Book Review: The Zombie Autopsies

Steven Schlozman’s forthcoming book The Zombie Autopsies ($19.99, Grand Central Publishing,  3/25/2011), is probably the finest epistolary novel about zombies ever written.  It features a dynamic, riveting narrative presented in the form of collected notes by a physician who is attempting to solve the mysteries of a zombie plague that is decimating humanity.  The Zombie Autopsies is  most remarkable for doing well what so many zombie novels do poorly, and that is creating a believable and artfully-limned zombie apocalypse that never feels forced, and only becomes more and more real and visceral as the story progresses. 

Writing in the “found document” tradition of Borges or Poe, Schlozman tells the story of a skilled doctor named Stanley Blum.  In a world where a virus transmitted through the air is transforming humans into murderous zombies (and two-thirds of humanity has already been lost to the plague), Blum bravely volunteers to conduct research– involving, as you will have deduced, zombie autopsies– in a secret research lab known as “the Crypt.”  One of the reasons it is so named is that the researchers who venture within are doomed from the start to turn into zombies themselves.  Blum is a dead man the moment he sets foot inside.

Horror fans will find much to enjoy in Autopsies, but so will fans of mystery.  After all, Autopsies presents one of the most extreme medical mystery scenarios imaginable (a lone doctor racing to save the whole of humanity), and the bravery and cunning of Schlozman’s physicians puts contemporary doctor-protagonists like House to shame. 

The most impressive testament to Schlozman’s narrative prowess turns out to be the autopsies themselves.  (They are not for the squeamish.  At Schlozman’s most graphic, I was reminded of Poppy Z. Brite’s Exquisite Corpse.  [And I wondered, a few pages into the actual autopsies, if this tome could not have alternately been titled The Zombie Vivisections.]) 

Initially, I had doubts about how autopsy scenes could move a story forward and build tension.  (Autopsies feel like something you do in “the after” when important narrative actions have been concluded for the day.)   Schlozman dispelled my doubts utterly.  The autopsies in Autopsies are pregnant with discovery, mystery, and incredible danger!  After a point, one begins to feel as if the zombie brain itself is a living character.  (I will say no more, and let you discover for yourself how Schlozman makes this work–for work it does.)

Did I think the book was perfect?  Just about, yeah.  If I had written it, I might have given Blum something more in the personal vice department.  (Sherlock Holmes has his cocaine.  Fox Mulder has his pornography.  I like protagonists who aren’t perfect.)  Maybe Blum volunteers so selflessly for the Crypt to atone for some dark secret in his past?  (We’re never told.)

Then again, there is already so much darkness in the world Schlozman has created for The Zombie Autopsies…  Maybe it needs all the light it can get.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Zombie Autopsies

  1. Well, maybe you got an advance copy and had some obligation to shamelessly praise the book. But did you really think it was THAT good?

    The book says that zombie virus is airborne. Don’t you think that’s a bit outside the normal zombie cliche? Also, under the story, people have already resorted to drastic measures in order to counter the zombie outbreak, including nuking major cities. And yet, this autopsy, performed at the last possible moment for humanity, is supposed to be the first attempt of its kind. Why? Shouldn’t this be the first thing to do? While reading, I kept thinking “why haven’t they done this 5 years ago when they had much better resources?” Also, “memoirs found” genre usually requires some idea or hint about how it ended up in the reader’s hand. We are told how Blum’s note arrived at the UN comittee. However, at the end of this book, the unfinished appendix suggests that this UN organization itself has collapsed, which suggests that no-one survived. It really doesn’t add to the suspense.
    The book generally tries to provide a rational explanation to zombie’s physiology, but couldn’t really come up with anything quite convincing (of course not. That’s what makes zombies scary), so it tries to smudge things up with overemotional memoir entries and pseudo-official report style. But it really doesn’t work, IMHO.

    So I really found the book dissappointing. Also, the drawings. They really don’t look like medical drawings….

  2. Hey Advance Reader,

    Thank you for the dissenting opinion!

    Though it might have been impolitic, I would have said so if I thought this book sucked (or just not reviewed the book). But I earnestly enjoyed the tone, pacing, and narrative structure.

    I agree with you 100% that an airborne virus is “outside the normal zombie cliche.”

    I also think you raise a good point when you bring up the dangers of looking for “rational explanations.” Yet works of fiction can be unsatisfying (in a different way) when they explain too little. (This is the side upon which I usually err, and I often receive notes from readers and editors encouraging me to “explain more.” It’s a difficult line to walk sometimes.)

    Finally, I agree with you that the drawings didn’t look like medical drawings.

  3. I proofed this book for the publisher and honestly found myself enjoying the work. As someone who doesn’t often read horror, I liked the detail and thought the pacing and element of mystery were well done.

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