You may have seen this hanging around in the “humour” section of your local bookshop, and at first it is easy to mistake it for one of those throwaway near-funny books that appear en masse about two months before Christmas and are never seen again afterwards. The very idea of the book is funny: that’s the first impression.
If you actually start reading it, though, you quickly realize that it isn’t written as a comedy. There are no zombie fart gags, no step-by-step instructions for building a zombie-powered washing machine. It is a completely serious survival handbook that pivots around the assumption that zombies are real. It weighs up the benefits and drawbacks of a wide variety of weapons. It outlines strategies for escape and evasion, and for long-term survival under siege conditions. If zombies really were real, this is the guide you would want by your side. The fact that Max Brooks has not taken the route of easy comedy, but has instead taken the idea to its logical conclusion, is funny on a different level.
Then, about three-quarters through the book, he deviates from the survival guide template, and starts presenting case histories of various zombie outbreaks throughout history. And this is where the veneer of comedy starts to come off. Of course zombies don’t exist, but if for the sake of suspension of disbelief you buy into the author’s premise, he now starts making the case that zombie outbreaks have been on the increase throughout the 20th century, that they are starting to reach a worrying level, and that information about them is being suppressed. Now you realize that the book isn’t just a common-or-garden survival handbook, but that the author persona believes that a book like The Zombie Survival Guide is genuinely needed. He believes that the world is in imminent danger of a Class 4 outbreak. Is he a conspiracy nut, or a prescient voice of reason sounding the alarm?
And suddenly you realize that the book you just read was not humour at all, but horror.
It’s very clever, but to a large extent it feels mostly like an introduction to a bigger piece, which is probably the follow-up book World War Z: An Oral History. This tells of the aftermath of a global zombie pandemic. I’m intrigued, and looking forward to it.