Saturday, October 23, 2010

Max Brooks vs. Roger Ma

Next up in our dual/duel reviews, we find Max Brooks trying to redeem himself (he lost the last one) against another opponent, The Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Deadby Roger Ma.

As you may remember from the previous smack down, the best section of Mr. Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead(hereafter ZSG) was the historical review of zombie outbreaks from prehistoric times to the present. The rest of the book was consumed by practical advice and exhaustive (and exhausting) reviews of different situations, weapons, etc., involved in a zombie outbreak.

Roger Ma’s work is more focused: after separating zombie myth from fact (e.g. he resolves the issue about whether zombies can run), he discusses their strengths and weaknesses, how we can prepare ourselves for combat, how to choose weapons and the best combat strategies and techniques. Sprinkled throughout the book are “combat reports” which are interviews of people involved in a recent world-wide zombie outbreak. These interviews help to illustrate the previous discussion. For example, after discussing important physiological concerns in combating zombies, Ma has an interview with a dentist from the 7th Combat Sciences Group (part of the American government, naturally). The dentist describes how zombie teeth are different from human teeth and how he works with the government on ways to combat the zombies through science, like trying to make their teeth rot and developing specialized weapons (like for removing teeth or jawbones).

Clearly Ma is inspired by both ZSG and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Waralso by Brooks. Adding the oral history component gives Ma more human interest throughout the book, so it isn’t all dry descriptions with wry humor like the early part of ZSG. Ma certainly has much better use of illustrations (some are step-by-step depictions of how to use particular weapons to behead, de-brain or otherwise incapacitate a zombie) and includes twenty pages worth of child protection advice (for which any underage zombie overlord is grateful). Plus, you’ve got to love quotes like, “Evading the undead can be an exhausting war of attrition, against an enemy that will not attrite.” (ZCM, p. 269)

Even with all these strengths, Brooks’ dry humor is a lot funnier than Ma’s dry humor. And Ma’s zombie outbreak is only describe in snapshots taken from the different interviews, so there is no big, cohesive picture or narrative. Also, I found the interviewees in Ma to be less well-rounded and believable as people. Some bits of dialogue read okay but seem like they’d be clunky if someone actually spoke them. So in this round, the winner is Max Brooks with his one-two punch ZSG and World War Z.

You may say it isn't fair having two books beat one, but when has zombie combat ever been fair?



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