September 16, 2011

Zombies of the World (Review)


Zombies of the World:
A Field Guide to the Undead

By Ross Payton

Slang Design: 2011


4.5 / 5 zedheads

Zombies of the World is a relief from everything that's wrong with most zombie guides. Unlike many other guides that are tedious and dry attempts to cash in on the undead, Zombies of the World is sharply written, wonderfully illustrated and designed, mercifully concise, and deeply influenced by zombie culture. And most important of all: it's really fun to read.

Zombies of the World offers itself up as a guidebook written by researchers from a parallel universe in which zombies are an accepted fact of life, history, and culture. It's a quirky universe based on zombie movies, literature, mythology, and Hollywood's output of B-grade theatre fare. In the universe of Zombies of the World, there exist twenty species of undead, including "zombies" inspired by such well-known films as Night of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead, and 28 Days Later. There are also undead based on other tangential "zombie" genres like Italian zombie films and slasher films featuring undead killers, such as Jason Voorhees. The guide even draws inspiration from international mythology and literary fiction (especially the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft). Who would expect there to be profiles of zombie species inspired by even the smallest niches of the zombie genre, such as the dancing zombies of Thriller? The dancing zombie gets a whole page devoted to its physiology, behavior, and reproduction! How cool is that?

This is a universe where dancing zombies exist because, in our reality, Thriller exists. This is a universe where time-traveling robots from the future completely wiped out the world's population of ancient Aztec mummies because, in our reality, there's a cheesy movie called The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy. Payton has devised a world in which every type of fictional undead creature (except vampires) is real, and he's described this world in rich, outlandish detail full of sly references and Easter eggs for zombie and horror fans to identify. Accompanying Payton's chapters on zombie species, zombie science, the cultural history of zombies, and zombie survival are marvelous full-colour illustrations by artists like Tom Rhodes.

Now, some hardline zombie fans may be quick to point out that Mummies are not zombies. Revenants like Jason Voorhees are not zombies. New England Ghouls (the dog-faced monsters described by H.P. Lovecraft) are not zombies. Normally, I'd be first to agree, but within the fictional world Payton devises, he offers a compelling reason why all these different undead creatures belong under the title of "zombie." Is has less to do with our preconceived notions based on movies and more to do with their shared genetic connection to mysterious (fictional) force Payton calls the Omega Anima. Within the world Payton constructs, I'm more than happy to call a Mummy a zombie.

The only point at which Zombies of the World lost my attention was in the chapter relating to zombie survival. We've had too many zombie survival books on the market lately repeating the same information. I wanted more exploration of this quirky pop-culture world that Payton was playing in because it felt fresh and new. However, even when the survival section felt most dry, it was accompanied with great illustrations and written with a knowledge of zombie films often lacking in other books.

Zombies of the World is a lot of fun. It's tongue-in-cheek but feels like it could be an authentic text from a silly universe of dancing zombies, hopping Chinese corpses, and time-traveling robots that use Aztec Mummies for fuel. And I want to see more of this world.

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