Sunday, 30 August 2009

Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry

I'm going to start this review of Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry by stating that it is the best book about zombies that I have ever read! Better even than Max Brooks' World War Z and Zombie Survival Guide? Yep, definitely! How does one classify such a book? It is not a work of fiction but given that zombies (as portrayed in the media) do not exist, nor can it be described as a factual book. It is a book based on hypotheses. The premise of the book is this - what if zombies were real? What would happen if tomorrow, a zombie attacked someone and the attack was witnessed? How would the police react to this crime? How long would it take them to determine that the attacker was a zombie? How would they go about apprehending him? What resources could they call upon? How would the media react?
CSU stands for Crime Scene Unit and this book works on a "what if" scenario that brings in experts from many fields to give their opinion on the investigation. The author was initially concerned that the people he spoke to might not take the subject too seriously. He need not have worried. All of the people he interviewed spoke eloquently and seriously. This is what makes this book such a fascinating read. The experts speak with a knowing authority that left me nodding in agreement with their comments.
When talking of a zombie apocalypse it is important to determine what caused the apocalypse and what type of zombies we are dealing with. Cinema alone offers many choices - slow moving shambling plague zombies (the most common variation on the standard Romero model and the default setting for the book's scenario); toxic contamination zombies, unexplained radiation zombies, fast moving plague/virus zombies, demon zombies, alien zombies, etc. What caused the zombies to reanimate and how they move/react will determine whether humanity can survive. In one of the appendices of the book the author takes a look at each type of apocalypse to present a scorecard to cover four salient points - potential for global pandemic, limits to disease spread, likelihood of successful human opposition and likelihood that we're all toast. This section is well worth reading and the results are varied depending upon the zombie apocalypse. Best case apocalypse features revenge zombies (like the water-logged zombies in Creepshow). Worst case apocalypse features demon zombies (like the zombies from the Evil Dead series).
The forensic investigation of the very first zombie attack would have made for a fascinating read on its own. But Jonathan Maberry gives the reader a whole lot more to enjoy with this book. It is littered with artwork (most of which are excellent) from many zombie-loving artists along with comments from the artists. In addition actors, authors and other luminaries involved with popular zombie culture give their opinions on which is scarier - slow or fast zombies. My opinion? Slow - they are just so relentless. I find fast-moving zombies too illogical to be believable. The book also features lists like the worst zombie movies ever made and zombies movies you've never heard of but must see. Hollywood comes in for a lot of well-deserved criticism in this book with the way it treats the police, the military, the press and scientists in films. Far too often, their professionalism is questioned and they give in or screw up too easily. In real life that would rarely happen. There is a wonderful quote from Max Brooks on zombie realism - "Have you ever gone to a movie with your friends and one of them, that particular tight-assed nerd bag who won't shut up about "how that would never happen" or "this isn't realistic and here's why"? Well, I am that nerd bag!"
Before I read this book I had a rather pessimistic view of humanity's chances of surviving a zombie apocalypse (based on the default setting used throughout the book). Now, I have completely reversed my opinion and I believe humanity will win. However, what kind of a world the survivors will inherit is subject for another debate that I'm not getting into.
Before I wrap up this review let me leave you with this quote from the book - "are zombies likely? No. And we can all be thankful for that. Are they totally impossible? Also no. And we can all lose some sleep over that."
Prions are the most likely origin for starting a zombie plague, and the really bad news is that there is no cure against prions! I really can't recommend this book too highly. I learnt a lot from it and it is written in a very easy-going and entertaining manner. It is printed by Citadel Press Kensington and costs $16.95. I bought my copy for £11.99 at my local Forbidden Planet shop. Seeing as it was first printed in 2008 you may find a cheaper copy on, for example.


  1. Thanks for the enthusiastic review. Glad you enjoyed the book. It was an incredible amount of fun researching and writing it.

    -Jonathan Maberry

  2. Wow! This is most unexpected and quite an honour. Thank you so much for taking the time out to reply. I'm deeply touched! To be honest, I could enthuse about your book all day long - it really is that good. As you can probably tell I'm a big fan of all things undead and I have a very comprehensive library of books relating to the subject. For me to say your book is the best zombie book I have ever written is no idle boast and I truly believe. Your book was one of only a few that I've read that could be described as "unputdownable!"