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.