Book Review: The Zombie Combat Manual

The Zombie Combat Manual (Berkeley Trade; April 1, 2010; SRP $14.00), is a great new book by Zombie Combat Club curator Roger Ma that seeks to enumerate the many benefits of fighting zombies with hand-to-hand weapons (or with your hands alone). 

The book opens with a startling vignette.  During a zombie outbreak, a muscular young man armed with a metal baseball bat attacks a slow, frail zombified housewife in a housecoat.  No contest here, right?  Wrong.  Because the young man is ignorant of right way to attack a zombie–and a zombie’s points of vulnerability– his mighty blows do no damage, and he is eaten alive by the undead matron.  This, in short, is the “problem” that The Zombie Combat Manual seeks to solve.

If you’re a reader who likes books about zombies that never “blink” and keep up the intensity for the entire read, then The Zombie Combat Manual is the book for you.  Operating on the basis that melee weapons are superior during a zombie outbreak because they don’t require ammunition, The Zombie Combat Manual presents readers with a comprehensive guide to using swords, knives, pole-axes, and even bare-hands to defeat the walking dead.  If you’re a zombie “science-type,” you may enjoy considering Mr. Ma’s exegesis of how weather, climate, and other factors can alter the undead in combat situations.  Personally, I most-enjoyed Mr. Ma’s use of puns.  (A combat tactic is called “The Maul Rat,” and so forth…)

Did I think this book was perfect?  No.  I have two criticisms.

The first is that The Zombie Combat Manual is (perhaps necessarily) derivative of Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide.  Brooks essentially launched a genre, and it may be inevitable that all those who follow shall have their efforts held against his touchstone (which may not be a bad thing).

My other criticism has nothing to do with Mr. Ma’s writing, but rather with the publisher’s decision to label this a “Humor” book.  Certainly, the book is funny in places–I noted, above, one of the puns that made me laugh– and yet a reader expecting this tome to provide the yuks of a book by Sedaris or Wodehouse (or Kenemore, for that matter), may come away confused.  To the contrary, I believe this book deserves to be placed squarely in the “Fiction” section.  Rather than being a “joke book,” Mr. Ma’s work is an out-of-place artifact from an alternate universe, or from a not too distant future.  It is thus, implicitly, fictional.  When Stanislaw Lem reviews books that do not exist, or J. L. Borges writes an encyclopedia entry for a nonexistent country, these works are rightly considered Fiction.  It seems to me that Mr. Ma’s project is closer to that of Lem and Borges than that of David Sedaris.

These criticisms aside, if you like instruction manuals dealing with the practicalities of navigating a speculative zombie apocalypse, I think you’ll greatly enjoy The Zombie Combat Manual.

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