Thursday, September 2, 2010

Max Brooks Vs. Daniel H. Wilson, Ph. D.

 Inspired by the recent non-successful Scott Pilgrim vs. the World movie, I’ve decided to write a couple of dual reviews that will also be duel reviews. Today it’s Max Brooks’ seminal work, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead (hereafter ZSG), against Daniel H. Wilson’s How to Build a Robot Army: Tips on Defending Planet Earth Against Alien Invaders, Ninjas, and Zombies (hereafter HBRA).

Max Brooks, son of famous film maker Mel, wrote for Saturday Night Live for three years. He has also made a name for himself in zombie pop culture. In addition to ZSG and its graphic novel spin-off ZSG: Recorded Attacks, he’s written an oral history of a world wide zombie outbreak called World War Z. The story has been produced as an audio book and is on its way to the silver screen. He’s the sort of expert who you want to have quoted on the back of your zombie novel or reference work.

Daniel H. Wilson, Ph.D., received his doctorate from the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University and has written several other humorous tech books like How To Survive a Robot Uprising and Where's My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived in addition to writing for Popular Mechanics magazine. He knows the latest in state-of-the-art robotics. He definitely has the technical savvy for helping us deal with the undead.

Both books are humorous looks at practical advice for extreme disaster preparedness. ZSG is more thorough in this regard, looking at what causes zombies, what weapons work best and how best to deal with the hordes when on the defensive, on the run or on the offensive. The humor is very dry and far too sparse for my tastes. Brooks apes the survival guide style a little too well. The book is almost too serious and too thorough. Consider the list of public buildings reviewed as possible defensive strongholds: office buildings, schools, hospitals, police stations, retail stores, supermarkets, shopping malls, churches, warehouses, piers and docks, shipyards, banks, cemeteries, capitols and city halls. No less of an authority than my wife agrees with me that the best part of the book is the imaginative history of zombie outbreaks (starting from pre-historic times ending with 2002 A.D.) that follows the practical advice.

Wilson’s HBRA obviously focuses more on the current and expected development of robots. From pet robots and vacuum cleaners to micro-bots and unmanned vehicles, each bot is explained thoroughly. Then Wilson describes (less thoroughly) how to alter them for defense or offense. His humor is more constant and made me laugh out loud in several places, something I don’t remember while reading ZSG. He has a natural conversational style that is engaging and fun. The zombie content is pretty low but on the money. Consider this piece of advice: “Suffering a zombie bite is emotionally traumatic for humans--so let a cold, impartial robot make the logical decision to take you out. The robot will dispatch you with surgical precision and none of the sappy dialogue that usually accompanies violent partings between wives and husbands, best friends, or owners and pets.” [p. 163] Wilson definitely has his finger on the pulse of current robotics and current pop culture, with advice on how to use robots against aliens, vampires, Godzilla, werewolves, great white sharks, asteroids, ninjas, mummies, pirates and zombies. Clearly, he saved the best for last.

My conclusion is that Wilson’s HBRA is the more entertaining and technically astute read, while Brooks’ ZSG is a better preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. If you can read only one, I’d recommend How to Build a Robot Army.



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