-autopsy premise is a captivating one, but regrettably, the author could have put a lot more meat--rotting or otherwise--on the bones of the idea.

More interesting as a quasi-scientific investigation than it is entertaining as a story, The Zombie Autopsies perhaps will appeal more to horror writers conducting research than it will to seasoned fans of zombie fiction. 

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