October 6, 2011

The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse (Review)


The Do-It-Yourself Guide to
Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

By Bud Hanzel and John Olson

Hanson Press: 2010


2.5 / 5 zedheads

I've had it with zombie guidebooks.

Don't get me wrong. I still love everything to do with zombies. I love zombie movies, books, and toys, but ever since Max Brooks released his groundbreaking The Zombie Survival Guide, numerous imitators have followed in his path with increasingly derivative results. Very few of these books actually build on or advance Brooks's ideas. Instead, they circle around Brooks and recycle the same survival information again and again. Again and again. I've reached a tipping point. I no longer have any patience for zombie survival guides that have nothing fresh or new to say.

Enter The Do-It-Yourself Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse by Bud Hanzel and John Olson. What sounds like a focused guide of DIY techniques -- practical, down-to-earth survival advice -- turns out to be just another broad-in-scope and repetitive-in-detail synthesis of the same zombie biology, survivalist philosophy, and combat training information I've read before. The DIY perspective that I assumed would set this book apart from others is thinly developed and, at times, contradicted. To be thorough, the authors discuss the usefulness of helicopters, tanks, and sports cars during the zombie apocalypse. Okay, but how DIY is that? As part of their weapons overview, the authors discuss the pros and cons of weapons such as a katana sword, a Roman gladius and a wakizashi. The absence of these items in the average person's daily life sort of takes the "you" out of "do-it-yourself." At the same time, there's little explanation of how to do very much of what the authors suggest. How do I fortify my shelter? How do I properly and effectively fire a 9mm handgun? How do I rig up a series of napalm canisters (available at most air force bases, they claim) so I can blow up a quarry full of zombies that I've attracted with a strobe light and loud music? Yes, this is an actual idea in the guide. There's very little "do" in this DIY guide. So, what are we left with when you take the "do" and "yourself" out of DIY? We're just left with "it." And I've read "it" all before.

While most of the guide relays information I've seen repeated in various other books, I was surprised by two small sections at the end that manage to separate The Do-It-Yourself Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse from the pack, at least somewhat. First, the guide ends with a bibliography of recommended sources on such survival topics as Auto Repair, First-Aid, and Plumbing. I guess I should be reading these books instead if I want to learn anything DIY. Second -- and I've never seen this in a zombie guide before --  The Do-It-Yourself Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse contains a list of recipes for keeping yourself fed while the zombies try to eat you. It's a neat little section describing, among other things, how to make flapjacks by cooking them on a hot shovel blade. I was genuinely impressed with the thought that went into this section. Unfortunately, it's buried at the back of the book and preceded by pages and pages of derivative material. I might have liked this guide better were it The Cook-It-Yourself-Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

Finally, The Do-It-Yourself Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is not a very interesting book to look at. Embedded within the pages of text, Mark Stegbauer's illustrations are plain and roughly rendered. Often times they consist of black and white line drawings photoshopped against a real-life photo background. Other times they're just stiff character drawings. Stegbauer's illustrations seem fitting for a home-made comic book, but when they're placed on blurry black-and-white photos they look cheap and suggest he can't draw backgrounds. The tone of the text is equally off-putting. At times the writing will drop into a sarcastic, condescending tone that I found abrasive.

With the wealth of other zombie guides on the market, the Do-It-Yourself Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is an easy pass for failing to live up to its own name and burying its most original elements in the back of the guide. I say that you should do yourself a favor and seek your DIY zombie education elsewhere.